Ed. note: This is the fifth in a series of posts by Guitar Lifestyle contributor Russ about the ukulele and its growing popularity among musicians and educators. Read the other posts in this series here.
Aloha! Now that we’ve talked a bit about country music, I figured it might be worth it to balance the scales with something a little more difficult and a whole lot more theoretical.
Where Country Songs for the Ukulele was a fun romp through the the world of country music and its decades of existence, it was very much a song book. Well, not this week. This week we’re going to talk about Fred Sokolow’s Jazzin’ Up the Ukulele.
If you didn’t know you could play jazz on the ukulele, don’t feel bad – I didn’t either. But a few months ago I was looking for ukulele videos and found a guy playing jazz on his and thought it was novel and sounded nice, so I delved deeper, this time in iTunes and came across Lyle Ritz who plays MEAN ukulele jazz.
It’s pretty awesome, ukulele jazz. The tuning is the same (most of the time) and the uke is still a happy box of uke-ness, so there’s a chipper treble to the tone and it turns out that’s exactly what jazz needs.
Look: Jazz tone – the traditional jazz tone – is pretty awful. Yes, it’s warm, but it’s more than warm. It’s uncomfortably warm. Like wearing a sweater in the summertime. The bass is turned way up, the treble way down, and yes, it’s warm. But the cost of that warmth is the articulation of the chords. And let’s be honest: part of the fun of jazz is learning all of those insanely difficult chords to show off to rock players and because you secretly hate your fingers.
But jazz on a ukulele has more treble. You can still play jazz chords but they’re easier because there’s only four strings (and most of you are playing with four fretting fingers, which is just the biggest coincidence I’ve ever come across) and there’s a good deal more articulation. The chords are still beautiful, but now you can hear them, too.
So everyone wins.
Seriously, folks. Ukulele jazz. Check it out.
And Fred Sokolow, who has been an instructor of different instruments forever, is here to talk theory with you about playing jazz and introducing substitutions to your vocabulary. There are few songs in the book, but there’s a lot of tearing those songs apart to find out how they tick and then re-assembling them in different ways with different chord patterns and shapes. Which seems to be a lot of what makes up jazz.
Personally, I like the idea of breaking it all apart to figure out what’s going on and how chords relate to each other. I think it boosts your theory knowledge so whenever you’re writing your own stuff, you can figure out why it sounds so cliche, and how you can change it so it doesn’t. The fact that you can walk away from this book with more jazz songs in your repertoire only makes it more worth buying.
The book covers seven songs and goes deep into what makes them tick. It’s not necessarily for beginners and I won’t be introducing my kids to it anytime soon, but if you’ve got a good grasp on the ukulele and want to become even more knowledgable, this is a REALLY good place to go.
If this sounds like a book for you, you can purchase it at Amazon or through your local store.