The ukulele is a great instrument to play jazz songs on. Maybe because the ukulele is always associated with good vibes, it makes this instrument particularly adaptable to play any genre of music on, but the richness of Jazz Ukulele chords and the large amount of repertoire to choose from is ideal for simply personal enjoyment or performances on stage.
I think the low G tuning adds a slightly greater richness and depth to jazz chords but songs for the ukulele sound great arranged for high G tuning as well.
Here is a list of five great jazz songs to play on a tenor, or any G, C, E, A, tuned ukulele.
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson
The arrangement below by Lyle Ritz has taken this pop song from 1911 by Leo Friedman (lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson) and arranged it as a beautiful jazz influenced song.
Here is a great lesson accompanied by downloadable notation with chord diagrams for the arrangement from “Ukulele Magazine’s” article here by Jim Beloff.
This is the link to the public domain (free) .pdf of Lyle Ritz’s chord melody arrangement of, “Let me Call You Sweetheart”.
Enjoy playing and listening to this beautiful jazz waltz.
Georgia on My Mind
by Hoagy Carmichael with Lyrics by Stuart Gorrell
This absolutely beautiful song could be played on any instrument and still sound like it was written for that instrument, but it really lends itself well to the richness of jazz stylings played on the ukulele.
It is probably one of the most loved jazz songs, and the easy recognisability makes this a great selection to learn and play on the ukulele.
Here is a link to get you started learning this great song on your uke.
all of me
by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons
This is a very popular song and jazz standard performed by many artists over the years; in fact, it is one of the most recorded songs of its time.
It has been recorded by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson, who does a great job on this song too if you are looking for versions of your own to arrange for the uke. There are lots of them.
This song sounds really good played with a swing feel and you can learn a beautiful chord melody version usually in C major, which is a great key for the ukulele based on its tuning.
You’ve also got to check out the lyrics to this song so you can sing along on this one as the lyrics have really helped propel this song into the jazz standard repertoire over the years, and kept it there.
Here is a tutorial showing a video and chord grids for all the chords to the song.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
arranged by Jake Shimabukuro written by George Harrison
This arrangement for ukulele is by one of today’s greatest performing ukulele artists, Jake Shimabukuro, and is an arrangement based on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
Harrison’s song is an absolute classic for guitarists of all stripes so I had my reservations about an arrangement for any other instrument but once I heard Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele magic, I was impressed, if not converted.
This is a real performance piece by Shimabukuro and is definitely something to strive for and ascend to in our ukulele playing. While it might not be strictly jazz, it certainly has some rich sounding chords.
Check this out.
Over the Rainbow
by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg
If there was a song made for the ukulele, this one has got to be it, even though it wasn’t specifically made for the ukulele, but was actually composed for the big-time singing performance in a famous movie, “The Wizard of Oz”, and this is but one of our many favourite jazz songs that have come from compositions created for movies and plays.
The shear staying power of this song as evidenced from vocalists to almost any instrument has endeared itself as a beloved classic that goes well beyond the confines of any classification.
Many heavy hitters in the jazz world have arranged this song for big bands and small ensembles alike. However it still sounds great using Jazz ukulele chords.
Jake Shimabukuro plays a great version of “Over the Rainbow” for ukulele, plus many others that you can check out.
by George Gershwin, lyrics by DuBose Heyward
Ok, this may be the sixth song under a five-song post, but who’s counting when it comes to good music?
Consider it a bonus but certainly not a lesser piece of music as you will soon see once you take a listen to this one.
Is it a lullaby, opera or of a classical derivative? Who cares?
This a great jazz tune recorded literally hundreds of times over the years.
This may be one of the best songs to play on the ukulele due to some great moody and rich chords along with a hauntingly beautiful melody.
Here is a tutorial if you are interested in playing this song on your ukulele.
As jazz ukulele players, we all love listening to great music and searching out favourites can be a lot of fun as well.
Here are a couple of great ukulele jazz artists to check out.
Brittni Pavai has recorded some great music.
Here she is playing “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck.
We cannot leave out Lyle Ritz, who set the tone for ukulele jazz lovers all over the world with his two ukulele jazz albums from the 50’s, “How about Uke?.
The ukulele lends itself well to playing chords and accompanying oneself or others on vocals. It equally lends itself well to chord melody arrangements which can be particularly nice with the richer sounding chords used in jazz.
There are tons of great jazz ukulele songs just waiting for you!
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.