What this page is about
Back in the early 2000s I started using the computer to record myself playing the uke and singing songs. At first, my only recording “equipment” was the little button condenser mic on my computer screen. I’d play and sing directly into that tiny dot of a microphone the size of a poppy seed. The audio results from this method could not have been worse than if I had used an actual poppy seed: lots of noise from the hum of the computer, limited dynamic range, muffled tone.
Over time, I bought a couple of better mics and got to a point in my (still very limited) understanding of recording theory and practice of being able to make half-decent mp3s to share.
On this page, I’ll post some of these dozens of earlier recordings, including ones I’ve made recently. I’ll put up 1-4 songs at a time with a bit of info about each one. Just click on the red link under each song description to open a new page in your browser where the song will play.
Thanks for tuning in!
Louise (R. Whiting/L. Robin, 1929) This tune was introduced by Maurice Chevalier in the Paramount movie, Innocents of Paris. I recorded it in March of 2009 and remixed it recently to try to remove some of the noise that had infiltrated the original cut. It’s a short, once-through take. Back in the early 1980s when I first started to play the ukulele, I opened a concert for folk-music legend Michael Cooney, “The One Man Folk Festival.” He borrowed my uke (a Martin Style 0 soprano, I think) and played “Louise” to the audience. I was so impressed that I went about learning the song right away. It’s been a part of my song list ever since.
Close to You (A. Hoffman/C. Lampl/J. Livingston, 1942) Here’s a pretty ballad that I learned from the Sinatra LP of the same title. (Listen to that record if you have any interest in Sinatra. He sings it all in front of the Hollywood String Quartet with Nelson Riddle’s arrangements. It’s Old Blue Eyes at his best.) I decided to post this tune to freshen things up around here, as I am battling a nasty chest cold and can barely croak out feeble requests for sustenance to my wife, let alone sing anything.
Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away) (G. Gershwin/I. Gershwin/G. Kahn, 1929) This Gerswhin song debuted in the musical revue, Show Girl. Al Jolson is famous for rising from the audience and singing along with the song’s chorus to upstage his wife, Ruby Keeler, during a Boston tryout.
I recorded this two years ago at a time when I was having trouble eliminating noise from my recordings. I liked this performance, but there was a persistent humming sound in the background that I now tried to eliminate with some filters. As a result, there’s a tin-can sound to the whole thing which I rationalize as being not an unpleasant quality for an 80-year-old tune. ;°)
I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So (E. K. Ellington/M. David, 1945) Here’s the great Duke Ellington with a cool blues that lotsa people recorded over time. Dianne Reeves did it, as did Andy Bey, Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Annie Ross, Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett…cripey, even Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry covered this song.
Have not felt very lucky myself lately, so maybe posting this tune will help change my fortunes. Yeah, right.
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall (D. Fisher/A. Roberts, 1944) The Ink Spots did this as a duet with Ella Fitzgerald, which is where I learned it. Kay Starr recorded a nice big-band version. Here, I overdubbed scatting, whistling, percussion and extra uke work.
Lonesome Me (T. Waller/C. Conrad/A. Razaf, 1932) Here’s a melancholy Fats Waller tune. Waller was best known for his persona of the fun-loving clown, but he had a serious side. (He died from alcoholism and pneumonia before reaching the age of 40 years. That’s pretty serious.) I recorded this several years ago while on the mend from my own bout with respiratory distress (bronchitis), so the vocal has a husky quality to it.
Moon Song (That Wasn’t Meant for Me) (A. Johnston/S. Coslow, 1932) Arthur Johnston wrote a raft of Tin Pan Alley favorites, including “Cocktails for Two,” “Learn to Croon,” and most memorably, “Pennies from Heaven.” “Moon Song” first appeared in the film Hello, Everybody.
Love Me as I Am (L. Alter/F. Loesser, 1941) This song was introduced by Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope in the film, Caught in the Draft. I learned it some time ago while listening to the Sinatra/Dorsey recording. It’s a fun, light-hearted tune, with the unmistakable imprint of Frank Loesser’s brilliant way with words and Louis Alter’s catchy melody.
Miss Brown to You (R. Whiting/R. Rainger/L. Robin, 1935) This tune was originally included in the film The Big Broadcast of 1936 as a dance number, with Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers hoofing to the Ray Noble Orchestra. Billie Holiday made it a hit, singing with Teddy Wilson and his band. Here, I play the uke and sing it through, adding scats, more uke, and various rhythm work during the instrumental breaks.
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (J. Gorney/EY Harburg, 1931) Here’s the great Depression-era song whose lyric by Yip Harburg seems frighteningly relevant today.
I recorded this song about 8 years ago using the substandard equipment I had at that time (monitor screen’s built-in button condenser microphone), and the lack of sonic quality shows (“inside a tin can”). I ran some filters on it to clean it up a bit. The performance of it was ok, though, so I thought I’d put it out there. My voice sounds (and is) younger in this cut.
Mood Indigo (D. Ellington/B. Bigard, 1930) According to a 1987 interview, Tin Pan Alley lyricist Mitchell Parrish claimed that he had written the lyric to Mood Indigo, and not Irving Mills. I tend to believe Parrish; Irving Mills was a business man-music mogul—not a lyricist. Mills put his name on the credits for hundreds of songs in order to collect royalties; I don’t believe the man had a lyrical cell in his body.
Anyway, I did this tune a couple of years ago, using dissonant vocals and scatting in homage to Duke Ellington’s many recordings of his classic tune, where his horn sections would go truly wild with hitherto unheard-of clashing harmonies.
Try Your Wings (M. Barr/D. McGregor, 1957) “Try Your Wings” was written in the year of my birth by Michael Barr and Dion McGregor for Blossom Dearie. The song became something of a theme song for Dearie. When I learned of her death in February of ’09, I recorded this version in tribute to the great cabaret singer and pianist. The recording quality is not the best, as I was having trouble at the time getting the volume levels to balance. Still, it’s an all-right performance, so I kept it, and I share it with you here and now.
Moon of Manakoora (A. Newman/F. Loesser, 1937) This song premiered instrumentally as a background theme in the film The Hurricane, and a vocal version by Dorothy Lamour came out shortly after the film’s release. The song’s lyric and melody evoke an exotic Polynesian atmosphere, but there is no such place in the South Pacific called “Manakoora,” although there is a Manakura island off the coast of Guyana in South America. I recorded this using a baritone ukulele, and I sang in a high falsetto voice for the instrumental break.
(What was I thinking? It’s not the baritone ukulele I’ve used on this cut—it’s the Earnest La Paula concert uke.)
EDIT: The Hurricane was on TCM TV yesterday! I missed most of it, and I only heard “Moon of Manakoora” played instrumentally in the background. Would have loved to see the young Dorothy Lamour croon that one.
He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped (John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, c. 1946) Dizzy’s upbeat novelty number always bops you with a smile. I recorded the instrumental track years ago when I had only substandard equipment, and it shows: the sound quality is, well, substandard. However, I liked the actual ukulele performance, so I ran the track through some filters to make it sound somewhat better, and I kept it. Later, with a quality microphone, I laid down a new vocal track and a scat chorus. Bee-Bop!
Carol’s Theme (Joe Hamilton, 1973) This tune, the theme song for The Carol Burnett Show, has special meaning for me. I enjoyed Carol’s popular variety show, which aired on CBS television from 1967 to 1978, but more than that, her face is burned into my mind as one of my very earliest memories. My sister and brother (10.5 and 12 years older than I, respectively) were youthful autograph hounds who haunted New York City theater backstage doors during the early 1960s. My sister in particular was a hhhuuuge fan of Carol’s, and managed to develop a sliver of a relationship with the star, who had become used to seeing my sis and a regular coterie of admirers hanging around Carol’s Central Park South apartment. Ms. Burnett was famously generous with the time she lent to fans, always willing to spend as long as necessary to sign every autograph request, and even to engage in conversations with her street-side entourage.
One time my sister dragged around four-year-old me to one of her stake-outs. Carol appeared and stopped for a chat with the fans, and here occurred the encounter that I shall never forget. As my sister introduced me, I clearly remember Carol Burnett’s big, friendly face, wide smile, and beaming eyes descending toward me as she patted me on the head saying, “What a cute little boy!” I also remember my embarrassing response as I turned and looked at my sister to loudly declare, “She’s ugly!” Carol, always the professional, always the top-notch comedienne, continued patting me on the head, but now, gritting her teeth and clenching a fist, repeated, “What a cute little boy!”
This fine song was written by Carol’s husband at the time, Joe Hamilton. I recorded it sometime in the past year, I think.
Heart & Soul (F. Loesser/H. Carmichael, 1938) This is the Standard of all Standards, in my opinion, and, it came from the brains of two of my favorite song writers, so it’s an automatic best-in-class. I recorded this cut recently, in the past half year or so.
Everything Happens to Me (M. Dennis/T. Adair, 1941) I first recorded this in 2007 and re-mixed it more recently. I learned it around 20 years earlier during a visit to my home by my mother and sister, both of whom have passed on, so my recollection of the song will always be associated with those two fiery Italian women. I picked up this arrangement from the Sinatra/Dorsey recording, but it was eagerly appropriated by jazz people such as Bud Powell, Bird, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, and even Monk, among others. There’s also a personal relationship to my own life’s history with the song’s sardonic lyric because, well, as the man said, “everything happens to me.”
Crying in the Rain (C. King/H. Greenfield, 1961) Recorded with my buddy, Arturo “Arch” Larizza. This is an example of a long-distance musical collaboration that could only have come to pass in this day and age of compressed digital music files and Teh Internets. Arch lives in Melbourne, Australia, and I live in Pennsylvania, USA, so instead of sending CDs to each other through the mail and having to wait a week between each little edit, we sent mp3s back and forth until this instantaneous result was achieved. I sing melody and play baritone ukulele, and Arch does the rest, including harmony vocals, a variety of uke work, bass, and percussion. Arch made the final mix, as well.
Strip Polka (Johnny Mercer, 1942) Mercer wrote this song for the armed forces during WWII, and it was a credited as a big morale booster for the troops. Here I play a uke and provide my own backup vocals and sound effects. Light-hearted, and swinging!
Pied Piper of Hamelin (N. Gay/D. Carter, 1931) I forget which ukuleles I used for this fun tune, other than that for some of the lead uke work I played a baritone held close to a microphone, and then added some post-production filtering to make it sound sort of like a surf guitar.