I ( John Kavanagh) was in the eastern US recently doing some playing. Here’s a little article I wrote about it, and the uke scene in general, for a Wolfville paper :
Notes from the Ukulele Underground
I spent the first part of April on a Ukulele Caravan – a tour that took me and half-a-dozen other solo and duo performers up the eastern seaboard, playing shows in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. You may not know about the Internet-driven ukulele scene going on these days, but I’ve seen it, and it’s quite something.
Like any of the millions of hidden worlds, it’s all-important to the people who live there. I met and played with ukulele celebrities like Craig “Ukulele Noir” Robertson, Rotterdam’s Uke Box, Patsy Monteleone, Greg Hawke (yes, the blonde guy from The Cars) and fixtures from New York’s Midnight Ukulele Disco like Sonic Uke and Uke Skywalker. Only in Manhattan could you fill a room at midnight with transvestite ukulele players, most of them excellent. If you think I’m making this up, Google it – I dare you.
The little guitar was first a craze in Hawaii, when it was introduced by a couple of Portuguese builders in 1879. It came to the mainland with the San Francisco Exposition in 1915, and was taken up by some early jazz singers like Cliff (Ukulele Ike) Edwards, the original young crooner in a raccoon coat. That wave rode radio and shellac records.
The Second Wave crested on television, with Arthur Godfrey, and the present Third Wave is spread far but still relatively thin by Web forums, YouTube, and all those TV commercials with a uke tinkling in the background.
Here in Canada, and Nova Scotia in particular, we have a unique bit of uke history: in the 60s and 70s, a music teacher from Truro named Chalmers Doane started a classroom ukulele program that eventually involved 50,000 students. A lot of Canadian baby boomers first learned music with a uke in their hands.
Some of us still play the uke pretty seriously. I’m not the only one – anyone at the Evergreen theatre in Margaretsville May 17th saw a thorough musician and new Nova Scotian named James Hill www.ukulelejames.com play a great show of original ukulele/cello duets. If that sounds marginal, you should have been there. A serious player from New Jersey recently told me that he considers Hill the best uke player in the world today. (It’s not a competition.) He certainly proved, if it was in doubt, that there’s all kinds of first-rate music in that little box.
I think it’s time the Ukulele Renaissance flowered in the Valley. I’m thinking of starting a ukulele group for all ages in September. I’ve coached and played with clubs in Bridgewater, Dartmouth, Halifax, Maine, and at the 2007 international Ukulele Ceilidh in Lunenburg, and I want to bring it home. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop into the Odd Book in Wolfville and leave your name. We’ll have fun.
I have a website, plugging my CD, at http://ezfolk.com/audio/John_Kavanagh