By Greg Olwell
While most people have probably heard Lyle Ritz, they may not have known it. As an A-list session bassist whose career began in the late-’50s, Ritz racked up thousands of studio sessions, playing on many hits including the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from the Righteous Brothers.
But, before he joined a crew of hit-making session musicians, Ritz led a quiet, mellow revolution that’s still rippling in the ukulele world today.
In 1957, Ritz recorded the first album of ukulele jazz, How About Uke? [Verve]. This collection of jazz standards arranged for ukulele, and its follow-up album 50th State Jazz, failed to light up the national charts, but they caught on in Hawaii. Ritz’s chord melody arrangements of classics like plaintive “Moonlight in Vermont” and the playful “Lulu’s Back in Town” kicked a door down for a future full of witty and skillful playing on ukulele.
Ritz put his tenor ukulele aside for a few decades to focus on his studio bassist career, but picked it up again in the ’80s and has continued to release music. His most recent album, No Frills—Jazz Ukulele & Bass, came out in 2006 and Flea Market Music has released a book of his chord melody solo arrangements.
The 86-year-old musician kicked open a door for jazz ukulele songs filled with improvisation and groove and many have walked through it since.
But, it’s Lyle’s playing on this track, mimed here by Steve Martin, which may be his most imitated work on the ukulele.