My Ship

2 06 2012

My Ship—K. Weill/I. Gershwin, 1941 (Recorded June 2, 2012) This bittersweet ballad comes from the Weill/Gershwin Broadway musical, Lady in the Dark, and introduced by Gertrude Lawrence in character as Liza Elliott. I first fell in love with the tune by way of Johnny Hartman’s recording from his 1964 album, The Voice That Is!

Here’s a provocative quote by Ira Gershwin about the song. When the Hollywood movie of Lady in the Dark was made in 1944, “My Ship” didn’t make the final cut. Gershwin was bemused by this decision. From Wikipedia:

“Later, when Lady in the Dark was filmed, the script necessarily had many references to the song. But for some unfathomable reason the song itself—as essential to this musical drama as a stolen necklace or a missing will to a melodrama—was omitted. Although the film was successful financially, audiences evidently were puzzled or felt thwarted or something, because items began to appear in movie-news columns mentioning that the song frequently referred to in Lady in the Dark was ‘My Ship.’ I hold a brief for Hollywood, having been more or less a movie-goer since I was nine; but there are times….”

Hollywood. There are times, indeed.

A note about this recording: This is another of my early-morning, before-the-first-cuppa-joe efforts, where my voice is still, um, textured. I used the 1920s Lyon & Healy soprano ukulele and sang it straight through, with a touch of added reverb.

Oh, one more thing—also snatched from Wikipedia…I had to post this picture of Kurt Weill. It’s charming. ;°)

Meet Me Somewhere in Your Dreams

31 05 2012

Meet Me Somewhere in Your Dreams—Herb Cook, 1938 (Recorded May 31, 2012) I recorded this song today in honor of Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson (March 3, 1923–May 29, 2012). It has special meaning to me. Included in Doc Watson’s 1973 album, Then and Now, this song was a particular favorite of my wife’s and mine as we were coming up together. While Watson’s amazing guitar style could not be beat, it was his warm, natural singing voice that I most enjoyed about his musicianship. He was one of the greats.

So long, Doc.

Satan’s Li’l Lamb

31 05 2012

Satan’s Li’l Lamb—H. Arlen/E.Y. Harburg/J. Mercer, 1932 (Recorded May 31, 2012) This is the first published song with Johnny Mercer’s name on it. In my research I could not get a sense of who contributed what between Mercer and Harburg in the writing of this lyric, although there are Mercerisms throughout. “Satan’s Li’l Lamb” was controversial when it appeared in the short-lasting Broadway show, Americana, and it never became a hit. In fact, during its time it was only recorded by a single artist—the great Ethel Merman. The tune also marks the beginning of Mercer’s fruitful musical relationship with Harold Arlen.

I sang and played this straight through using the Glyph Dias-replica soprano ukulele, then I went back and overdubbed drums, sound FX, ocarina, and kazoo.

Bye Bye Blackbird

5 05 2012

Bye Bye Blackbird—R. Henderson/M. Dixon, 1926 (Recorded May 5, 2012) I recorded this old classic early in the morning, while my voice was still low and grumbly. Introduced to the world by the great Gene Austin, and covered and referenced in song, film, theater, and pop culture ever since, it’s one of the most recognizable musical memes in our history.

I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)

3 05 2012

I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)—E.K. Ellington/P.F. Webster, 1941 (Recorded May 3, 2012) This past April 29 was Duke Ellington’s 113th birthday, so I thought I’d cover one of my favorite tunes from one of my favorite musical human beings. Nobody beats the Duke!

The song has a lovely intro verse which I didn’t include here. Look for Ella Fitzgerald’s recording with the Duke Ellington Orchestra to hear it. And, go to for a detailed, fascinating history about this composition and the Ellington revue, Jump for Joy, for which it was written:

As a young’un, before I knew anything much about Ellington, I was a fan of 1960s and ’70s pop/rock (still am). The circa-1969 song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “One Less Bell to Answer,” as recorded by The 5th Dimension, was (and still is) a favorite ballad of mine. [CRUSH on Marilyn McCoo!] When I later discovered Ellington, I noticed the Paul Francis Webster line “I end up like I start out, just cryin’ my heart out” in “I Got it Bad…” and realized it seemed to have been nicked by Hal David for “One Less Bell….” Brilliant. (Hal David was the younger brother of Mack David, the famous Tin Pan Alley lyricist who happened to write the words for the Ellington tune, “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So.” And so-and-so it goes….)

UPDATE: I’ve deleted this recording from my widget list. It’s crap! When I re-listen to it, I realize it has a fatal flaw. Unlike almost all the other songs I’ve published here, with “I’ve Got It Bad…” I first recorded the ukulele track and then overdubbed my vocal. (The other tunes are mostly recorded “live,” that is, I sing and play simultaneously while recording.) What seems to have happened with this song is that as I was listening to my uke track through the headphones and singing the vocal track, there must have been something about the uke signal that I was not hearing properly, and as a consequence, on playback the whole thing sounds off-kilter to me: out of tune, and rhythmically challenged. I’ll re-record a better version sometime later. The song’s too good for a sub-par rendering.

Over the Rainbow

30 04 2012

Over the Rainbow—H. Arlen/E.Y. Harburg, 1939 (Recorded April 5, 2012) One of my favorite ukuleles is currently (almost) out of commission because, careless me, I let it stay too long in a dry environment, causing the bridge to begin to separate from the sound board. It’s my famous Glyph Dias-homage soprano uke, so excellently designed and fabricated by Dave Means of Annapolis, MD. Dave gives a lifetime warranty on all his instruments, and he offered to fix it for me if only I would ship the thing to him. Here enters another of my many foibles: I procrastinate. I might have sent the uke to Dave months ago. By now I would have had it back repaired and good as new, but, no…there it lies, still in its glorious, hand-made coffin case, awaiting the tender, loving care it so deserves—and one day shall receive, as soon as I find a way to increase my time-management skills, or with luck and fortune, even sooner than that.

Glyph Dias-replica soprano ukulele and hand-made case, created by Dave Means.

Anyway, back to this recording. My good friend, J Boy Shyne, requested that I do a version of “Over the Rainbow.” You’ll notice something unusual about the song. I used the hibernating Glyph ukulele, but in order to prevent the bridge from popping off all together, I tuned it 2-1/2 steps lower, from “C” to “G,” which decreased the tension of the strings. [“G” is the typical tuning for the largest member of the ukulele family, the baritone.] As a result, the uke has a slack, boingy sound that is quite different from its usual, bright, taught voice. I adjusted my singing lower to agree with the sub-tuned pitch. In effect, the whole thing sounds as if I reduced the pitch using a digital auto-tune filter. It’s real, though—rubbery, deep, and slightly mad.

“Over the Rainbow” often comes out at the top of lists of the greatest popular songs of the 20th Century. It won an Academy Award as best song of 1939 for Judy Garland’s standard interpretation in the film, The Wizard of Oz. In 1993, Hawaiian singer and ukulele master Israel Kamakawiwo’ole released a distinctive (and quite different-from-the-original) take on the old chestnut. The popularity of “Brudda” Iz’s “OtR” helped usher in the current wave of ukulele popularity.

Beyond the Reef

26 04 2012

Beyond the Reef—Jack Pitman, 1948 (recorded April 26, 2012) I like slow sad songs. Could you tell? I dedicate this in memory of my old cat, Mo, who died during the stretch of time when I was learning the tune, around 13 years ago.

This recording is unusual in that it represents my first and only take. I usually do at least two takes, and often many more, to get a “finished” track. (I put “finished” in scare quotes because, to me, none of these recordings is ever quite good enough. There’s always room for improvement, but I’d never get anything done if I let a case of perfectionism bother me.)

Two of my favorite versions of “BTR” come from Alfred Apaka and Burl Ives.