Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ukulele Fever Hits Toronto

Yes, I've been gone a long time, but I'm back! I've been meaning to post something about the Corktown Ukulele Jam for quite a while, and I've decided now is the time.

I got a ukulele for my birthday a few years ago, and since then I've been working away at it in my own undisciplined fashion. For a guitar player like me, it's not too hard to transfer some of what you know to the ukulele, because the strings on the ukulele are tuned a lot like a guitar that's missing it's lowest two strings. The only thing is, when you make a "D" shape on the ukulele, it's actually a G chord (if you are in C tuning -- if you are in D tuning, it's an A), so you have to transpose everything in your head.

The more I explore, though, the more I realize that playing the ukulele is not just like playing the guitar. It's a captivating instrument that has its own treasure house of unique possibilities. There's the high G string, which is one of the biggest challenges for a guitar player learning the instrument. There's the fact that all kinds of interesting chord shapes that you might not use on a guitar become central to moving around the ukulele fretboard. It's portable, adaptable to many styles, easy to learn (but hard to master), incredibly cute, and basically downright seductive.

And then a few months ago, I started going to the Corktown Ukulele Jam* at the Dominion Pub here in Toronto. Started by David Newland, and Steve McNie, CUKE (as it's affectionately known), has grown into a fantastic little community of ukulele enthusiasts. Most Wednesday nights there are 35 - 50 people who come to learn, jam, and perform. And that's when I realized that the ukulele is unique in another way: there's a whole ukulele world out there that is like a parallel universe -- there are people who travel all over the world to attend ukulele events, dozens of ukulele websites and bulletin boards and email lists, ukulele clubs in every corner of the world-- it goes on and on. Ukulele players are an underground community, bonded through their love of this instrument that's not really taken seriously in the wider world.

Not only that, but I think I might be succumbing to what is known as "UAS." Ukulele Aquisition Syndrome. One ukulele is never enough. The ukulele comes in four different sizes (soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone), and you can also get banjo ukes, resonator ukes, electric ukes, and more. I'm trying to resist the urge, but I don't know how long I can hold out.

In the meantime, here's a video clip of me performing at the "Best of the Corktown Ukulele Jam" a few weeks ago. I adapted my song "Cold Wind Blowing" by re-tuning my ukulele to give it a haunting modal sound. (While you're at it, you can check out all the other ukulele videos filmed that night.) Enjoy!

*Note: incredible Corktown Ukulele Jam logo by jam member David Olson

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Blogger Acilius said...

I saw your Corktown Jam performance of "Cold Wind Blowing" on youtube. Very impressive! I look forward to hearing more of your work.

April 29, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

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