This week we have another special edition of UkePrints where we’re going to dive into not just a single track but a landmark ‘ukulele album titled A Night of Ukulele Jazz Live at McCabes. The performance as a whole is great to observe and quite frankly it was hard to choose just a single track that exemplifies what happened that evening.
A Night of Ukulele Jazz Live at McCabes features two giants of the ‘ukulele world and at the time amongst the very few focusing on jazz ‘ukulele. Lyle Ritz (Wrecking Crew) and Herb Ohta (Ohta-san) were already top performers when they recorded this live album and ‘ukulele players around the world have been happy ever since. While both Ritz and Ohta-san were aware of each others chops and careers they had somehow always missed each other and never had the chance to play together. Both played on Martin ‘ukuleles with Ritz on a tenor (contemporary baritone tuning or DGBE) and Ohta-san playing on a soprano (standard tuning or GCEA). The album can be divided into three sections with Ritz and Ohta first both playing individually and then together.
Lyle’s solo set starts with a handful of standards ranging from Triste to Lulu’s Back in Town with his signature intro.Within
moments you can almost instantly tell it’s him with his unmistakable tone. With Richard Simon on upright bass, Ritz has a a lot of freedom and space to articulate the melody in the fashion that he desires. Utilizing the pad of his thumb he creates a warm tone with a rolled back attack. While he has well crafted single note lines, I find a lot of Lyle’s magic in his chord melodies such as in Where or When. His daughter Emily Ritz joins him for a fun version of Tonight You Belong to Me* where she takes the melody and Lyle solos.
As the applause fades Ohta-san gives a soft aloha and tells the audience, “gonna wing it, ok? I hope you know all the songs.”
Ohta-san’s set includes jazz standards and his famous rendition of Song for Anna. Richard Simon joins in again providing light bass
accompaniment that sits comfortably behind that ‘ukulele. You can hear Ohta-san’s fingernails brushing and plucking with a high attack as he carefully controls his volume dynamic. The powerful down strokes and the light touch before the resolution at the end of The Very Thought of You is perfectly executed, catching the ear off guard. I love his phrasing and harmonic interpretation that help reinvent the tunes and make them his own.
Now that your ear has defined the two different styles and tones it’s time to hear the two at an ‘ukulele cutting contest. Though that would imply that they were in competition with each other when really they compliment each other very nicely. They run through 3 standards including Lyle’s popular rendition and chord solo of Fly Me to the Moon. You can hear them utilize the varied timbres of their ‘ukuleles tastefully such as in Stompin at the Savoy. Ohta-san’s keeps the swinging rhythm moving with pronounced downstrokes and his signature bright tone he gets from his thumbnail. Meanwhile Lyle’s mellow and warm tone sweetly plays the melody including some beautiful chords.
So enjoy! This is a great study for any ‘ukulele player even if your not into jazz. The techniques and styles have been integrated into the international melting pot of modern ‘ukulele playing.
*Did you know it was Lyle Ritz who dubbed the ‘ukulele scene in the movie The Jerk?
UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.