Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Santa, Where's My Sable?

'Tis the season for receiving presents, right? And as you can see in this video of Santa Baby, I am in serious need of a new fur. The one I'm wearing is probably roadkill since it is the raccoon collar from my coat. Ha, ha, ha! I hope I haven't ruffled the fur of all you pro-animal types out there! Ho, ho, ho! :)

But seriously, I think this song is just great...it is from such a bygone era that it seems almost a little camp today. Recorded in 1953 by Eartha Kitt. Redone by Madonna amongst others. Who today, except for the Material girl herself, would have the nerve to ask for so much fancy loot based on having been "an awful good girl?" So I try to sing it with the kind of guts you better have if you're going to be as bold as she is!

Check out my leopard print top. Just seemed to fit the bill for this song. You should see this late 1950s photo of my mother wearing a bikini of similar ilk. Va-va-voom! She was a real looker. Hope you enjoy this song in the spirit of the season.

P.S. I got to play and sing holiday ditties with my friend, Erich, at Mike DaSilva's open studio in Berkeley. Mike's a luthier who builds some awesome ukes. Anyway, we stuck to non-religious holiday songs which are about my speed. Now I can't stop humming "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Check back for a photos of this event!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Into the Wild

Many moons ago I read "Into the Wild" by Outside Magazine writer Jon Krakauer. It's a true story about 22 year-old Chris McCandless, who throws off the shackles of privilege and spends two years missing as he adventures across the country. McCandless eventually gives away all his savings to wind up in the Alaskan wilderness where he perishes after an 112 day odyssey with nature and himself. Sean Penn directed the film adaptation which is closely entwined with Eddie Vedder's hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, stripped down to acoustic guitar and sometimes ukulele.

The music, as well as the story, have become deeply planted into my consciousness...to the point where I've become compelled to learn "Rise," an amazingly simple tune which Vedder actually plays on the mandolin. Hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I do playing it!

BTW, Eddie Vedder is quite known for including ukulele tracks on his recordings...apparently he contributed a ukulele song “Goodbye” to the soundtrack for Jack Johnson’s surfing documentary A Brokedown Melody. I'm going to have to check out both the tune AND the flick, especially since I'm a surfing girl and awaiting the Maverick's competition (no, no, to observe, not to surf!!) Here he is on the uke. Wonder what kind he plays?? When I did "Rise" at my uke club's open mic last night, found out that Vedder has a house on Molokai. Well, ALOHA, folks!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fame But , Alas, No Fortune!

In case ya missed it, I was interviewed in the November 25, 2007 San Francisco Chronicle Magazine cover story on ukes. Pretty cool, huh? The article's aptly entitled, "The Return of the Jumping Fleas! Or how we learned to stop worrying and love the ukulele"

The salient part of the story is where it discusses the Berkeley Ukulele Club and I'm quoted (ok, ok!) :

"Another club member, Carol, 48, is evidence of the ukulele's ability to inspire addictively good feelings. Though she's been playing only a year, Carol is already a card-carrying uke fanatic. Literally. Her business card announces her as 'Uke Gal.' Her license plate reads: 'Huulaa.' And her explanation of the ukulele's charm is simple: 'It's social. You play the piano alone, but when you play the ukulele, everyone starts singing and laughing.' "

OK, so I'm totally screwed as my age has been publicly divulged. Not to mention that all those out on the road who witness my poor driving habits will now know who I am!! (Now I "get" those celebs who sue the tabloids for delving into their private lives!!) Just hope that my piano teacher won't be mad at me...

If you wanna read more, here's the link:

OH! But there was fame AND fortune in this household earlier in the month...Rachel won the book fair art contest at her school. The theme was "Blizzard of Books." She got her winning entry published on a postcard that was sent out to the school (WOW!), as well as a gift certificate to use at the fair. You go, girl!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Little Carol" Rocks Out

Who knew?? The other night I was looking through some old photo albums and turned this one up. Had no idea...guess I was mistaken when I said I started ukulele back in '06, but it was really back in '63.

My hubby, Dave, is quite the king of parodies: he can "pen" them in his head in two minutes flat while washing the dinner dishes, no exaggeration. (Move over Weird Al!) Most of his compositions tend to the political. However, I'm thinking of commissioning a piece to be entitled "Winter of '63," sung to the Bryan Adams tune of similar name. If it happens, stay tuned for its world premier here.

BTW, in case you were wondering, I was four years old in the photo. You can do the math...

Hazard any guesses as to what I was playing? I shudder to think it was "Wheels on the Bus" but do remember singing "Bill Bailey" when I was a kid. Certainly is a good Tin Pan Alley tune for the uke. Or maybe I was just a poser (at least for my parents camera) so early in my career!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happy Halloween...

...well, sort of, at least if you don't run into a werewolf! In celebration of my favorite holiday of the year, here is the the Warren Zevon classic, "Werewolves of London." Hope you enjoy it in the spirit of things.

BTW, over 25 years ago I had the opportunity to see him live at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. but sadly didn't appreciate it at the time. I went with my good friend to see Christopher Cross (ok, please don't cringe!), and Warren was the opening act. My friend and I were in pretty sassy moods that evening (we stiffed a waitress with the check at dinner because we got sick of waiting and the service was horrible!) So when Warren came on, we were not so into it, as they say, and we walked out until later when the main act was up. Have I matured since then?! Well, at least my musical taste has improved, I think. Today I regret having not taken in this this great opportunity, so here's my little tribute to Warren...

Friday, September 28, 2007

What Makes The Playlist

I've been giving some thought as to where to expand my ukulele repertoire. The current playlist has mushroomed from two main sources. The songs may have been distributed in a class or a uke group. Or I may have picked them because most people are comfortable with them in a sing-a-long situation. However, these songs are not particularly representative of the music I listen to on a regular basis. My iPod has a pretty eclectic selection of music, but what is sorely missing from my uke repertoire is a good representation of rock and roll, pop etc.

As you can see from my September 14 post re Todd Rundgren, I definitely rock out. The other day I heard The Hooters on my local radio station, prompting me to pull out their old LP from the mid-'80s. At certain times I can still be a "be-bop baby on a hard day's night," (from their big hit, "And She Danced"). BTW, contrary to what you might think, the band's name comes from an instrument called the melodica...think of a piano keyboard attached to a harmonica. Had one growing up and I might take it up again.

So I vow to stay true to my musical tastes and not let the tail wag the dog as they say. Tin Pan Alley and Hawaiian genres are great, and I'll continue to enjoy them, but they are clearly not all that is out there. And it can be done on a little 4 stringed instrument and taken half-way seriously. If you don't believe me, check out The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain doing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or Wellington Ukulele Orchestra's rendition of "Hey Ya." They can easily be found on YouTube and are quite lively and musical.

OK, then. I guess this means I better stop here and work out that "Smoke on the Water" riff!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some Video Footage

Finally getting down to trying to memorize and polish some songs. Here are some first efforts. Maybe not too smooth, but I thought I'd give it a go. I'd like to have a few songs that I can just whip out if someone happens to have a ukulele sitting around begging for some attention!

The first one is "Maui Girl," a nice little tune and pretty known in uke circles. It is a great "hapa haole" song. For the uninitiated, this term indicates a mixed Hawaiian/English lyric.

And here we have "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," recorded by the Mills Brothers back in the 1930's. I like the chord progressions and the general sound. It makes me think of my dad, as a number of these old Tin Pan Alley tunes do. Ukulele players seem to seem to have an affection for these type of tunes.

Gotta run now but I'll be coming back soon with more songs of other musical genres. 'Til later...

Friday, September 14, 2007

"The Man" (and a Uke Connection)

Confession: I skipped out on the Berkeley Ukulele Club Wednesday night. Why?? Getting too old to be out two nights in a row, and being a Todd-head Thursday night took priority. "Todd-head" you say?? Well, for those who are in-the-know, I'm speaking about Todd Rundgren...ya know, from "Todd is Godd" fame. The diehard AARP-in-training audience (fans from the last 30+ years) had to endure true rock concert conditions: SRO with His Toddness not appearing until 9:50 p.m.. Crazy, yes? But worth it?? If you have to ask...

If you are unfamiliar with Todd, he is an incredible singer, song writer and record producer, having long been on the cutting edge of music and video technologies. Besides having a prolific solo career, he headed up the power rock group, Utopia, in the '70s and '80s. More recently he has been touring with The New Cars, taking the place of Ric Ocasek. (Saw them over a year ago with Blondie; what a show! Felt like I was really hearing the old Cars. What a hoot!)

Anyway, for the ukulele connection...Todd has been living in Kauai for the last several years. Cleverly, he has repenned one of his big hits, "Bang the Drum All Day" as "Bang on the Ukulele Daily," a loose take-off on the "Hawaiian War Chant." Very cool, so check it out on iTunes. Unfortunately, he didn't do this one on Thursday night; it was much more an amped up R&R show. But Todd was in top form, and for one evening I got to relive a little of my past. Sigh....

Monday, September 10, 2007

Singing for the Seniors

Here I am with Rachel at a luau at my mother's assisted living facility. It was great fun and gave us an opportunity to sing and strum for Grandma Anna. She especially liked the songs that reminded her of my dad. I have a friend who does this sort of thing on a regular basis and am thinking of trying it out at my mother's place. Mom will be proud and, let's face it, they probably won't be able to hear if I sing a little out of tune! Now if I could only convince Rachel to come and do the hula at the same time...

Not sure where I want to take the ukulele playing...it's really easy for me to fall into the comfortable place of playing chords in their first positions and singing along. However, I DO know that my voice is none-too-great! This could be one reason that many guitarists/ukists (?!) end up learning to play chord melodies, etc. I am working on the latter as well and would like to be able to jam a little. The big problem: so many ideas and so little time. So I gotta figure out what to target and conquer first. Hate to be a jack-of-all trades and master of none!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Long-Awaited Concert

OK, folks. Here's a post-performance photo of me with my back-up band. Can you believe the huge crowd that turned out for us??!!

Ha! BIG joke!! That is actually a picture of Rachel and me with the very famous Jake Shimabukuro. My husband, Dave, and I saw him in the late spring and he was just unbelievable. Dave is generally merely tolerant of the types of music you might associate with the uke: acoustic, folk, oldies, even Hawaiian. Let's just say that he's still living in his punk phase! However, he loved Jake so much that he wanted to go again and take Rachel as well. We saw him on September 7 at Herbst Theater in SF.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jake, read on...putting it mildly, this is not your grandfather's ukulele playing! A native Hawaiian playing since he was four, Jake cites George Harrison and Jimmy Page amongst his influences. And it really shows! One can hear aspects of blues and flamenco in his style as well. Jake writes many of his own compositions and brings out never-heard-before effects on the uke. If you don't believe me, just check out his rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on YouTube. I won't say that it rivals the original BUT...During the first couple of songs on the concert, Rachel's jaw was literally hanging open from his electrifying stage presence.

OK, so afterward I just had to get our photo with Jake. He was SO nice to everyone, despite chaotic crowds. We almost missed our chance because right about when it was our turn, he was being called away to the other side of the theater. I begged him for the photo, saying that Rachel needed to get to bed already. After posing for this great shot, he told Rachel to "get some sleep!"

BTW, upon leaving I told Rachel that this must be her first photo with a famous person. Coyly, she turned to me and said that it wasn't so: her first was a month ago with Nick Swisher of the Oakland A's. I totally forgot: Dave got to scoop root beer floats with Nick S. and Marco Scutaro for Root Beer Float Day! What a lucky girl and husband! Dave is quite the baseball player, having gone to a number of fantasy camps and playing with a fantasy league team, all A's, of course! His number one position is pitcher and is fondly known as "Gamer" by his teammates. I'm really proud of him!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The First Open Mic

Tonight I did my first open mic, and I had the pleasure of doing it with my 9 year-old daughter, Rachel. We were at the Parkside Grill in Stinson Beach which has an open mic Tuesday nights. Didn't know what to expect and was just a LITTLE nervous about it all. However, after a glass of wine at dinner time, I was ready to go! Also, it was great to have the encouragement of my husband, Dave, and my daughter. I was particularly thrilled to have her do this with me. First, we did "Mynah Bird," which is sung to the tune of "Yellow Bird." We got a bit of applause as we rushed back to our table. Emboldened by our success, we planned our next song, "Maui Girl." Rachel sang with her melodic voice (she actually is quite musical) while I played and sang. But even better, Rachel played "Brand New Key" while we both sang. I watched proudly! OK, now I'm plotting our next open mic and we are coming up with a name for our "band."

As an aside, while I have nothing against the kids learning the recorder in school (Rachel just started this year), it is not my favored instrument for kids. As uke legend, Ukulele Ray says, take the recorders out of their mouths and put ukes in their hands, and then they can sing at the same time. My good friend tells me that in Latin America kids in school routinely learn the guitar. Hmmm...I've toyed with a teaching career...substitute taught science and math at the middle school level. Maybe I should teach an after-school music class on the 'ukulele??

Monday, August 20, 2007

It All Begins Here...

It all started back in April (or so) of 2006. Bought a basic little 'ukulele at the auction from my daughter's school. What can I say? It was a good deal so what did I have to lose? But what people didn't realize was that in all those trips to Hawaii I'd been coveting one for oh so many years...yes, and I was a huge Iz fan. But to own and play one myself? I mean, really, I already had an incredible piano and didn't play that all so much. But 'ukulele promised so much more...it was portable so I could bring it wherever I went and regale folks with my musical prowess (ha!)

Taught myself a few chords/licks and proceeded to forget them all as life got in the way over the Fall of 2006. Then 2007 came around and all my dreams came true: a beginner's uke class nearby. By the summer I'd learned most of the chords in their basic positions...now I was yearning for even more: to fingerpick and play chords down the neck. But even worse and much to my family's dismay, the obsession had now begun.

What obsession? I now spent every free moment surfing the internet and YouTube looking for ukulele tutorials, chord charts and trivia.

OK, so maybe there was one profitable moment in all of this in the late Spring...my third-grade daughter needed to do a design-your-own homework project (don't ask!) I ixnayed the first idea for a project as it involved my help with cooking. (If you know me, cooking is SO not my forte.) Shrewdly redirecting her to my already prodigious number of bookmarked 'ukulele websites, we redesigned the project to be about 'ukuleles. Luckily she really took to the idea and learned the basic I, IV, V7 chord progression to play "Brand New Key" for her class. Was a HUGE hit. The accompanying dessert, however, wasn't so much of a hit (see what I mean about my culinary skills?)

In June got to perform with my teacher's other students as part of Pa Mele 'O Hokulea Ukulele Academy at the Northern California Ukulele Festival. (I'm the second woman from the right, behind the guitarist. And yes, you might need a magnifying glass to see this!) A lotta fun...the performing bug has hit. Now I divide my time between private uke lessons and the Berkeley Ukulele Club.