Ukulele players may find that today's popular songs are only playable by the original artist or composer. A lot of the older music, especially that from the twenties and thirties, when the ukulele was most popular, works out a lot better. These songs are likely to be completely unknown by most people today although they had a period when they were at the top of the chart. A good example is "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" which I will discuss in a subsequent article. I had never heard of this song and never even suspected that such a fascinating type of music as this existed until a friend of mine, a professional musician, showed me how to play it on my guitar. (This was before I took up the ukulele.) Knowing and playing this song has been a real pleasure for me ever since.
In this article I will discuss "After You've Gone" one of the greatest of all jazz songs, in my opinion. Henry Creamer and Turner Layton, two great, black American songwriters, wrote the song in 1918. They also wrote "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans". This was a year after the original Dixieland Jazz Band opened at Reisenweber's swanky cafe in New York City. Thus started the Jazz Age.
"After You've Gone" has been recorded hundreds of times by many artists and one of the best is by Kirsten Dunst. She sings the song during the end credits of the movie "The Cat's Meow" with ukulele accompaniment by Ian Whitcomb. She can also be heard on the sound track CD of the movie. However, she sings only the chorus and not the verse.
The complete song was recorded by Banu Gibson and is on the CD, Vintage Banu. It can also be downloaded from Apple I-Tunes Music Store, performed by Bessie Smith. These versions present the song more or less as it was written. Most of the many, many versions have been "interpreted" by the singer and some are so severely re-composed that the tune is not recognizable. There are over 120 different recorded versions of ths song available from the I-Tunes Music Store.
This song has an advantage for the performer in that it was written in 1918, and is in the public domain in the U. S. This means that you can perform it and record it without paying royalties or getting permission as long as you are performing the original version as published in 1918, and that you can prove you are doing so. Dover Publications has a songbook that has a public domain version of this song. The book is called "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" and other Favorite Song Hits, 1918, 1919, which is available from sheetmusicplus.com. This book has several other good public domain songs.
The original music for "After You've Gone" is in the key of C, which causes the melody to require notes that are too high for me to sing without straining. Therefore, I transposed the chords to the key of G in the manner explained in my book the UKULELE PLAYERS GUIDE. You can get the same results by playing the soprano ukulele chord diagrams on a tenor or baritone uke which will have the result of transposing the chords to the ones for the key of G. A copy of the "After You've Gone" sheet music with ukulele chord diagrams appears on the Songbooks section of this website (chorus only although the verses are in the new UKULELE GUIDE OPEN MIC SONGBOOK.