Music preview: Ukulele event to showcase 'Little Rev'

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The "Johnny Appleseed of the Ukulele" is coming to Pittsburgh.

Internationally known performer and teacher Mark Revenson will bring his musical talents to town in a workshop and concert on Saturday.

An award-winning ukulele and harmonica player from Milwaukee, "Lil Rev" logs more than 40,000 miles a year teaching and performing at arts camps, music stores, festivals, temples, house concerts, folk societies and ukulele clubs across North America.

If you go

Steel City Ukulele workshop and concert

Admission: $25 for workshop only, or $30 for both workshop and concert. $10 for the concert only. For concert only, pay at door.

Workshop: 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday; sign in at 1 p.m.

Concert date: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 6:45 p.m.

Where: Wilkins School Community Center, 7604 Charleston Ave., Swissvale.

Information: See to register and to purchase tickets. For information, contact:

About the group: Steel City is a2-year-old community group dedicated to entertainment, performance and education among ukulele enthusiasts in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Members meet the first and third Wednesday evenings at the Wilkins School Community Center. An All-City Second-Sunday Jam is held at Hambones Restaurant in Lawrenceville every month. All players are welcome, from beginners to professionals. Beginner lessons are also offered by the group. For more information:

On the international ukulele scene he is known as a preserver of old songs and playing styles, including early blues, Tin-Pan Alley, and Jewish and American folk styles. Because he also aims to preserve antiquated right-hand strokes and strums, he offers workshops.

Steel City Ukuleles, a local community group dedicated to all things ukulele, is sponsoring Mr. Revenson's first visit to Pittsburgh. (Full disclosure: I'm a member.)

In the afternoon, he will present a workshop: "Essential Strums, Strokes and Tricks for the Ukulele." He will use blues, Tin Pan Alley and novelty tunes to illustrate an assortment of techniques such as roll strokes, triplets, slides, tremolo, novelty strokes and the whole spectrum of classic ukulele tricks. Players and enthusiasts of all levels are welcome.

The evening concert will find "Lil Rev" wearing his signature hat and vest, playing a selection of folk, old time, blues and novelty songs. He also plays harmonica, guitar and mandolin. Besides being a one-man-band, he is a storyteller of the first order.

Mr. Revenson has a long-standing interest in the Jewish contribution to American popular music, recognizing the long association of Jews and blacks in the history of blues and jazz. "I'm interested in the musical connections that come out of the melting pot," Mr. Revenson says. "There is so much influence, and there are so many great stories to tell."

He has done programs such as "The Jews of Tin Pan Alley," and "Jews and Blues." He has featured a version of "Hound Dog," a song most often associated with Elvis Presley, who recorded it in 1956. But the tune was actually composed, he says, by two Jews, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and was originally recorded in 1952 by black blues singer Willie Mae "Big Moma" Thornton.

In his concerts around the country, Mr. Revenson often includes tunes by Tin Pan Alley masters such as Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather," the signature tune of Lena Horne, plus a few by George Gershwin, including "Summertime." Gershwin particularly was "a master at borrowing jazz and blues motifs and combining them in his music," says Mr. Revenson. "And even though 'Summertime' has been recorded thousands of times, it embodies his work better than anything. I like songs with a minor flavor that in a subtle way give a tip of the hat to their Jewish roots."

Mr. Revenson began his music career as a street musician in the early '90s after graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee with a degree in community education. He has been a grade school music teacher and adjunct college lecturer in the music history department at UWM. He also has published many ukulele instruction books and DVDs.



Marlene Parrish: 412-481-1620 or

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