Playing music without looking at the page requires knowledge, skill, and desire. Local jazz musician Marvin Falcon demonstrates this talent naturally playing his guitars and ukulele. “I am a jazz guitarist with classical interest,” he says.
Originally from Brooklyn, Falcon started playing the ukulele as a teenager. He explains, “I went with my friend to help babysit his uncle’s child. My friend asked his uncle to play the ukulele. I was surprised his uncle was missing his right hand from a childhood accident. I asked how his uncle is going to play with only one hand? My friend said just watch and listen.” The uncle put on a watch band attached to the stump of the ukulele. The band had a felt pick tied onto it. The pick would extend so he was able to strum. “He not only strummed, but also played melodies. It was magnificent. His uncle talked about moments that change your life, and this certainly was one for me.”
Falcon knew then he wanted to play the ukulele. “I asked my mom for 5 dollars, and bought a plastic ukulele. I sat in my dad’s office playing while performances were going on. I would also play with my friend’s uncle. I taught myself how to play all by ear. I did not know music was something you would write down, I thought it was just an environmental thing.”
Falcon played ukulele in a band with high school friends. One of the guys suggested Falcon learn to play the guitar and call an instructor he knew. “My friends would not let me out off the phone booth until I spoke to the guy.” His name was Stanley Solow. “I explained to Stanley I do not own a guitar. He was so welcoming that he had me play my ukulele for him, and then helped me instantly pick up guitar and read music, which is a gateway to the world of music. It has its own vocabulary and sound. Solow became a personal mentor. I was now in a career I did not choose, it chose me.”
After graduating college and playing guitar professionally across the U.S. Falcon returned to New York in the 60’s and started teaching. He received a call from a popular black musician Miriam Makeba to play guitar at a political performance. When Falcon asked for the music he was instead given prior recordings having to learn the material by ear. Falcon explains; “It was an adventure. We only rehearsed in apartments. I was never told Makeba’s performance starts in total darkness. I was worried about finding my guitar positions. Makeba was introduced, drums began to play and I only had to play one chord repeatedly during that part. Makeba then got the spotlight wearing an outfit that reflected a lot of light. I used that lighting to play the rest of the show, which was a big success.” After that performance Falcon toured with Makeba to Africa which included musician Harry Bellafonte to honor the emancipation of Kenya from British rule.
In 1972 Falcon moved to Allentown with his wife and two children. His son Ted is a professional violinist living in Brazil. Falcon has played ukulele with Ted numerous times, which he says is a blessing. “We just know how to play together. We do not even have to look at the page or each other.” They have played together at Mayfair. One time included Falcon’s daughter singing along with them on stage.
Falcon feels, “In Allentown jazz musicians think I am classical, and classical musicians think I am more jazz. My training comes from the jazz world, which is about creating music on the spot. I think it is therefore easier for a jazz musician to become a classical player. Jazz musicians can analyze the music immediately and understand it from a musical point of view.” He is very passionate about the difference between the two.
Falcon rehearses weekly with a group in his home studio. He can play practically anything from memory. He still performs regularly with a band called Barrel House Brothers at Steelstacks and The Speakeasy Bookstore in Bethlehem. They play traditional jazz from the 1920’s and 30’s. Falcon will also be teaching a ukulele course in September at the Lehigh County Senior Center. “I am a gun for hire. I can understand music from the composer’s point of view when I play it.”