UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 46, 31 October 2020: Devilish Songs for a Boogie (Man) Night!

Here it is, Halloween and this once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) year of 2020 is scarier than this special once-in-a-year day of “ghoulies and ghosties and three-legged beasties and things that go boomp in the night.”  Who knew what this devilish year would bring to us, but I do believe that we will survive. 

So, trick or treat in the safest way possible, enjoy the kids in their costumes at a social distance and realize that—devil may care attitudes aside—everyone will be wearing a mask. 

To reminisce about Halloweens past, . . . When I was growing up in our small town, we always knew which households would hand out homemade candy apples or popcorn balls.  Or which houses gave out bags of homegrown and roasted peanuts or home baked cookies. We frowned a bit but still went to those neighbors that gave us only fresh apples (alas, sugar or salt free) off their backyard tree.

Ah, the sweet old unsealed goodie days and the warnings about tipped over outhouses! Didn’t kids (not me, of course!) in those days have fun?

Now, here in Northampton at the “Inn at Ice Pond,” Alison and I have a tradition for those Halloweens that fall on election years.  We carve politically correct (incorrect?) pumpkins such as . . .

. . . Mitt vs. Barack a few years Back . . .

. . . and in 2016 it was the Don vs. the Hill. Still working on this year’s! Stay Tuned.

Plus, every Halloween I offer a special treat for the neighborhood kids!  Here’s my lawn sign poster.

I have been observing, however, that each year the number of kids waiting in the yard dwindles as they scarily scurry back to their candies and screens–and other neighbors’ houses.  I must be getting old. Or grumpy. Go figure.

Moving on, gentle readers. When it comes to songs of goblins, ghosts, witches, black cats, devils, and Jack O’Lanterns, the proverbial old piano bench is chock full of demonic sheet music of the past eras, many with ukulele chords printed right in the score. 

To me, however, the graphics of most sheet music covers are almost more intriguing than the tunes.  Yet, every once in a while, a song catches my ear.  So, let’s take a look and see what we can (ahem) SCARE UP! Mwaa haa ha hah!

There are so many good songs out there, however, so for this year’s Halloween musical musing I thought I would focus just on tunes about Devils and Deviltry, Hobgoblins and Boogiemen. We’ll save witches, black cats, skeletons, and Jack O’Lanterns for Halloweens to come. OK? Now, push up those horns, grab those pitchforks, and DOWN WE GO! Repeat: Mwaa haa ha hah!

And let’s join the . . .

Click or tap on the next image or link for a ukulele version of this 1913 devilish tune by Irving Berlin.

Tap or click on the next image or link to play and dance along with this piano rag.

There are even a few songs that are more romantic than scary–in a devilish sense, so to speak!

Here’s an early recording of this 1918 Music Hall tune. Click or tap on the next image or link for a transitional listen.

Here’s a quite danceable version of this Roaring Twenties number. Click or tap on the next image or link and put on your dancing shoes!

Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards put the horns into a recording of this number back in 1928. Click or tap on the next image or link to hear him play and sing.

Moving on to those devilish cohorts–hobgoblins and boogiemen. Mwaa ha ha ha!

1910 - 1919 - 1900'S Sheet Music

Well, it’s not a ukulele version of this tune but it is a good introduction to a rare instrument called an “American Fotoplayer.” This is a mechanical player-piano with built in sound effects and organlike tones that made this a favorite of silent movie pianists for those monster films of the past. You don’t hear one of these that often! Click or tap on the next image or link to watch it at work. Don’t be scared! Mwaa haa haa hah!

Tap or click on the next image or link for an early take on this ghostly bit of syncopation!

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to an early recording of this Halloween chestnut republished with different covers and attributions over time.

And, of course, some appropriately themed ukuleles. Alas, a bit more Halloween ” ghostish and pumpkinish” than devilish. SAD.

Oh no! Oh no! Not our favorite banjo ukes! Heeeeeeeelp!

After all that devilishness, here’s a way for we strummers to fight back! Who knew?

Tap or click on the next image or link to fight back by listening to this one and looking at a few devilish pics!

Whew! Now I’m sufficiently motivated to go off to polish my powerpoint lecture on the history of Halloween for all the lovely, tasty children out there waiting patiently in the yard! Mwa haa haa hah ha ha ha ha!

So, on this scariest of evenings—in this scariest of years—stay safe, stay socially distanced, stay masked,

Or, be as good or as bad as you wish,

and STAY TUNED!

At last. The real answer based, I’m told, on science!

How cartoons are chronicling the battle between mask wearers and Trump -  The Washington Post

Oh. And, play a ukulele amid the safety of a number of fellow strummers! Masked, of course!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 45, 24 October 2020: A Train Song of the Sunny South in a Film About the Snowy North. Go Figure (Skate)!

One of the most forgettable movies of the 1940s gave us one of the most unforgettable songs of the era.  The movie was that rom/sno/com called “Sun Valley Serenade” . . .

. . . and the song was “Chattanooga Choo Choo,”

not the much earlier Hamlin/Craig song . . .

. . . or even Irving Berlin’s still earlier ragtime song “Down in Chattanooga.”  

The movie was more about skiing and girl chases–and catches–boy stuff . . .

Sun Valley Serenade (20th Century Fox, 1941). Half Sheet (22" X | Lot  #52370 | Heritage Auctions

. . . and didn’t have a thing to do with the city of Chattanooga and relatively little to do with trains—certainly not one from New York City heading south to Tennessee. Maybe there is one, though. Made by Lionel. 

But it did feature the Glenn Miller orchestra and their lively rendition of the song considered by many to be one of his best. 

Oh yes, the movie also gave us some great ice-skating choreography starring that three-time Olympic and ten-time World Champion figure skater, the Norwegian ice pixie –and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars—Sonja Heine.

The song opens up with the band, sounding like a train rolling out of the station, complete with the trumpets and trombones imitating a train whistle, before the instrumental portion.  

The main song opens with a dialog between our singer—a passenger—and a shoeshine boy:

“Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

“Yes, yes, Track 29!””Boy, you can give me a shine.”

“Can you afford to board the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

“I’ve got my fare, and just a trifle to spare.”

Our singer then describes the train’s route, originating from New York through Baltimore and “dinner in the diner” in North Carolina . . .

. . . before reaching the Chattanooga Railroad Terminal. 

There, a woman he knew from an earlier time in his life will be waiting for him.  WHOO WHOO! 

The song is very conjectural as no train went directly from New York to Chattanooga, and Penn Station at the time had only twenty-four tracks.  Ah, Hollywood! But, gentle readers, the folks in Chattanooga don’t seem to care that much about historical accuracy.

Oh yes, the Chatanooga (Choo Choo) Station is now a hotel. How time goes by when you’re having fun and have a song in your heart!

Moving on, I usually avoid relatively long YouTube segments in these musings, but this one is special—it has it all!  Not only does it have an extended production version of this song but it also includes the whistling and singing of band members, the voice of Tex Beneke, and the glissando of Glenn Miller himself. To many folks, including those around the world, “Choo Choo” is considered the quintessential Glenn Miller song.

To me, an added highlight toward the end of the clip is the singing and dancing segment with Dorothy Dandridge, in one of her first film appearances both singing and dancing, and the acrobatic Nicholas Brothers. 

Tap or click on the next image or link and sit back and enjoy the show! Our song was on the top of the charts back in 1941 and was the first certified Gold Record ever.  It was even nominated that year for an Oscar!

You can skip this next YouTube since it doesn’t have a thing to do with ukuleles or our “Choo Choo” song. It is, however, one of the great ice-skating choreography scenes on film starring, of course, Sonja herself.  Click or tap on the next image or link if you have the time for a chilly Sun Valley treat!

Now, back to ukuleles! Here’s a wonderful finger-picking version of the song in German and on a ukulele! Click or tap on the next image or link for a musical treat.

 “Choo Choo” has become such a singable, playable swing/jazz standard that it has found its way into the repertoire of a lot of ukulele groups around the country and around the world.  Tap or click on the next image or link to hear some of what the British lovingly call “Eldies” doing their ukulele thing.  Don’t we grey-heads have our fun!

Oh yes, at least one “Choo Choo” uke is out there, and a banjolele to boot!

So, I don’t know the next time any of us will take a trip on a train anywhere, much less Chattanooga, but, until that happy day, stay well, stay safe, stay masked,

and STAY TUNED!

Oh yes, remember the (earworm alert!) lyrics.

And, our favorite “Eldie” has a point . . .

UKULELE MUSING 2020: No. 42, 3 October 2020: Musical Memories and Romance in the Air, “Aeroplanes” in Song

I started making model airplanes—balsa wood, tissue paper, rubber band powered—when I was in the third grade.  Razor blades, tubes of airplane glue, jars of “dope,” Comet Kits–all from the local dimestore (kits for 10, 25, 50 cents apiece according to wingspan, or OMG, the ultimate, a whole dollar!). 

Despite messes around my bedroom worktable, cut fingers and clothing ruined with glue drips, the final products—hanging from a ceiling string or trashed in a backyard crash—were all memorable parts of my growing up. Building things, reading plans–maybe that’s why I became an architect!   

My favorite models were what I called “double wingers” and I still wax nostalgic when I see, on rare occasions, a biplane buzzing overhead.  Open cockpit, spinning propeller, one wing above and another below—those were REAL airplanes! Or, as they were called in the early days, “aeroplanes.” 

So much for youthful reminiscences! Now, back down to the ground with our musical musing of the week!

Airplanes, aeroplanes, airships, aviation, and aviators—aviatrixes too—have featured in imagination (even here in our Happy Valley) . . .

. . . as well as music since the early 1900s and fanciful depictions of aircraft have appeared on sheet music covers since then. 

Let’s get in the “aeroplane mood” by listening to a ragtime piano version of this tune from the early 1900s. Tap or click on the next image or link to play and hear this one.

Needless to say, the romance of flight captured the attention (if not the technical understanding) of Tin Pan Alley and the result is a great number of “aeroplane tunes,” using the spelling of the day.

Some of the aeroplanes on the covers were rendered fairly accurately.

Others were decidedly not! Imagination took flight, so to speak.

Here’s a jazz band version of this blues tune with folks cavorting high in the air on a rather wobbly surface. Click or tap on the next image/link to dance along with this one–sans contorted wings, of course!

And, some aeroplane covers were imaginatively weird!

The adventure of flying and traveling by air–“fixed wing” or “lighter-than-air”–was a popular musical theme.

Here’s another hapa haoli take on air travel to that exotic destination–Hawaii! Click or tap on the next image or link to join the adventure!

There was also a plethora of patriotic aviation-themed songs, particularly during the World War I era.

How about a ukulele version of this patriotic tune? Tap or click on the next image or link to hear and see some really nice fingerpicking of this oldie!

I can’t seem to stay away from a ragtime song, particularly one from BRUCEville! Click or tap on the next image or link for a ragtime version of this 1918 song.

And, of course, there was romance high up in the sky! What, no autopilot?

I just couldn’t pass up one more ragtime piano take, and on an aeroplane tune too! Click or tap on the next image or link to follow the music on this oldie.

Click or tap on the next image/link for a listen to this one. This time with lyrics.

Now here’s a novelty song from the 1920s that warns a young lady that she might have difficulty thwarting the advances of an ardent suitor while in an aeroplane. Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to the warning!

And, of course, this is probably the one aeroplane song that most of us have heard a few hundred times over the years.

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear the original 1910 recording of this flying chestnut! The period graphics are a real treat.

Above all, “aeroplane” and aviation songs—like the automobile songs that soon outnumbered them—are part of our musical history.  Enjoy looking back.  But, don’t look down!   

Now, we mustn’t forget about those ukuleles that were part of the whole aeroplane and aviation thing. Here are a few from my collection.

So, it looks like it will be a few more months–or even next year or so–when we can hop into an aeroplane (more likely a plain old airplane) and get back to the traveling and visiting that we all enjoy.

Meanwhile, stay safe, stay socially distanced, stay masked . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED!

By the way, how many of you remember this one? Click or tap on the next image/link to reminisce. Don’t forget your goggles!

Do you still have your membership badge?

UKULELE MUSING 2020: No. 41, 26 September 2020: “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” Sanitized but not hung out to dry!

Every once in a while I find myself musing about a song that has had a few rebirths and, shall we say, upgrades over the years. Take, for example, an old favorite of mine, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” or, as originally published, “In the Big Rock-Candy Mountains.

Our song started its musical life in the late 1890s as a lilting, lyrical “hobo ballad” put together and sung on city streets by a little-known at the time guitar-playing singer, one Harry McClintock (1882-1957).

His rendition was recorded some thirty years later minus, however, a final verse that we might find rather “linguistically questionable” these days. His tune was further whitewashed to become one of the more beloved “folk” songs from the late 1940s and, later, an innocent children’s song. Long in the public domain, the song has been recorded by dozens of performers right up to today–a fit subject, gentle readers, for a musical muse! 

It’s a simple song about a hobo’s idea of paradise, a modernized version of the medieval concept of the “Land of Cockaigne”—an imaginary place of luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of peasant life does not exist. Nothing to do with the modern day cocaine, however! Here, in a 1567 work, the Dutch painter Pieter Breugel the Elder gives us a rather unflattering, almost comic illustration of the spiritual emptiness of “Cockaigne” believed to derive from gluttony and sloth, two of the “seven deadly sins.” Whew! Who knew?  

Specifically, “Cockaigne” was a land of “contraries,” where all the restrictions of society are defied, sexual liberty is open, and food and strong drink are both free and plentiful. 

Before recording his song, however, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he had composed and performed as a busker in the 1890s. The story line of his early version told of the efforts of an old hobo to entice (lure?) a young farm boy into hobo-hood with wondrous tales of life on the road and in the “Big Rock Candy Mountains.” His song ended with a description of the perils that might befall an innocent young boy amongst not so innocent older men “on the road.”  Today, we would probably see this much like the warning we might give our children to avoid a stranger in a car saying “Hey little boy/girl. You want some candy?” 

Now, if any of you gentle readers are really curious, you can check out the early (erased), rather coarse “hobo language” verse with our friends at Wikipedia.  Moving on  .  .  . 

Tap or click on the next image or link to hear McClintock’s original recording of his song–made more a tale of wonder rather than of warning and, of course, more suitable to radio listeners as well as the sheet music and record buyers of the 1920s.  This recording was also used in the soundtrack of the 2000 Academy award nominated film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.”

Here’s a more contemporary artist’s take about our song, after Breugel, no less! More than a few similarities!   

Those who study such things agree that McClintock based his song on the old English ballad “An Invitation to Lubberland” that had been around since the 1600s and heard, no doubt, in the Scots-Irish mountain music of McCintock’s early wanderings. Click or tap on the next image or link for a simple singing of this ancient tune. Both the melodic and lyrical antecedents are striking!  

In 1949, “Big Rock Candy Mountain” was “sanitized” a bit more and recorded by the oversized, avuncular folk singer and actor Burl Ives.

This recording became, before “Oh Brother,” the version most of us had heard and grown up with.  Click or tap on the next image/link to be reminded of this one. 

Notice the “sudsing” at work!

Other popular, so-called “itinerant songs” of McClintock’s day–such as “Hobo’s Paradise“, “Hobo Heaven“, “Sweet Potato Mountains” and “Little Stream of Whiskey“–likely served as further inspiration as they touch on concepts similar to those in “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”  One of my favorites of this genre was recorded by the late Doc Watson.  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear his beautiful guitar accompaniment to this “whiskey” song sometimes known as “The Dying Hobo.”  Again, antecedents galore.

McClintock, also known by his hobo name of “Haywire Mac,” was born into a railroader family in Knoxville, Tennessee, and began his drifting when he ran away from home as a boy to join a circus.

He traveled the world as a railroader, seaman, soldier, and—most famously—a singing hobo.  

He was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World—the unionizing “Wobblies”—and, in the early 1920s, worked and organized union men in the oil fields of west Texas singing and busking as he went along.

McClintock wound up in the San Francisco Bay area and worked as a railroad brakeman. He later became a popular radio and recording singer with his own country band . . .

. . . and even appeared in a few movies. He was particular known for songs of the union movement in America. 

He is known for several other hobo songs . . .

. . . including one popular with the “Wobblies,” “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.” 

Click or tap on the next image or link for a listen to this one and see why it appealed to labor unionists.

Now, of course, we need to add to this musing with, probably, the most “squeaky-clean” version of our song, one recorded particularly for children. 

Keep the earworm alive by clicking or tapping on the next image or link to hear this happy interpretation!

My “musing rule” is that I like to have at least one ukulele version of the subject song per posting.  Needless to say, there are scores of interpretations of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” available on YouTube but here’s one of the more fun–and played on a National resonator uke, no less!  Click or tap on the next image or link for a real “cowboy-hobo” performance!

If you would like to give this one a try—only three chords!—here is a tutorial for you to follow.  You should be familiar with the melody by now (ear worm!), but the chord indications will help. See you there, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains! But, don’t take candy from strangers!

As another musing rule of mine, I like to explore themed ukuleles, this time having to do something with hobos. Not many out there but here is one decorated with those chalk-mark symbols that hobos used to “mark” their wanderings and communicate with hobo friends.

And, of course, one of our favorite cigar box ukes. I don’t know if the player is a hobo but he sure looks the part!

So.  While wandering or just waiting, stay safe, stay sequestered, stay masked  .  .  . 

Face Painting Mask Cover - Clown Face Mask - Hobo | Facepaint.com

.  .  . don’t get lured into the hobo’s irresponsible life as a way of forgetting about the responsibilities of real life  .  .  .

.  .  .  and STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 39, 12 September 2020: Title Tunes “Ukulele Style”

While researching songs over the past three or four years for my weekly musing on all things ukulele, nearly all the sheet music I found from those Ragtime and Tin Pan Alley days included ukulele chord diagrams printed right in the score. They did, however, use a couple of different tunings—GCEA as well as ADF#B. We have better things to argue about than tunings!  But ukulele history is what it is. So, moving on . . .

Many of these songs also showed a ukulele “in action” on the cover and a few others touched on ukuleles in the lyrics.  So today, gentle readers, I’m going to focus on several of the songs I came across that include the word “Ukulele,” or some variation thereof, in the title.  More than enough out there to hold our interest–some sappy, some silly, but some quite serene!

So.  Pick up your uke, get it in tune, and give a look and listen to what I call “Title Tunes: Ukulele Style.”

First off, to get us started, tap or click on the next image for a musical introduction to a classic ukulele themed song of the Roaring (Strumming?) Twenties.

Now lets move along with a strumming stroll through some more of these titles, listen to a few, and have a bit of a nostalgic look at these homages to our favorite little instrument. By the way, I was surprised to find so many YouTubes of early recordings of these songs. This must attest to their popularity with sheet music and record buyers in those days. Here’s a photo of the well staffed and stocked sheet music counter in one of the bigger New York department stores of the day.

Some of these older recordings are a bit scratchy or, typical of many of the hastily produced instrumental ragtime tunes of the era, can become a bit repetitive to anyone other than a serious musicologist or a two-stepping ragtime dancer. So, if you don’t include yourself in either of these categories, feel free to move on to the next tune when you have had enough!

Tuning in . . .

. . . we can quickly see that there are a few musical genres represented in our research.  There are, of course, those songs with an obvious Hawaiian or Island theme even if written by so-called “Mainlanders” who had never been to the islands. Low hanging fruit here! 

This one gives you a bit of a tongue-twister around the word “ukulele.” Click or tap on the next image to hear this one. You might want to make sure you have your dancing shoes on!

There’s more!

These might not be the lyrics of this particular song but they’re close enough for ukulele! Tap or click on the next image for a Laurel and Hardy singalong, of all things. Too good not to include!

And more!

And, of course, the grandmother of all ukulele title tunes, one we all know and love! Who knew it was written as a foxtrot?

Tap or click on the next image for a listen to this one performed by one of the first “ukulele ladies” of vaudeville and radio.

And then there are others that are of a more generic genre—no doubt Tin Pan Alley’s commercial response to the ukulele rage of the age. But, most make some fleeting reference to the music of the islands and, of course, those lovely hula girls and, needless to say, their beautiful ukuleles! 

Click or tap on the next image for a singing/dancing version of this oldie–something you won’t forget!

Tap or click on the next image to hear that really great ukulele player, Johnny Marvin, strum and sing this oldie.

And, of course, there are others.

Tap or click on the next image to hear an early recording of this oldie (yes) but goodie (not so sure . . .).

Here are some ukulele themed songs from “across the pond.”

Give a listen to this one from the British music hall tradition. Click or tap on the next image for the seafaring tale of woe–sort of!

And, of course, the banjo ukulele virtuoso himself! Click or tap on the next image for this one.

Now, back to American radio of the 1950s.

Here’s a version of this “ookoolaylay” style ukulele song by the performer who made the ukulele famous (again) in the 1950s–Arthur Godfrey. Click or tap on the next image for his crooning, baritone uke version.

Here’s one of the earliest ukulele themed songs that I found, one that seems to mix musical ethnicities. Go figure.

Click or tap on the next image to listen to this 1916 recording. Variations on a spelling theme here, plus it’s a ukulele (oops, ukalele) tune in ragtime!

Moving on . . . As would be expected, one can come across a ukulele decorated with a ukulele, or at least a person—usually a comely hula girl or crooning guy—playing one. 

I’m still searching, however, for a “trifecta” for my collection—a sheet music cover of 1) a ukulele named tune showing 2) a ukulele decorated 3) with a ukulele.  A big ask, but anything can be anywhere. Still looking!

And now, gentle readers, permit me to end with a song that steps just a wee bit out of bounds from today’s theme. Rather than an homage to our favorite little musical instrument it’s a complaint about a ukulele player—who is, apparently, loud but not very good.  Alas, no “ukulele” in the title but the image and lyrics say it all! Definitely a song about a ukulele and worth a muse or two.

To end our musing of the day on an “earworm note, tap or click on the next image to listen in!

So, stay safely sequestered with your ukulele handy and think about all those ukulele songs about ukuleles played on ukuleles decorated with ukuleles.  Whew.  Anyway, stay safely masked for you, yours, me, and mine . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED! Oh yes, face your fears for your next open mike performance with your favorite little ukulele and a song about ukuleles!

A note of caution: Don’t use a “sopranino” ukulele if you’re tempted to try this yourself!

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 38, 5 September 2020: It’s September. There’s a “Greyhair” Song About That!

Rarely in my weekly musings do I focus on a single song, but the beginning of a new month gives this old “greyhair” of a ukulele and musical theater buff an opportunity too good to let pass by. 

It’s a melancholy song, rather than sad, and it sort of suits my mood these days as we head into the last few months of this bewildering if not unbearable year of 2020.  So, let’s glance back eighty or so years and take an over-the-shoulder look and listen to what has become an American standard appropriate for this month: “September Song.

Our song was written for the now almost forgotten Broadway musical “Knickerbocker Holiday,” starring Walter Huston (1883-1950), that premiered in 1938. 

The book and lyrics were written by Maxwell Anderson and the music composed by Kurt Weill.  The story is loosely based on Washington Irving’s “Father Knickerbocker Stories” about life in the 17th century Dutch “New Netherland” colony in America—old New York. 

The musical is a romantic comedy with a thinly disguised ribbing of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and of authoritarian governments in general.  Sadly, the book didn’t sit well with either critics or audiences and the show didn’t last too long. “September Song,” however, lives on and on. Be that as it may, gentle readers, we’ll just leave the vagaries of political/theater history to be explored by others while we simply muse along with the music.   

Maxwell Anderson (1888-1959) was a prolific American playwright, author, poet, journalist, and lyricist.  But, by the 1920s, his progressive take on politics pushed him away from journalism. He soon found his true calling in more creative forms of writing . . . 

. . . and became one of the most prolific writers of historical plays and films of his day. He was particularly noted for adapting novels and other literary works for both Broadway and Hollywood.

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a German composer actively working, with his wife the singer and actress Lotte Lenye, from the 1920s in his native Berlin and in their later years as American citizens. 

 He was a leading composer for the stage and was best known for his fruitful collaborations with playwrite Bertolt Brecht, including their best-known and still performed work “The Threepenny Opera.” 

The plot of “Knickerbocker Holiday” is a bit convoluted but basically it’s the tale of Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutchman both arrogant and a bit long in the tooth , who was sent to America in the 1600s by the government of Holland to serve as the governor of the “New Netherland” colony.

The musical dwells on the comi-tragic interactions between the colonial governor and the stubborn, independent-minded colonials. Needless to say, that was a typical political reality in America in those colonial days! All this was done with plenty of singing and dancing, no less.

In the context of the musical, “September Song” is a lyrical metaphor comparing a single year to a person’s entire life span from birth to death.  Here, the song is sung by Huston, a Broadway idol in his day (but, alas, not the best of vocalists) in the starring role of the curmudgeonly, peg-legged Stuyvesant.

The song is a smitten but older man’s wooing song (lament, really) addressed to a colonial maiden that has caught his roving eye. She is, of course, desirable but, alas, much younger and, ultimately, disinterested. The premise of the song is that, in the eyes of the elderly Stuyvesant, the courting activities of young folks and the objects of their desire are, at best, transient and time-wasting. So, why not choose him now, he sings, while there is still time? As an older suitor, Stuyvesant pleads that he hasn’t “got time for the waiting game.” 

Our plucky heroine, of course, brushes aside his advances and runs to the waiting arms (albeit locked in the punishment stocks) of a young and handsome colonial rabblerouser who (I said the plot was convoluted!) was about to be hanged for “disobedience” to colonial rule or some such thing. And the play goes on . . .

Today some folks would probably chant “#MeToo” as Huston sang away but, that was eighty innocent years ago before such things as hashtags.  Anyway, we “greyhairs” who may also be a bit long in the tooth can relate to the song’s metaphorical image of the passage of time.  You youngsters—just you wait a few decades!

Moving on, here are the original lyrics–verses as well as chorus–as sung in the musical by Huston. This puts the whole song into context.  Click or tap on the next image for this.  

You might not recognize Huston in his early Knickerbocker role.” Here he is a few decades later as one of Hollywood’s great character actors. Who would have thought?

Here he is in the film “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” For which he won an Oscar. An interesting bit of family history is that his son John and grandaughter Angelica have also won Acadamy Awards!

Here he is with some serious makeup!

Over the decades, “September Song” has evolved into a minor-key jazz and pop standard performed by many singers over the years–young, old, male, female –and it’s worth listening to a few other interpretations.  It was featured in the 1944 movie version, also called “Knickerbocker Holiday,” and sung by character actor Charles Coburn who played Stuyvesant as even more comic and buffoonish than Huston.  Alas, there seems to be no YouTube of Coburn’s rendition. But the whole movie is there if you have the hour or so, and the inclination, these “precious days.”

Here is Coburn, to the left, with a “baroque” wooden leg. The young hearthrob is the really good singer Nelson Eddy and the comely conquest is Constance Dowling. Needless to say, the movie suffered through a MAJOR rewrite to switch the lead to the young and handsome Eddy. At least Stuyvesant’s song remained.

The recording of our song that reached the top of the charts, however, was made in 1946, by a much younger and better singer than either Huston or Coburn, Frank Sinatra.  He leaves out the verses that provide the song’s context, however, and really only does the chorus. Musical license, I guess; but musical cheeseparing nonetheless.

Click or tap on the next image to listen to what became one of Sinatra’s signature songs over the decades.

A more recent “greyhair” to tackle this tune was Willie Nelson in 1978.  Click or tap on the next image for his melancholy interpretation. Again, only the chorus without context.

Now–performing well out of his usual clownish character–is a surprisingly good take on “September Song” by, of all people, Jimmie Durante.  Tap or click on the next image for this. I think that this “greyhair” really captures the poignancy of the song. And, it includes the verses! Context makes a difference; you might want to grab a hankie! 

Since this musing is, lest we forget, about music and ukuleles, I can’t resist digressing. The time setting of “Knickerbocker Holiday” coincides with the so-called Dutch “Golden Age” of commerce and art and, needless to say, a lot of art of the period touches on musical themes. I’m sure, of course, that these strummers and singers are using 17th century versions of our yellow and blue books!

Alas, this was way before the heyday of our favorite little musical instrument, the ukulele. But there are plenty of artistic examples in the genre paintings of the day depicting stringed instruments, particularly a variety of forms of the lute. Luteleles?

I’m sure that somewhere in the New Netherland colony of our musical there was a lute or two to be found. But the only apropos reference to a ukulele that I could find is, well, a bit more modern–but from the ancient New Netherland village of “Old Dutch” Los Angeles. Sorry.  “Greyhair Joke”  .  .  .

Now, back to the business at hand and with a real ukulele. The melancholy lyrics of “September Song” that touch on the aging process are one thing that has lasted, but more so has the melody.  This has been interpreted as a jazz standard by many musicians not the least of which is this intricate ukulele solo.  Click or tap on the next image to feel the musical thrill of a September chill, Gypsy jazz ukulele style, no less.

So, as “the days grow short,” we reach the calendric September of this year, as well as a pivotal month within a metaphorical lifetime. So, let’s remember both the verses and choruses of the songs we sing and live, and–whether “greyhaired” or not–stay safe, stay sequestered, stay masked . . .

. . . and  STAY TUNED!  

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 37, 29 August 2020: Ukes Around the Campfire–A Gift of the “Campfire Spirit”

Growing up in the 1950s, one of my favorite summertime experiences was “going to camp.”  For me, this was Boy Scout Camp with all the fun of archery, Indian lore, crafts, canoeing, swimming, and outdoor adventures.  I did this for a few years both as a camper and as staff.

Each evening, just after dark and before “Lights Out,” all of us would assemble at the camp’s lakeside mini-amphitheater to end the day with what was simply called “Campfire.”  The big bonfire was lit “miraculously” by the camp “spirit” and, after announcements, demonstrations, and—from time to time—a skit or story, it ended with the camp “Sing.” 

We were all young enough and innocent enough in those days to join in with singing those good old camp favorites that had been around for years and, indeed, for generations.

We could even hear the Girl Scouts from their camp across the lake but, as would be expected with the youth of those days, we were too young and naive to notice. Sort of . . .

When I was on staff, I was assigned the daily task of “fire spirit” and set the tinder, kindling, and wood and—at the mysteriously correct time—pulled the hidden cord that dragged the weighted wood block studded with strike-anywhere” matches over the sheet of coarse sandpaper hidden beneath the tinder.  Flame, then fire, then CAMPFIRE!  Hey, it was the 1950s!  Times were simpler then.

Those so-called campfire songs—sometimes published with appropriate ukulele accompaniment chords—have been around for years and songbooks for boys, girls, and grownups filled with these were readily available but seldom needed. We already knew almost all of them.

And, of course, the most popular songbook of all for campfires or anywhere! Alas, no uke chords with this one. But most songs were too well known to really need them.

The songs were familiar and, usually, more than three chords were all that were necessary. How’s this for a favorite oldie? Only two chords! Don’t tell me you have never sung this one around a campfire or somewhere else.

Every once in a while someone–usually one of the adult leaders would have a guitar, harmonica, or even a ukulele! Alas, not me in those days.

Jim and Liz Beloff’s “Camp Ukulele” book is the quintessential reminder of all these old campfire chestnuts and only a handful of the forty or so songs in the book are unfamiliar to me.

Needless to say you’ll also find most of these songs in their Yellow and Blue Books that we use every week, but it doesn’t hurt to hear some other folks give a good performance of one of these. Click or tap on the next image for a listen to some good baritone uke strumming on this campfire favorite.

Or, how about this one from their book–a bit more fun for the young campers of today. Click or tap on the next image once you have your uke in hand and campfire ablaze!

Needless to say, some campfire songs go way, way back.

Tap or click on the next image for a simple version of this Civil War camp ground song.

There were even campfire songs back in days of World War One.

The Scots had their campfire version of “Annie Laurie” and the Yanks did a take on “Tenting Tonight. Sorry, no YouTubes for these but the covers say it all.

Here’s another World War I favorite. That’s a banjo mandolin being played. Close enough to a uke for a campfire!

Even during World War II there were singalongs and what could easily pass as campfire songs.

And, of course a bit of singalong trench humor!

Moving on, other campfire songs are, shall we say, a bit more modern.

Tap or click on the next block for the late Allan Sherman’s performance of his ultimate camp song!

Even more contemporary than “Hello Muddah . . . ,” here’s one from good old (?) Spongebob Squarepants, himself! Click or tap on the next image for what I am sure is a campfire favorite of today. Well, it is 202o . . .

There was also a style of ukulele specifically called a “Camp Uke.” 

This was soprano scale with a circular body almost like a wood-topped banjo uke.  Lyon & Healy of Chicago pioneered these but , as would be expected, a lot of folks copied the style and the name.  Here are a few from my collection.

Here’s also a campfire-ready ukulele from Martin, their so-called “Backpacker.” It’s a bit of an odd shape but it has good tone and volume. You could really carry it along.

And there’s the all-polycarbonite (plastic to most of us) “Outdoor” ukulele from Oregon. Don’t get too close to the campfire with this one, however!

Of course, most other ukes work just fine around a campfire–in the woods, on the beach, or in the backyard. Especially to serenade your sweetie!

Just keep those ukes out of the kindling pile!

So, as this summer of sequestration comes to a close, and whatever camps and campgrounds that were open have closed their gates, hopefully you were able to enjoy an evening campfire in the great outdoors. Perhaps not . . .

Whether camping, glamping, RV-ing, or fire-pitting in your backyard or nearby woods, hopefully you were compelled (coerced?) to pull out that old uke, strum a three-chord progression intro and launch into a few of those smokey old songs that everyone already knew from their campfire days.

So, stay safe, stay sequestered, and put that fire out properly . . .

. . . and thoroughly before that evening hike back to your tent with new and old friends and lights out. But don’t forget those campground intruders!

And also, don’t forget those pesky (but necessary) face masks even in the great outdoors!

And, let’s not let our campfire fun get too 2020-ish . . .

. . . nor should we forget those delicious old campfire days!

And, we should all dress properly!

Most important, however, STAY TUNED!

MUSICAL MUSINGS, 4 November 2022: Marching to the Polls Together; It’s About Time!

Well, I assume that most of us are now aware that there is an election headed our way in just a few more days.  I assume also that most of us will be able to vote one way or another and to have that vote counted one way or another.  And, to add a bit of a historical flourish to this election in 2020, most of us are aware that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1920, finally allowed most of the other half of America to vote—Women! 

The international “Women’s Suffrage” movement was born in Europe and the USA back in the mid-19th Century . . .

. . . but women’s right to vote didn’t get adopted by all forty-eight states until that constitutional amendment was adopted a hundred years ago. 

During the last few weeks, newspapers and television were full of stories about this bit of American history.  But, gentle readers, just what does this have to do with my weekly musings about music and our favorite little instrument, the ukulele? Well, you need to start early with a ukulele and, of course, with the thought of voting!  

Moving on, demonstrations and marching were big parts of the Women’s Suffrage movement . . .

. . . and so-called “Suffragettes” (the feminized form of Suffragist, for you grammarians out there) were energized by many marching songs.

Alas, there seems to be a dearth of recordings or YouTubes of any of these marches. They are probably seen as a bit too maudlin or “dirge-like” for modern ears, but here is one just to give a taste. The pictures are pretty good however. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

In those days, there were the Suffragette songs done in the more popular manner that became best selling products of Tin Pan Alley, or its British equivalent, and the nascent recording industry. Many parlor piano playing women loved to turn the musical tables on the men of the family!

Most men who were not suffragists simply pouted, sipped their beer, and made a grudging attempt to do unfamiliar household chores.

Needless to say, many popular songs reflected this!

Here’s an original recording of this ragtime tune. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen.

Here’s a more modern take on some of these tunes. Give a click or tap on the triangle in the next image for some fun.

I was able to find a newer version of this British music hall tune! Click or tap on the triangle in the next next image for a listen. The lyrics are pretty timeless.

There were, as would be expected, many popular songs that reflected the rather confused and confusing thoughts on both sides of the issue.

And, then, there were the songs of the so-called “Antis,” those men and (yes) women who opposed giving the right to vote to women.

Well, just to give equal time, here’s a tune of the ANTI-suffragette movement. Its a bit cringworthy, but at least its short! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image if you must!

So, whether you are a Suffragist or a Suffragette, vote proudly and thoughtfully for the candidate of your—not necessarily your partner’s or spouse’s—choice!  And, of course stay safe and STAY TUNED! 

I am sure, in Easthampton too!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 35, 15 August 2020: Collegiate, Collegiate, Nothing “Intermejate!”—But With No Football?

We live in what is known as the “Five College Area” of Western Massachusetts. And, in these pandemic days as we approach the beginning of the academic year, many of us are having dark thoughts about the impact of twenty or thirty thousand students from all over the world descending on our “Happy Valley.”

Or, conversely, having even darker thoughts about the impact of twenty or thirty thousand young folks NOT coming back to campuses and our communities until who knows when. 

The cultural and economic impact of either scenario is hard to fathom, to say nothing of the impact on the health of students, staff, and us in this academic/pandemic year. We wait and see and, yes, we STAY TUNED.

Meanwhile, in our masked sequestration in proximity to many halls of ivy, I find myself musing from time to time on college life both as I knew it way back in the mid-years of the last century (that sounds scary!) and how it affected music and our favorite little musical instrument—the ukulele—in those and earlier years.

Singing was popular in those days and many, many songbooks were readily available and well used.

And, here’s a really early songbook from 1891 and another dated 1915, both from Smith College here in Northampton, one of our five colleges.

Many popular songs were written ABOUT college life but, other than the good old “alma mater” tunes, were seldom written BY those actually experiencing it.  Ah, yes.  A form of cultural stereotype! 

So, as a musical kickoff in this football season with no football games, here is a parody of so many college songs of the day: “Oh How We Love Our Alma Mater!” Click or tap on the next image to listen and laugh at this one from the 1920s.

There were many ukuleles that had a somewhat “collegiate” theme. Here are a few from my collection. Let’s start with a banjo uke from the 1920s autographed by fraternity brothers.

Alas, I played a tenor banjo (a 1928 Gretsch tuned like a baritone ukulele, DGBE) way, way back when I was in college. Not quite a ukulele but close enough in those days.

So much for the instruments themselves.

Now, gentle readers, bear with me as I muse and dip into the devious world of statistics albeit in my mid-century way! Remember these gadgets?

For example, in 1920, fewer than 1% of Americans had college degrees.  By 1940, it jumped to around 6% while today it’s nearly 40%!  Going “off to college”during the pre-World War II, non GI Bill days, was viewed by many as a luxury few could afford and, in fact, more than a few found unnecessary and, in fact, pretentious. If the public image of college wasn’t tarnished, it sure wasn’t polished in the early days!

But above all, college was seen by many to be fun–a formulative interval in one’s path through life, so to speak–and the “collegiate mythology” was born!   Here is one of the most popular tunes of the era, one that typifies the myth both in content and language!

Click or tap on the next image to give a listen to this quintessential image of college life in the 1920s.

The musical myths continued to spin!

And, of course, ukuleles were a big part of college learning and loving.

Most songwriters of the era—with the notable exceptions of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael—had never set foot on a college campus.  To give them an A+ for that good old college try, however, here are a couple of (quite forgettable I would think) tunes by Porter, a Yale “Eli.” You would have to be a one to appreciate, let alone understand, these two.

Here’s a delightful presentation of this tune from the biopic “Night and Day.” Tap or click on the next image to, shall we say, bark along!

On the other hand, it’s a bit easier to pay homage to Carmichael, that good old “Hoosier” from the University of Indiana.

Tap or click on the next image for a look and listen to this song within its film context–snappy lyrics by Carmichael, no less.

But, to be a “college man” (or boy) in those days was still something special and worthy of note, many notes in fact!

Tap or click on the next image for this ragtime era tune from 1910.

And then there were the “college women” (or girls). There were more and more on campuses as the decades rolled along.

Needless to say, these and their college lifestyle became cemented in songwriters’ minds. 

But, a lot of the the songs endure and many were made for the ukulele!       

You can still strum a few of these today.

In the 1920s or 1930s—whether or not you went to “State,”

one of the “Ivies,”

or an “Ag” school,

or one of the “Sisters,”

college students wanted to fit in. 

Of course there were classes. Some stylishly serious.

And some not so. Also, professors, of differing descriptions!

I’ll spare you a YouTube of this one made somewhat famous by the bandleader Kay Kyser and his “Kollege of Musical Knowledge.”

They went to football games on their own or nearby campuses and on (unchaperoned!) dates.

They joined sororities and fraternities.

Tap or click on the next image for a listen to this venerable fraternity “sweetheart” song that has become an American songbook standard.

And they spent their weekends being and laughing with friends.

College men and women in those days often were more worried about the present Prohibition than the coming Great Depression.

Tap or click on the next image for a rowdy 1940s take on this oldie from the University of Maine, one of the most popular (and parodied) college drinking songs of the 1930s.

And, football was king!

Tap or click on the next image to hear this one.

Now here’s a genre of ukuleles from my collection that make the point (point after?)!

Here’s a rather strange interpretation of this old chestnut of a college song–with some rather interesting, not-quite-football moves! Tap or click on the next image for a look see.

There’s even a ukulele version of this one. Tap or click on the next image for a listen.

Still, a big part of campus time was spent meeting future partners—business and romance—and to have the best of times with their peers and cohorts. 

Needless to say, music—particularly rousing songs and wild dancing—were a big part of all this

Tap or click on the next image for a jazzy performance of this campus favorite!

The outfit that was the thing in the stadium.

In the 1920s and 1930s, women attending school—co-ed or their own, was becoming more and more the norm.  Prior to World War I, most women were expected not to pursue more higher education “than necessary” and to devote their lives to homes and husbands instead. 

However, after the war was over, both young men and women looked to their futures with newly opened eyes and enrolled in college for a more meaningful education. 

Tap or click on the next image to hear a Rudy Vallee interpretation of this oldie but goody!

Studies in colleges and universities in the 1920s mostly focused on the so-called “generals”—math, English, science, languages, and history.  Often both Greek and Latin were requirements.  Law and medical curricula were common and professional degrees in engineering, business, and architecture were offered. 

Despite Prohibition, hip flasks were often flouted and beer flowed freely in most fraternities.  Romance was in the air and, needless to say, opportunities were everywhere!   

Give a listen to this oldie by clicking or tapping on the next image.

But, to an outsider, social life seemed to be everything to college students in those days.  Alas, good grades and academics too often were not the reasons for attending college. Instead, it seemed to be all about the social life and, of course, football.

So, it looks like we are about to enter an academic year without football. Strange! Nothing to do but go to class, study, write those papers, and stay masked and socially distanced. And, lets not forget the parents!

At least we can have some sort of music to remember those sweet old college days when we could be closer than six feet from friends! Click or tap on the next image to here a delightful group of singers from Alison’s Alma Mater–Smith College.

Now, click or tap on the next image for a song from my old school, Illinois

So, stay well, stay distanced, stay close to your Alma Mater, and STAY TUNED!

And don’t forget your mask, especially you Smithies!

Thanks for college moms and dads!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 34, 8 August 2020: “Cats Are Back!”

Well, it’s been a busy week on the homefront.  Despite sequestration and social distancing, however, we have managed to expand our family here in Northampton!  Yes, after about five years of being deprived, we are once again “catted.”  Thanks to our friends at the Dakin Humane Society we now have not one new kitty but two!  These young “sisters” are getting used to their new home and Alison (our resident “cat whisperer”) and I are making friends and testing new names.  “Uke” and “Lele” . . .

. . . were immediately dismissed by the whisperer—as were “Noho” and “Hamp” . . .

as a tad too partisan or whatever the feline equivalent might be. On the other hand, perhaps “Banny” and “Joey.” Hmmm . . . Probably “No” again says the whisperer in charge.

Meanwhile, I thought I would move on from musing on names to focus this week on the musical “cat world.” Believe it or not, it’s a vast one out there! A feline adventure awaiting . . . 

. . . plus, with due apologies, a couple of cat videos that managed to sneak in via YouTube. Sorry, sort of.

There must be something about cats that sheet music cover artists in the sweet old days were, shall we say, drawn to as there seem to be many, many delightful examples out there—particularly in the early days of ragtime and Tin Pan Alley. 

I am, however, studiously avoiding the likes of the decidedly non-G-rated Kit Kat Klub of the musical “Cabaret,” . . .

or the over-the-top musical “Cats.”  

Digressions in that direction would be, in my humble opinion, a bit too contemporary for one of my simple musings. I must suppose, however, that some of you gentle readers might opine otherwise! Still, to me, there’s nothing wrong with taking a good long look into the musical rear-view mirror. So, let’s put it into reverse and GO!

While most of these are instrumentals that composers believed evoke the proclivities, movements, or attitudes of a variety of cats, the songs seemed to be of little interest to lyricists except for the next tune–sort of. Go figure.

Tap or click on the next image for an original recording of this one-step tune from 1918–with “Me-Ow” lyrics.

Here’s one of the great cat-themed ragtime tunes with a piano score you can follow! Tap or click on the next image to tag along.

Moving on, we would be remiss if we didn’t take a look at a few of the cat-themed ukuleles out there.

For some weird (macabre?) reason black cats seem to be the most musically prevalent.  One can only guess at their popularity.

Aside from Halloween, it’s probably just because of the two- or three-color printing options in the good old days. Or, the Devil made black cats the musical critters of choice! Go figure. (As a disclaimer, our new kitties are grey–one solid, the other tabby striped. No bad luck here, hopefully!)

It’s not a ukulele version but a great blues guitar take on this ragtime tune. Tap or click on the next image for a listen.

While there seem to be a lot of vnerable and, sometimes, singable songs out there about brave and loyal dogs and their devoted owners, this doesn’t seem to be the case with cats or kittens.

Cats are, some say, too aloof to fall into the trap of drooly devotion. 

Hence, cats seem to populate the novelty song genre. Perhaps it’s in their open-mike stage presence. Worth a discussion here.

No one seems to have written anything like “How Much is That Kittie in the Window” or something like that.  But, let’s see what we can find!

Here’s an original scratchy old recording of this one. Tap or click on the next image to check it out.

This one’s a tad more recent–the 1950’s–but it does have a nice animated video to go with it. Enjoy by clicking or tapping on the next image.

Here’s a nicely strummed, updated ukulele cover of this Gay-Nineties tune. The original lyrics, alas, are decidedly non-PC for this day and age, but they are out there for you dedicated musical scholars and historians to pursue on your own. I’ll stick with this sprightly version which you can give a listen to by clicking or tapping on the next image.

And, of course, the perennial instrumental favorite!

Tap or click on the next image to be reminded of this old ragtime chestnut!

So keep socially distanced, . . .

. . . keep sequestered, keep caring for your pets and other loved ones, and STAY TUNED!

Oh, yes.  Stay properly masked!

Not a mask per se–the beard doesn’t cover both nose and mouth– but too good a photo to not include!

And for you owners of technologically savvy cats out there . . .