Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mark Your Calendars: Plucky Rosenthal in Willmette, Illinois

Plucky Rosenthal -- The Jewish Star of Stage and Stage

Speaking of banjos, ukelele and Vaudeville — You were just speaking of that, right? — I just got this email from Plucky Rosenthal, whom you'll remember from my post last September. She's putting on a show in Wilmette, Illinois, that sounds wonderful.

Hello, friends!

I am so excited to announce an amazing show that I co-produced and am headlining THIS April Fool's Day at the movie theatre in Wilmette! What better way to spend a Thursday? It starts at 7:30 and I'll have you home in time for Leno.

As some of you know, I've been working hard on my vaudeville-style comedy act for a year now, and this is my producing and headlining debut. For one night only, you can see more than just my usual five minute shtick - you get a whole show! Of me! Can you stand it?? With some of my very favorite Chicago vaudevillians opening for me and in the setting of a beautiful old movie theatre, this is not a show to be missed. But not to fear! if you must miss it, I have many other chances coming up for you to see me rock a ukulele and banjo 1920's-style.

This is the only mass e-mail I'll ever send out, so please let me know if I got your e-mail address by mistake. Otherwise, make sure to check me out on Facebook and MySpace to keep up with further performance dates - and soon will be the launch of my website where I officially become a dot com!

I'd recommend getting your tickets for the April 1st show ahead of time since this venue is known to sell out. And with new-fangled technology, you can do just that at this very link!,040120101930,2,1796,

Lookit all those numbers in that hyperlink. How can you say no to that?

Hope to see "uke" there!
Exclamatorily yours,
As ever,
Alisa/Plucky Rosenthal

Become a Pluckateer. TODAY!

You should go.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 106: Finally learning that F-ing chord position

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/7/2010 through 3/13/2010.
Banjo 625 hrs, TV 622 hours

I've been playing the banjo for nearly three years now and I still couldn't finger the first major chord position well if my life depended on it.

An aside: Most of you might be used to the term "F form" instead of "first major chord position." "F chord" is how I refered to this chord position in in October of 2007 when I first wrote about my inability to do it. There are a lot of people who refer to these three major chord positions...

... as (respectively) "F form," "D form" and "barre form."

But I think the terms "first major chord position," "second major chord position" and "third major chord position" make more sense because the root notes of these chord positions are on the first, second and third strings. I first encountered this nomenclature at Midwest Banjo Camp, where somebody or other told me that Alan Munde uses these terms.

Okay, enough with the aside. Back to how bad I am at doing it.

I can sorta/kinda finger this form slowly. But what I can't do is to pop right into it the way I can pop quickly between the first position C and first position D7.

How am I going to teach my fingers to switch quickly into this chord position?

For starters I'm going to find recordings for a bunch of 2-chord songs. Pete Wernick's got a good list.

Then I'm going to practice by playing these songs in a loop doing a basic strum (or boom-chick) as I switch in and out of chords that use the first major chord position.

For example John Henry is a 2-chord song that Steve Martin plays slowly in the key of G (on The Steve Martin Brothers CD). I'll play along with this song, switching between these chords...

...over and over until I burn the chord position into my brain.

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

  • I showed David how I've been challenging myself to play Midwest Banjo Camp's Official List of Jamming Tunes without resorting to tablature.
  • I played the version of Mama Don't 'Low that I worked up. He liked it but had a few suggestions. For example, he likes the way I slip two measures of Foggy Mountain Breakdown G lick in after the singer first sings "don't 'low no banjo pickin' here" and he'd like me to find a good two-measure D lick to play after the second time. In fact, he switched quickly between praising me for breaking my habit of learning songs from books to suggesting that I break out my copy of Bill Knopf's Hot Licks & Fiddle Tunes for the Bluegrass Banjo Player...

    ...because of its wealth of D lick ideas.

Also in the last week:

  • Remember those four troubled banjos that I've been slowly turning into three good banjos?

    Well, I messed one of them up when I attempted to install a geared fifth string tuning peg. The base of the geared peg is a little wider than the base of the original peg so I bought a $25 fifth string peghole reamer to widen the peg hole. But I made it a little too wide which caused the peg to twist when I tightened it all the way.

    I took the thing to Ben, the instrument repair guy at Flatts & Sharpe, who charged me just $15 to correct the damage by inlaying some glue and wood into the peg hole.

    The moral of the story: I should have saved the money on that special tool and paid Ben to install the new peg in the first place.
  • The redhead is pretty patient but she got really tired of the few 2-chord songs that I was practicing. So I spent a little time building up a list with some variety. Here's what I came up with:

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Banjo versus TV week 105: Jamming at end of Old Town School session

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 2/28/2010 through 3/6/2010.
Banjo 621 hrs, TV 618 hours

I joined the end-of-the-session bluegrass jam at Old Town School of Folk Music. Class sessions at OTS are eight weeks long so this jam is held several times a year.

It's a jam that's very beginner-friendly. Several OTS instructors take turns leading. Song sheets are provided.

The songs we played this time around were:

  • Nine Pound Hammer
  • Ring of Fire
  • I Hear a Choo Choo
  • Till the End of the World Goes Round
  • Pig in a Pen
  • I Wonder Where You Are Tonight
  • Won't You Come Home and Sing for Me
  • Footprints in the Snow
  • Hey Good Lookin'
  • Little Maggie
  • Banks of the Ohio

Also in the last week:

  • I can't believe I had to miss Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival for the first time in three years, but this was a crazy busy week and I just couldn't get away. Next year for sure, Shorty!
  • At one point in the week I found myself sitting around, waiting for someone, next to the shelves where I've stored the cheap toy guitars that I used in my three-headed guitar project. So I tuned one of the guitars so its first four strings matched banjo tuning and got in a little practice. I understand that John Lennon did something similar when he got his first guitar, since he already knew how to play the banjo.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 104: Midwest Banjo Camp's Official List of Jamming Tunes

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 2/21/2010 through 2/27/2010.
Banjo 618 hrs, TV 612 hours

Midwest Banjo Camp (which will be held in Olivet, Michigan on June 4-6, 2010) has released MBC's Official List of Jamming Tunes for a type of jam session that's new this year: the play from a list jam.

In this type of jam the leaders promise to stick to a published list of songs. They've released official lists for bluegrass and old-time players.

I think it will be an interesting to see how this type of jam compares with the other kinds of jam that the camp offers: slow jams for novices, "how to jam" workshops, intermediate jams, open james, specialty jams (e.g. bluegrass vocals, old-time vocals, jazz and swing, and northern & Celtic) and experts' jams.

I'm likely to go to the bluegrass jam, so I took a look at the songs to see where I stand. Here's my take on the 25 songs in their bluegrass list and how well I could play them.

I could play these well and could improvise a little

  • Bile 'em Cabbage Down
  • Cripple Creek
  • Good Old Mountain Dew
  • Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms
  • Wabash Cannonball
  • Will the Circle be Unbroken
  • Worried Man Blues

I could do backup and could definitely fake a solo

  • Amazing Grace
  • Banjo in the Hollow
  • Foggy Mountain Breakdown
  • I Saw the Light

I could do backup and on a good day could fake a solo

  • Blue Ridge Cabin Home
  • Bury Me Beneath the Willow
  • Clinch Mountain Backstep
  • Little Cabin Home on the Hill
  • Little Maggie
  • Long Journey Home (Two Dollar Bill)
  • Mama Don't Allow No Music (Played Round Here)
  • New River Train
  • Nine Pound Hammer
  • Old Home Place
  • Old Joe Clark
  • Salt Creek
  • Salty Dog

Couldn't really do it

  • John Hardy
  • Lonesome Road Blues
  • Soldiers Joy

So I've been practicing some of the songs that needed work, especially Worried Man Blues, Long Journey Home, I Saw the Light and Mama Don't 'Low.

Also in the last week:

  • Took Denephew to see Béla Fleck - The Africa Project at Old Town School of Folk Music. The Chicago Reader had picked this concert as a critics choice and they were right on target. Wish you had been there.
  • I've now watched 85 of the 94 episodes of Phineas and Ferb. Episodes I'm missing:
    • "Tree to Get Ready"
    • "Ready for the Bettys"
    • "The Flying Fishmonger"
    • "Phineas and Ferb's Musical Cliptastic Countdown"
    • "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation"
    • "Suddenly Suzy"
    • "Undercover Carl"
    • "Mom's Birthday Episode"
    • "Journey to the Center of Candace"
    Glad they're making new ones.
  • The moment you've all been waiting for has arrived. I've finally gone to Costello's Jam enough to earn my free sandwich! (It helped that I brought Denephew along and treated him to a sandwich.)

  • I dropped Human Target from my DVR. How disappointing that the TV series chucked everything that made the comic interesting.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Friday, March 5, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 103: I make an ape face when I play the banjo

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 2/14/2010 through 2/20/2010.
Banjo 615 hrs, TV 605 hours

I am not an unattractive man.

See?  See?

A little hirsute, perhaps. But normally I look like a human being.

So why is it that, in all of the pictures of me playing my banjo at the party this week — Oh, and happy birthday Dave, Julie and Cathy — why is it that in all of those pictures, I have ape face?

Do you see the ape face? Here, let me zoom in for you.

Ape face!

See? Ape face.

Here's another one.

Ape face!

And another.

Ape face!

It's kind of a slack-jawed, thinking-real-hard kind of expression.

And if you think the ape face is clear in those photos, you should see the video. Ape face, ape face, ape face.

Several questions spring to mind.

  • Why do I make a face like an ape when I play the banjo?
  • How can I stop making a face like an ape when I play the banjo?
  • I was having a great time. How come I'm not smiling?
  • Do I only make the ape face when I play the banjo or do I also make it when I play other instruments?

Actually, I can answer that last one. Here's me playing my washtub bass at that same party.

Say it low: ape face!

So, yeah. There it is. Ape face.

Also in the last week:

  • TV-wise, my obsession with Phineas and Ferb continues. You should really check out the pitch reel on the Phineas and Ferb: The Fast and the Phineas DVD. It's the cartoonists' crudely animated sketchbook that they put together for Disney executives. An interesting view into the creative and corporate process.
  • Also, TV-wise, is this:

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog