MEANING OF LIFE FOUND IN HIS UKULELE -- by Janette Williams

 

Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to
ianwhitcomb.com

MUSIC

Ukulele killed by rock music, Whitcomb says.

ALTADENA -- To Ian Whitcomb, the ukulele can provide answers to all lifeís mysteries, from the vibrating string theory of the universe to "Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?"

Now with "Ukulele Heaven," his new book and CD just out and his ukulele-themed movie "Stanleyís Gig," starring Faye Dunaway, headed for the Taos Talking Picture Film Festival, Whitcomb says the vintage fourstringed instrumentís time has come again.

"For the last few years there have been a few people proselytizing and itís coming back as a serious instrument," said Whitcomb, 59, whose CD, "Titanic -- Music As Heard on the Fateful Voyage" won a Grammy Award in 1998.

"George Harrison loves the uke, and Iím told heís a fan of mine and has been collecting my records for years. Jimmy Buffett just bought a uke -- itís become hip again ...and they say the universe is based on strings vibrating in harmony, and thatís embodied in the ukulele."

British-born Whitcomb, musicologist, Ď60s teen idol -- his "You Turn Me On" put him on the American Top 10 in 1965 -- 1999 Doo Dah Parade grand marshal and cornerstone of the National Uke Association, says he wants to keep vintage music alive for a new generation.

He was the quirky host of a long-running vintage music program on KPCC and, sometimes with his Bungalow Boys band, has played everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the Montreaux Jazz Festival.

His next project is a compilation of "parlor songs," popular for family singalongs from the 1890s through the 1930s, culled from the collection of sheet music at the Huntington Library in San Marino, where he is a longtime reader.

"Itís mostly parlor music, what would have been played at home," said Cathy Cherbosque, the libraryís curator of prints and ephemera. "Thereís a great deal of sentimental songs, songs about courtship or the maternal relationship, patriotic songs, tributes to Washington, Lincoln -- even Napoleon Bonaparte, believe it or not."

The sheet music, acquired by donations and purchase of scrapbook collections, is a mirror of its times, Cherbosque said.

"Whatís so wonderful about the collection is that itís really a wonderful insight into peopleís attitudes and values over time," she said. "Humor, sentiment, what people thought was important."

Whitcomb says thatís what heís trying to get across by introducing a new generation to such forgotten ukulele favorites as "Who Wants a Bad Little Boy," "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula," and even "Pasadena." A sampling of the songís lyrics: "where grass is greener."

"Up to the 1950s, sheet music always had ukulele symbols and what really killed it was the coming of rock Ďní roll," Whitcomb said. "It wasnít hip, people thought it was a childrenís instrument and it fell out of fashion."

When Tiny Tim started tiptoeing through the tulips with his ukulele in the 1960s, he reintroduced it as an "instrument of camp humor," Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb isnít sure how the ukulele and his other favorite, the accordion, became the most despised instruments.

"I was very disturbed he played the accordion -- I thought, I canít marry a man who plays the accordion!" Whitcombís wife, Regina, said. "Maybe itís because it can be played so badly."

But Whitcomb hopes the ukulele music he composed for and sings in "Stanleyís Gig" as ghostly radio ukulele teacher Smiling Jack, will encourage people to start playing again.

The instruments cost anything from $15 to $1,000, and Whitcomb will conduct a free "sing-along, strum-along" ukulele workshop at 7:30 p.m. March 2 at Old Town Music, 42 E. Colorado Blvd. in Old Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 793-4730.

A free concert is set for 2 p.m. March 12 at the Homestead Museum, 15415 E. Don Julian Road in the city of Industry.

For more information, call (626) 968-8492.

IAN WHITCOMB has produced a new CD and book of old and original music for the ukulele called "Ukulele Heaven."

 

Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here,
or by going to
ianwhitcomb.com