TEXT BY ADAM PERLMUTTER | VIDEO BY CASEY MACGILL
In 1924, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards stole the show when he introduced “Fascinating Rhythm,” along with Fred and Adele Astaire, as part of the Broadway musical Lady, Be Good. Edwards recorded a snappy version of this great George and Ira Gershwin song the next year and it serves as the basis of this arrangement.
“Fascinating Rhythm” incorporates everything that made Edwards such a compelling musician: his improvised, wordless vocals, in which he sounded like a cross between a kazoo and a trumpet; his smooth way with chords; his hyper-rhythmic strumming; and more. The original recording starts with the prologue from the musical, but here I’ve notated the more familiar heart of the song, with its 32-bar form, which is what jazz and pop musicians usually focus on—that begins around 36 seconds into the recording.
Given the low fidelity of the recording, it’s nearly impossible to transcribe what Edwards played in the most exacting detail, but this notation should get you close to capturing Ukulele Ike’s spirited approach. Begin by glancing through the chord frames and making sure that you can form them well and switch between them with ease. If any of the suggested fingerings feel awkward, of course feel free to adjust them to your liking. You can also eliminate certain chord changes if it will make things easier. For instance, in bars 1–4, just stay on an A7 chord instead of sneaking in a D7 on each beat 4, and in bar 16, you have permission to ditch the turnaround (A7–G7–A7–D7) and play just A7 for the whole measure.
Just as important as the chords—if not more so—is showing everyone that you are fascinated by rhythm by nailing the recording’s exciting feel. When first learning the song, you might strum in straight quarter notes, with a solid downstroke on each beat. Then, you’ll want to vary the rhythm by tossing in upstrokes on the “ands” here and there, as well as the occasional triplet. It will sound more convincing if you do this in an off-the-cuff manner, rather than trying to play exactly what’s written. And be sure to go for a swing feel. On paper, it would appear that the eighth notes are spaced evenly, but you should play them long-short, at the approximate ratio of 2:1. Strumming along with the original recording should go a long way toward helping you capture the feel.
Once you’ve got the strumming together, for an added challenge, you might try channeling Ukulele Ike by adding your own improvised scat solo.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Ukulele magazine.
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