I have been playing guitar for 25 years. I started when I was 16, and yes it changed my life. In 2005, on a trip to Hawaii prior to moving here, I purchased a Kamaka Concert ukelele. It was a whole new adventure for me. Having started out with various forms of heavy metal, I ventured into other genres of music including acoustic fingerstyle, jazz fusion, and classical guitar. Continuing my quest for blending various styles and not adhering to typical conventions of playing, I began my quest to conquer a new instrument. The transition was actually quite easy for me. I did not freak out about a new tuning; I just started playing. I treated it like a small classical guitar and once I heard Jake Shimabakuro on Youtube doing his rendition of “While My Guitar gently Weeps”, I knew anything was possible on the ukelele.
A few days ago I learned about Eddie Vedder’s new album “Ukelele Songs” and read the articles in the June 3, 2011 edition of the Star Advertiser. I was touched by his story. I was intrigued with the parallels to my life and how I came across the ukelele in a similar fashion. To hear how one of the biggest names from the early 90′s grunge era had taken up the uke was fascinating. Eddie’s band Pearl Jam was part of the hugely influential Seattle scene with Nirvana and Soundgarden, paving the way for a resurgence of heavy music that has lasted through today. To go from this style of music to a more subtle, some might say more delicate, form of music says a great deal about the soul of this artist.
I would urge anybody who is not yet a musician to play an instrument…any instrument. If you are unsure of which one, consider the ukelele. The tones are mellow, and it is not as intimidating as guitar being that it is smaller in size and has merely four strings.
I will always be a guitarist, but my soul is just as easily soothed with my ukelele. Let the ukelele change your life
The article from the Star Advertiser:
‘An ultimate little songwriting machine’ is what Vedder calls uke
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 03, 2011
The ukulele has been enchanting audiences and intriguing musicians for more than a century.
It is traditionally played by Hawaiian musicians as a rhythm instrument, but a long line of virtuosos from Ernest Kaai and Eddie Kamae to Lyle Ritz, Herb “Ohta-san” Ohta and Jake Shimabukuro have shown that it’s also a soloist’s instrument open to a wide range of performance styles — from Bill Tapia’s World War I-vintage arrangement of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” to Gordon Mark’s interpretations of complex classical compositions.
Hawaii has never lost sight of what the ukulele is capable of, but in recent years it has been discovered by a new generation of musicians and music fans around the globe. A key player in the discovery process is Pearl Jam frontman and part-time Hawaii resident Eddie Vedder.
With this week’s release of Vedder’s album “Ukulele Songs,” here are five questions with the musician:
Question: The national music industry seems to be “discovering” the instrument that you’ve been playing for more than decade. Do you feel ahead of the curve?
Answer:?I don’t think I thought in those terms at all. I was just struck by how quickly I was able to establish a relationship with this little instrument. I see it as just kind of an ultimate little songwriting machine. Melodies are produced in a way that I could never quite establish that connection to melody on a guitar with more strings and more options. But having had that experience, I was able to transfer some of that knowledge onto the guitar.
Q:?You picked up a ukulele and developed your own way of playing it?
A:?I’m such a big supporter of playing instruments you don’t know how to play, because when you don’t know what you’re doing, if you create some kind of song structure through chordings, you feel like you’ve invented something. You might just be playing
D-A-G … but you don’t know that and so you feel like you’ve invented something, and all of a sudden you have confidence as a songwriter that you’re inventing things.
Q: You were quoted in the New York Times in April as saying that you wanted to “give it something different from the way that it’s been played before.” Do you feel that you have achieved that with the album?
A: I think the idea was to create something that would somehow give back to the instrument in the songwriting — somehow cross a few boundaries. But I’m really sensitive, especially to Hawaiian culture and the islands themselves and the people, and I would be very cautious not to pick up the instrument and try to take something from it. Hawaiian culture is plagued with people taking — mostly Caucasian men like myself — and co-opting it and usually desecrating it in some way in the end.
Q: Did anyone influence your approach to the instrument?
A: Growing up I was a full-on devotee of Pete Townshend and The Who, and they had a record called “Who By Numbers” and one of the deep tracks on that is something called “Blue, Red and Grey.” It’s Pete playing ukulele and John Entwistle, the bass player, playing some brass instruments. It is a beautiful melodic piece with a lyric that I fell in love with … but it is also the seed that was planted to make the ukulele a legitimate instrument for my developing sensibilities at the time. That’s where this little tree grew from — one single song.
Q: And now with your album you’re inspiring another generation of musicians. What else might they need to know?
A: The other nice thing about this little instrument is that it allows the voice of whoever’s singing to really tell a story, and that’s something I’ve been missing in music. It was just a natural fit to be back working on the art of storytelling. Not only the volume of the instrument and the size of it, but also where it is on the sound spectrum, which is actually fairly high. When I come in a bit of a low vocal, you’re actually covering quite a bit of the sound spectrum with just two elements of sound. The story doesn’t have to compete with a lot of other things on the sound spectrum.