Monday, August 29, 2011

Ukulele (Jane Is 14)

Charles Demuth:  The Figure 5 In Gold (1928)

       Five days ago, ahead of Jane’s 14th birthday, we visited a local music store and bought her the presents she requested, which included: a) a ukulele; b) a melodica; c) a capo for her guitar; d) a set of guitar strings; and e) an electronic string tuner

Lanakai Curly Koa Concert Ukulele

           We had a wonderful excursion, and once we found a Sam Ash store employee willing and able to help us (that took some doing; we were initially discouraged by the somnolent retail atmosphere, which seemed unusual in these straitened times), things proceeded smoothly and well.

George Formby with ukulele

               Jane selected for purchase a Lanakai concert-size ukulele made of Hawaiian curly koa wood after shyly trying out a number of other larger and smaller instruments.  The concert uke sounded fantastic in the store and was by far the most sonically and visually appealing of all the models being offered, including both more and less expensive instruments. Buying a koa ukulele made Jane very happy, in part because I initially told her (based on inadequate prior research, which included seeing pictures of Taylor Swift playing an extravagantly beautiful, oversized koa guitar) that koa was definitely going to be out of our price range.  As things turned out, this was definitely “the one” and Jane has already progressed significantly in her playing over the last several days, building on her unexpected, welcome and utterly surprising guitar progress made over the summer, and giving her new axe a near-constant workout.

Hohner Melodica

             I owned a Hohner melodica when I was younger than Jane, but I never got very far or did anything remotely interesting with it.  Jane became fixated on the instrument after coming across a melodica demonstration video on Youtube and I was pleased to buy it for her because she’s a very talented and expressive pianist and I’m trying to encourage her to pursue every musical desire she has.  Kids are funny: I would like Jane to be the next Augustus Pablo, but she’s enthusiastically and assiduously pursuing the instrument  simply because she clearly has something significant, highly personal and individual going on upstairs. (That being said, I would still like her to take some time and listen to Augustus Pablo with me.  The one time I saw Pablo perform live, years ago at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, backed by a killer band, which included Earl “Chinna” Smith, George "Fully" Fullwood and Carlton "Santa" Davis aka The Soul Syndicate,  it was life-changing).

The very great Augustus Pablo

             I haven't mentioned that what I really wanted to have happen during our shopping trip was for Jane to buy a banjolele like George Formby’s.  Sam Ash told me that banjoleles aren’t in great demand these days (unlike more traditional ukes), but I think we did absolutely fine.  

          What I have going on upstairs is THIS, i.e., writing something for you, and I’m grateful to you for reading and listening.   Jane is 14 today and she begins high school just after Labor Day..  Yikes!  I’m grateful for that also, but sometimes feel overmatched by circumstances. 

Claude by Jane

           I expect we’ll all measure up in the end.  To say that it’s been a trying summer would be a great understatement, but I have found that it’s mostly always darkest before some sort of quasi-dawn.   Perhaps we'll up-stakes and move to Guam.  Someone I used to know quite well told me once that it's great there and my cat Claude needs some new territory to mark as his very own.

Flag of Guam

Link: The Great Roy Smeck Plays Ukulele

Link: The Great Augustus Pablo Plays Islington Rock



  1. Jane has gotten pretty good at the melodica :) She brought it to my house and everyone thought it was really cool.

  2. She's getting better on melodica, ukulele and guitar EVERY DAY. Just back from a dim sum birthday meal at Ocean City in Chinatown. Exhausted from all the storm excitement (not). Power restored in the middle of last night. Curtis

  3. Her northern fan club says, "Hurrah for Jane!"

  4. Because you also have musical children, you can imagine how great it feels when this happens. It's truly delightful. I received and passed along to her a birthday wishes email from a professional musician friend in Belgium, Marvin Siau (formerly of Starvin' Marvin and the Paranoid Androids and an associate of the should-have-been-more famous Sex Beatles of "Al Suela, Cono!" fame) who I haven't seen in years, counseling her in a lovely way that the way to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice. She's doing great and had a wonderful birthday. Two days w/o power here; Tuxedo, we're told, is fine, but without power. We hope get up there tomorrow, but might not make it until the weekend if power isn't yet restored. I hope you guys fared ok and that Merry is doing well. I read all about her program and it sounds terrific. Curtis

  5. Curtis,

    Many belated happy returns to your brilliant musical daughter.

    (I once actually wrote a sort-of novel about George Formby, by the by. The character who really interested me was Beryl.)

  6. Good morning Tom and thanks very much for breaking into the recent non-stop stress. I was really pushing the banjolele and intend someday to prevail. Beryl is, of course, the really interesting character in the piece. I don't know whether you ever saw the Formby blog I posted some time ago, but if not and if you're interested, it's:

    I'm just so pleased to hear her catching the wave. Curtis

  7. Curtis,

    If only those flying ducks in your great Formby story had flown home to your wall instead of the auction catalogue.

    Of course we have nothing to match Formby in our own ur-cultural oddments-drawer... though it must be admitted (my age, that is) that when I hear the word "ukulele"-- or even "banjolele" -- George Formby is only my second thought. My first is this guy.

    Aloha, then, from the eelgrass waving like hula skirts in the early a.m. fog...