June 6, 2010


'The Mighty Uke': A Musical Underdog Makes A Comeback (Susan Stamberg, June 4, 2010, NPR)

[A]s a new documentary demonstrates, the uke has made a comeback.

The Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog opens with shots of Hawaiian virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro — now 33 — in New York City wearing jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt, playing his ukulele with brilliance and brio. Director Tony Coleman describes Shimbukuro's technique as "ukulele shock and awe. He's an athletic performer, full of expression." Shimbukuro's mother handed him a ukulele when he was 4, and a little more than two decades later, his version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" went viral on YouTube.

A New Generation Of Players

Tony Coleman traveled with the documentary's producer, Margaret Meagher, in search of all kinds of artists who now play the instrument. They followed uke clubs and orchestras in the U.S., Canada and other places around the world. They found artists like Shimbukuro and Canadian virtuoso James Hill, who is also featured in the documentary. Hill grew up in Langley, British Columbia, where he began playing when he was 8 — though not necessarily by choice.

"When I got to grade 4, they just handed me a ukulele," he says. "It was part of your standard-issue kind of school equipment."

Hill adds that he thinks the little instrument creates community.

"When people come to a ukulele performance, more often than not they bring their ukuleles with them," he says. "And they'll sit there in the audience waiting for the moment where they are asked to join in. Contrast that with a symphony performance — nobody brings their oboe."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 6, 2010 8:55 AM
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