I love the uke. It was my first instrument, and it remains my main flame. It's a soprano guitar, it's an indoor banjo, it's the mandolin's politer cousin. It's its own sweet self. I have a lot of fun with the uke, but it's not a joke instrument to me.
I think uke + guitar is the best string-band duo ever. Better than fiddle-guitar, better than two guitars, guitar-mandolin, anything.
The (ahem) Concept for this CD is "Parlour Music" - lightweight, charming instrumentals in the ragtime or classical vein, the sort of things people played at home for their own amusement in the days before TV. The arrangements are all my own - one uke, one guitar.
I play a wonderful hot-rodded 1960s Harmony, in the "Canadian" tenor uke tuning: ad'f#'b' (D tuning, low 4th). It was originally a baritone uke, but it sounds great as a tenor. It's had a new spruce top and stuff added by friend and luthier Nicholas Tipney of Vector Violins. Thanks Nick!
I play the guitar parts either on a no-name classical guitar or on my old small-bodied Kalamazoo steel-string.
I went through Chalmers Doane's school uke program in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1970s, and was in a group of uke students that toured and recorded. I wasted the next few decades flirting with other instruments: a music degree playing classical guitar, almost getting another in viola da gamba and early music performance, and playing upright bass professionally. A recent infatuation with clawhammer banjo probably added a few wrinkles to the uke playing, too.
Henry Lodge wrote this for piano around 1909 - it's often played on the banjo. I like the melancholy side of ragtime - this one has a slinky, lyrical feel to it.
Sonatine in D minor
Most people are unaware that Ludwig van Beethoven even wrote for the tenor ukulele.... This is one of four pieces for mandolin and piano that he wrote in his twenties, apparently to play with a lady friend. It isn't hard on the uke (playing the piano part on the guitar gave me more trouble), but it's very pretty, and I think works well, especially as a pair with the next one...
Sonatine in D major
This is a happy little piece, great fun to play. Even Beethoven was young and cheerful once.
The Honolulu Cakewalk
This was originally a piano solo by J. W. Lerman.
Ragtime was first made by piano players, trying to imitate the syncopated fingerpicking of banjo and guitar players - so it works when you put piano ragtime back on a plucked instrument like the uke, with a guitar to play the left-hand part.
This is one of six strange little piano pieces by Erik Satie. A hundred years later, he still seems like kind of a weirdo. I've always liked them, so why not play one? Recorded in the grotto of Our Lady of Perpetual Reverberation.
Maple Leaf Rag
I love playing this piano rag - the first hit of the 20th century. Scott Joplin thought of himself as a composer of light classical music, what you might call your "Parlour Music". (He, Satie, and Nevin are almost exact contemporaries.) I'm convinced that thinking of ragtime as early jazz is all wrong. I play jazz, I love jazz, but this ain't it.
Sonata in D - Allegro / Adagio / Minuetto
I wanted to do a classical piece in several movements. Karl Friederich Abel (1723-1787) wrote this for viola da gamba (or violin) with harpsichord, and I've played it on the gamba. It's in the charming early-Classical style a teacher of mine once described as "cute, but excellent."
This is another Scott Joplin rag, one that I think is pretty near as good as "Maple Leaf Rag". I've always liked this tune and wanted to play it.
This is my solo uke arrangement of a piano piece by Ethelbert Nevin. I first heard it on a Bonzo Dog Band album, and was reminded of it while fooling around with natural harmonics - I had to work it out. The harmonics are near the end.