Monday, March 23, 2009

Taimane Gardner in SF

Saw Taimane fire up the 'ukulele on Thursday night at 111 Minna gallery in San Francisco. She opened for big wave surfer, Garrett McNamara (GMAC!), who did a slide show and Q&A session, all sponsored by Outside magazine (one of my favorite publications.) Free admission, food and beer were in abundance, but I would have paid dearly to go to this anyway.

Taimane played a 45 minute set and I was amazed to be three feet away. She regaled the audience with her trademark medleys, which aptly pair rock and roll and classical pieces together. She definitely has a unique and enthralling style. Great to be able to enjoy a whole set of her music after only getting to hear one song at last year's luau in February (see March 18, 2008 post).

Enjoy some of the video I shot and edited...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz

I finally made it down to the famous Santa Cruz Ukulele Club. As you can see in this photo, a great time was had by all! (BTW, I'm towards the left in the navy sweatshirt with a shark.) I went with my friend, Jeff, aka humbleuker (check out his blog on blogspot for great ukulele links, commentary, etc). Hiram Bell taught a workshop, then there was the house band (a constantly changing group of club members who just have fun playing various acoustic instruments and jamming). Next an hour of songs that the club played in a most raucous manner (note photo!) Lastly, a concert by Hiram. He really burns up that uke! I'm tired today after the late night with the driving and all, but it was well wroth it. snore.........OOPS!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Crazy G, Crazy Me!

This is the longest I've gone without putting up a post and recording a video!  I used to practice at least an hour a day, but I've had a lot going on to prevent me from playing...mainly that I moved and it has been crazy, busy!  Hence the name of the song I selected to record this time 'round.  Also, since I have hardly picked up the 'uke in a couple of months, thought I'd select something simple.  I guess it could be difficult if I tried to play it like Jake Shimabukuro!  OH, BTW, I had carpal tunnel surgery a couple of weeks ago, so I think I'm doing pretty well.  (Eeeekkk!  It's been so long that I had to relearn how to embed video from YouTube...guess I've been spending too long on that Facebook account of mine!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

First Annual Wine Country 'Ukulele Festival

I attended the First Annual Wine Country 'Ukulele Festival last weekend, October 10-11, in St. Helena, Napa Valley, California.  My friend, Romy, and I stayed in Calistoga, home of mud bath treatments, but, alas we were too busy with 'uke events and Hawaiian culture to partake of the spa thing!  A dip in the mineral pool was about it.

Before I delve into details I must say, WHAT A POSITIVE AND TRANSFORMATIONAL EXPERIENCE!  The event was well-organized and well-attended.  Too much to do in too little time, so you had to pick and choose but everyone should have such problems, huh?  

We started our afternoon on Friday with a three hour cooking class taught by Keoki Kahumoku, grammy-winning slack key guitarist and ukuleleist!   OK, when I looked in the window of the kitchen and saw people standing around ready to work, I thought "What am I doing here?!"  Cooking doesn't tend to be a fun experience for me.  This class turned out beyond my wildest expectations.  I grabbed a stool and sat back while watching Keoki cook and listened while he regaled us with his wonderful stories of growing up in the islands, hunting on and working his farm, GMO foods politics, you name it!  OH!  And we also got to eat loads of unbelievable foods:  poke ahi, lomilomi salmon (with local heirloom tomatoes), smoked octopus and more.  He was up half that night cooking these and kalua pork for the next night's luau.  The food was some of the best I've ever had and was a treat because Keoki brought many of the ingredients from his farm.

Skinning the ahi

                                        Lomilomi salmon coming up! 

The next day was back to back workshops from 9:30 a.m til nearly 5 p.m.  There were also ukulele performances at the same time outside but I never made it to any of these because I was so busy soaking up knowledge.  Many 'ukulele luthiers were on hand, but since I've been placed on a 'ukulele moratorium by my family, I did no looking!

The first workshop I attended was James Hill's "Ukulele, Pass It On."  Besides being an innovative player, James is devoting much time to the creation of a 'ukulele pedagogy. (He grew up in Langley, British Columbia where the instrument is taught in the public schools.)  The idea is that sooner or later you are going to find yourself teaching 'ukulele to someone else.  James has a rare ability to be able to deconstruct concepts and have people interact musically with one another while mixing it up.  Many players "teach" but James really is a teacher of music in the true sense of the word.  

I was so impressed that I decided to stay on in James' next session, "Swing 'Ukulele, Swing."  James introduced the swing strum and chords (embellishments on more basic chords).  However, the more important musical lesson was about how music is really about "where you put the note" and how a "vacuum pulls the audience along."  There is tension created in the waiting and a satisfaction when we finally get "it."  James took us through a tough exercise where he challenged us to keep slowing down our strumming further and further to create longing and subtlety in our playing.  This lessons are really in line with what I once read about Miles Davis who said that music is all about the silences.  

Next on the list was a workshop called "Strum-cersizes and Ornamentology" with Ralph Shaw.  Ralph originally hails from Britain and plays the true British 'ukulele, or what we Americans would call a banjo uke. His repertoire includes lots of old George Formby tunes, and he has the twinkle in his eye to go along with the humorous lyrics.  I loved this workshop although I'm dubious as to my physical abilities to carry off some of these rapid-fire strums!  But I definitely picked up some pointers on how to add some pizzazz to my playing.  To the left you can see Ralph with one happy workshop participant (me!)

Last workshop of the day was "Fun with your 'Ukulele" with Mark Kailana Nelson. I was really interested in meeting Mark as I'd recently bought his book on fingerstyle 'ukulele picking, and it has some impressive tabbed arrangements and excellent performance notes.  Mark did not disappoint:  we covered a number of simple two or three chord songs that were enhanced with interesting licks.  It also put a lot together which reminded me of how much I've already learned in my short 'ukulele career to date!

Right after 5 p.m. was luau time. Wine was flowing aplenty because, after all, we WERE in the wine country!  Keoki's food was superb. And one of the best parts of the experience was connecting with all my 'ukulele friends (I had more than I thought!)...and I made a few more.  Here I am with Romy and Keoki:

Then we ran off to the concert from 8  to 11 p.m.  Featured were performances by Ralph Shaw, James Hill, Keoki Kahumoku, and Herb Ohta Jr.  The music ranged from traditional Hawaiian (including a lovely hula by Robyn Mahealani Kneubuhl) to Tin Pan Alley to avant garde to just plain humorous.  Ralph Shaw had us rolling on the floor with tears in our eyes.  What a great time!  Here's a sample of with Ralph Shaw and James Hill doing "Yodelele Lady":

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stairway to Heaven

I learned this one with Hiram Bell.  Hope it doesn't disappoint....yes, I know I don't do the WHOLE song, where it really kicks up the pace.  Maybe I'll get to that part at some point in my currently busy life.  But in the meantime hope you enjoy what I got!  

Friday, September 5, 2008

Practice in This Weather?!

Here I am to the right to let you know that it's been really HOT here!  Our usual summer temps are highs of 75 degrees or so, sometimes a foggy 68.  So our homes don't tend to have air conditioning.  But the last days we've been hitting into the 90's.  House gets way too hot to be motivated to do much of anything but the bare essentials...laundry is piling up and don't even talk about 'ukulele practice!  Big smog build up too.  But as you can see, Rachel and I are putting on a good face on in spite of the continued heat in the forecast.  Good thing we have a pool to go to nearby!

Monday, September 1, 2008

She Steals a Base!!!

What a lucky girl my daughter is!  Rachel got selected by the Oakland A's organization to be the contestant in "Steal the Base":  she had to run from the left field wall to 3rd base, pick up the base and run back in 45 seconds.  It was amazing hearing her name announced twice over the PA system and the whole stadium went WILD cheering her on!  She got lots of great free stuff:  a  T-shirt, a signed baseball, AND a $25 gift card.  Maybe Rachel will take her parents to a game with this??!!  Actually, she already had as we got free tickets and parking (and it was a fireworks game, not to mention that the A's had a dramatic last minute win!)  Rachel basked in her fame everytime we walked around the stadium and folks recognized her.  You GO girl!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hiram Bell in Concert

I've been taking 'ukulele lessons from Hiram Bell for the last couple of months. He's a phenomenal teacher, willing to attack many different musical styles and one of the few who has a passion for rock and roll. Hiram also provides a firm grounding in music theory and I'm a real theory geek!  As I mentioned in the previous post, I got to travel to Waikiki to play with his band at the largest 'ukulele festival in the world!

Hiram hails from Honolulu, having studied at the historic Kawaihao Church in Honolulu as well as at the University of Hawaii.  He played a concert at Mike DaSilva's Berkeley studio in early August where he held the audience's attention with his unique arrangements of songs like Jessica by the Allman Brothers, Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison, not to mention many wonderful Hawaiian tunes.  A good time was had by all!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Starbuck's 38th Annual Ukulele Festival, Waikiki

I had the unbelievable opportunity to be invited to play in this 'ukulele festival, as my teacher, Hiram Bell, brings a group of his students, the HUI or Hailama 'Ukulele Institute, every other year to represent players from California. The world's largest uke festival attracts thousands and takes place in Kapiolani Park Bandshell, Waikiki. According to festival founder, Roy Sakuma, the event brings together "professionals and amateurs, young and old, performers and fans, all for the love of the instrument and the melodious sounds that emanate from it."

The photo to the left shows just how many turned out on this balmy Hawaiian morning, braving an earlier threatening drizzle which turned sunny!

Coming from as far away as Guam and Japan, the performers included reknowned names such as Bryan Tolentino, Herb "Ohta-San" and James Hill, as well as the 700-piece band composed of Roy Sakuma's students. It was a rare opportunity to hear Sakuma and Ohta-San play a piece together (see below). They regaled the audience with some stories of their times going way back to their youth together.
Seeing James Hill was a real treat. Like Jake Shimabukuro, James utilizes novel techniques that you would never think to try with this instrument of traditional Hawaiian music. Besides recording and performing, James has also developed a school curriculum for the ukulele: he grew up in Langley, British Columbia where the kids learn uke instead of the recorder. So as his opening number, James taught the 700 student band a song to play on the spot. Next, from the bento box lunch he used the wooden chopsticks, drawing them across and hammering the strings of his uke and producing innovative and musical sounds with an East Asian influence. James rounded out his set with his "Ode to a Frozen Boot," reflecting his Canadian roots.

I was particularly fortunate to get to speak to him backstage about his ukulele and education ideas, particularly since I have an interest in developing a kids' class locally.

...AND for the actual performance was almost indescribable. Just beforehand I had the realization that this is what I'd been working toward and looking forward to for the last several months, so it was almost surreal that it was actually happening. Turns out that I felt very relaxed onstage, more that I'd been at some open mic events! Here's a photo of Hiram and the HUI rehearsing in the park beforehand and one of us onstage.

Enjoy the following movie I put together with some of the video clips of our group practicing and performing...(BTW, Rachel served as the excellent photographer and videographer, so many thanks to her skill and patience through all my practicing and the day of the event. Also I am grateful to my husband for his seemingly boundless support to make this all become a reality!)

I think we can all thank Roy Sakuma who has organized this wonderful event for 38 years and continues to bring the joy of 'ukulele playing to countless children through his premiere ukulele school. I was lucky enough to meet him backstage:

Since we went over for a few extra days, we had the chance to do some other things as well. Among them were surfing, outrigger canoeing, a submarine ride to 120 feet in depth (!), seeing Cirque de Hawaii, and experiencing a Puka Dog (say what?!) OK, we heard of Puka Dog from the Anthony Bourdain show, "No Reservations" on Travel Channel. It's a little hot dog stand in the International Marketplace serving hot dogs in yummy tubular buns (Swiss recipe) that they squirt full of a garlicky mayo (think aoli), tropical fruit flavored relish (lilikoi, mango, guava) and special mustard. There's actually about twenty different condiment choices. Then they slide in the dog. Mmmm. They also have shaved ice to rival Matsumoto's on the North Shore! I had mine with ice cream on the bottom and coconut creme and azuki beans on top. I better start exercising soon!!

Below is a Honu we saw from the submarine and the close-up of a Puka Dog! Hopefully you will know which is which!!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Itchin'" for You to See This One!

Hey folks,

Many months ago I rented the movie, Arctic Tale, with my daughter. It's a heartfelt story addressing impacts of global warming but told for the younger set. I noticed that one of the songs in the movie included a ukulele of all things, and since I liked most all the songs, I purchased the soundtrack. Most of the songs were written by Grant-Lee Phillips. This was my first introduction to his music.

Now, I'm warning you that we got a little carried away and did two versions of the song. You be the judge of which one you like better!

Itchin' Part 1:

Itchin' Part 2:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A New Sport with a Hawaiian Connection

On a recent trip to Bend, Oregon I checked out the sport of stand-up paddleboarding, and it really agreed with me! Admittedly, doing it on the Deschutes River and not the open ocean is a LITTLE less challenging but, nevertheless, a great work out. Not sure that I have the guts to give it a go on my upcoming trip to Hawaii, though. Watch out Laird Hamilton!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ukulele Festival of Northern California and The Royal Hawaiian Ukulele Band

On Sunday April 27 I went with my daughter, Rachel, to the Ukulele Festival of Northern California, held annually in Hayward, California. There were lots of groups that performed, as well as ukuleles and Hawaiian things to buy.

We caught several terrific performances including that of The Royal Hawaiian Ukulele Band which plays at the Temple Bar in Berkeley. Rachel was tickled by them as they looked like they were having a lot of fun with their music. I went to their meetings a couple of times when I first started ukulele nearly two years ago. However, at that point, I'd only taught myself a few chords and found the group all too intimidating! Recently, however, I have rejoined the group and find that not only can I keep up, but I really enjoy the mix of mostly Hawaiian songs that they play. The band mixes in some melody finger picking together with the chord strumming for variety. But best of all, they are an exceedingly warm and welcoming group. They play once a week, and I try to make it at least three times a month.

We also ran into our friend, Kathy Quain, whom I originally met at the Berkeley Ukulele Club. Kathy is an extremely talented teacher, music therapist and performer. As my husband, Dave, commented about her performing, you can actually "hear" her smiling through the sound of her singing. Both Rachel and I have been taking piano lessons with her, although Kathy and I call my lesson something more like lessons in overall musicianship. I am learning so much from her that can be applied to piano, ukulele and singing. We also saw Fran from the ukulele club. Here we are all together at the festival.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Another Carol(e)

I have a lot of ukulele happenings I will have to catch you up on soon. So many that I haven't written in nearly two months. But for now, I thought I'd apprise you of this uke player tidbit I just found: yet another famous person(s) who picked up a ukulele.

I am currently reading "Girls Like Us." No, it's not a summer reading trashy chick-lit novel. Instead it chronicles the lives and careers of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon and the journey of their generation. I remember growing up on their music. I was especially a huge fan of Carole's music.

Anyway, the book tells of a time early on when Carole King won a talent show as a child and requested a baritone ukulele as her prize. But as if this weren't enough, she appeared soon after on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, strumming that uke through a rousing rendition of the hit parade-topping "Shrimp Boats!" I sure wish I could find a clip of that appearance on YouTube!

Funny thing is that when I was growing up my parents thought I resembled Carole King. You be the judge! Now I was a bit younger than she in this photo, but I thought it gave the best image with the profile and wavy/curly hair. Although shorter here, my hair used to be long and flowing like hers.

For better or for worse, I've been sidetracked on her music over the last couple of weeks. Meaning: ukulele playing has been suffering at the expense of piano playing: I bought a book of great piano arrangements of Carole King's songs and am having a groovin' time with them.

OK. Now I got further into the book and found out that around her junior year Joni bought herself a $38 baritone ukulele and a Pete Seeger songbook. Who knew?! According to the book, she was in love with performing, but she had a weird/squeaky voice and she played the ukulele so much at sleepovers that her friends wanted to say "Please, Joni, take your ukulele and go home!" Ouch!!!!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Aloha Oe

As I've threatened, I'm working on learning more chord melodies. I've taken a couple of lessons from Herb Ohta Jr, who has greatly emphasized that to take my playing to the next level, I need to learn the fretboard in my sleep! So that is what I'm concentrating on for the time being...rather barely mastering playing whatever anyone shoves under my nose. You'd be proud of me: I've begun to decline taking handouts of music at my local uke club. (Hey, it's part of my self-designed 12-step program to break the addiction to play everything!) I'm also trying to really memorize a few tunes so that when someone plops a uke into my hands I don't stammer that I just don't have my music available.
Aloha Oe is one of the first things I've mastered. A simple and beautiful song.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A New Ukulele!

In February I escaped for nearly a week to Waikiki, one of my favorite places of all time. Had a great vacation with the family. Waikiki has the best beach: it's so shallow you can just walk on out for hundreds of yards, and the way off-shore reefs protect the more shallow areas from sharks! I used to go there every year with my parents and stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where we got to stay this time. So I was lucky to relive lots of old memories and make some new ones! Here is the view of Diamond Head from our room!

Among all the great things we did: snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, riding an outrigger canoe, surfing and body boarding at Waikiki Beach, and enjoying a luau.

Rachel and I took our first surfing lesson where we were finally hanging ten! Now she is a natural, but as you can see below, I was also able to hold my own:

And Dave did pretty well too!

So what would a trip to Hawaii be without some ukulele action, you say??

First, we went to Hy's Steakhouse to hear Herb Ohta Jr. That was an incredible treat getting to chat with him and see his artistry up close. Herb is a very low-key person who is truly a ukulele player's player. Go see him if you get to Honolulu as he plays there regularly when he isn't touring. Herb plays a Ko'Aloha custom tenor. I tried some of the Ko'Aloha's out in the local shop and that may well be my next acoustic ukulele.

We also saw Taimane Gardner at the Royal Hawaiian Luau. She did one medley of songs that left the audience breathless. In case you were wondering, she plays a custom Kamaka 8-string with several of the strings removed to give her room on the fretboard.

And drum roll, please! I did get a new is an soprano-sized Ohana made just for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, so it had a special meaning for me. Now I can have one ukulele that has a high G string and still has that Hawaiian "ukey" sound, and now I can change out the G string to a low G on my concert-sized Mele, perfect for working out finger picking solos. The Ohana has the memorable Royal Hawaiian logo on its headstock.

And now I own a Carol Siegal signature Mele concert ukulele with a low G string. It's all in the headstock design below (the bunny ears are courtesy of Rachel!)