Friday, June 30, 2006

Shimo Ukuleles

While there are obviously still lots of ukulele players to cover, today I will touch on an uke luthier.

Shimo Takahiro runs Shimo Guitars. He graduated from a well-known luthier school in Arizona. He makes guitars and ukuleles, some of which are used by well-known Japanese players like Takagi Boo (mentioned in a previous post) and Iwao (subject of a soon-to-be post). As far as I can make out, he makes custom instruments.

I have heard several of his ukuleles being played and they pretty pleasant little instruments to listen to. Iwao makes it a point for fans to know that he uses Shimo ukuleles. If you would like to hear what some of his ukuleles and guitars sound like, visit his website (link above) and click on the link to the Sound Library. You can listen to the various examples by clicking on whatever picture strikes your fancy.

Speaking of fancy, some of his work is pretty fanciful. He has come up with some pretty crazy designs, as well as some excellent ones. Anyone interested can look at his site (much of which is in English, incidentally) and enjoy having a look.

I would hesitate to guess what one of his handmade beauties would cost, but I imagine they would run at least $1,000 if not considerably more (I've seen one of his guitars going for $14,000). But, from what I have seen of them, they are probably worth much more than what you pay for them.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kobayashi Kiyoshi

It would be tough to call Kobayashi Kiyoshi the most famous ukulele player in Japan, but he is fairly well known.

He is putting out fifth album, "Pacific Swing" this coming Monday. Obviously, I haven't heard it, but he did give us a preview at the Ukulele Super Jam, 1 April this year. (Pictures and write-up in English sans Kobayashi). Based on what I heard there, I will probably make the effort to get my hands on it soon. I have his previous effort, "Ukulele Swing 42", which is a fun compliation of jazz or jazzy standards played in a swing style (or did the titles of these two CDs give that away?).

His playing style is not flashy, but it is articulate and, precise. One could press the case that it is orthodox, but it is nonetheless entertaining to listen to. After hearing him play at the Super Jam, I seriously considered attempting enrolling in one of the ukulele classes he offers in Swing ukulele around Tokyo, but unfortunately, they are all at impossible times for me.

Kobayashi started out on guitar and still plays, but is now probably better known as an ukulele player. Part of the reason is that he also writes books on learning how to play as well as appears in instructional DVDs. It was with one of his publications that I got started on the ukulele...true confessions time, is it?

Born in 1955, he is considerably younger than the septugenarians I wrote about in my last posting. It is hardly surprising that he teaches ukulele as he was a jazz guitar instructor at a Tokyo university for eight years. He was the first Japanese to perform at the French Django Reinhart Festival (1985).

I haven't found an English web page on this particular Kobayashi Kiyoshi, though there are pages on the voice actor by the same name.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Who is most famous?

Who is Japan's most famous ukulele musician? Beats me, I'm no music business professional! But, that has never stopped me from guess anyway.

If we define "famous" as an ukulele musician than even non-uke fans would know, it probably boils down to either Takagi Boo or Maki Shinji. Ukulele players in Japan seem to occasionally echo the Tiny Tim or George Formby ambience.

Takagi Boo was something of a guitarist in days past. He was also a member of the comedy team "The Drifters", who had a Saturday night variety show on Japanese TV for years.Now in his seventies, he runs his own Hawaiian-style bar in Tokyo where he performs live a couple of times a week.Although his site is in Japanese, you can find performance information under the link marked "Live". He plays primarily Hawaiian music of the Kaimana Hila variety. His daughter seems to have more or less grown up in Hawaii.According to a recent TV program, she seems to live there still.

Maki Shinji is a comedian that uses the ukulele has a very integral part of his act. Maki's trademark is variations on Ta-Hu-Wa-Hu-Wai. He varies the lyrics to discuss surprises, disappointments, shocks, and vexations. You can hear one version on his downloads page. It is the top link. Below are also two MP3 of "scary stories" for download. Or at least that is what is there today.

He has also put out CDs that are available on the Internet. I haven't found any pages in English about Maki Shinji, so the link above is to his official Japanese web site.

According to the Japanese profile on Maki's site, he was born in 1934 and began a career in entertainment in 1957. A quick punch of the calculator reveals, like Takagi Boo, he's been at it a while.

Probably Japanese ukulele musicians most famous outside of Japan would be Petty Booka. They seem to be fairly active in the US and some of their music is available for download at the i-Tunes music store. If you have never heard of them, they have videos available on their web site.

There are--or were--many other famous and popular ukulele players in years gone by who have had their careers truncated by mortality. If I can ever get the time to work on a history write-up, they may put in their respective cameos.

Shortly, I will begin with individual uke players for uke fans.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Rolling Coconuts

And now for some content......

Rolling Coconuts is a freebie magazine available at some shops that sell ukuleles here in Japan. In some ways, the magazine is a bit like ukuleles--small, kind of fun, and it is mostly enthusiasts that take it seriously.

Physically, this little quarterly is about 12x16 cm and has about 26 pages per issue. About half of the contents is advertisements for the shops where you can lay your hands on it.

The other half has interviews with famous Japanese or international ukulele player. Interviews I have read include Herb Ohta, Herb Ohta Jr., Daniel Ho, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and several others as well. Iwao, probably the most domestically famous Japanese uke player, pops up in all the issues I have seen. He is often the interviewer for international players.

There is at least one or two playing tips and a song of some sort included near the back. These can be anything from Japanese folk songs to "We are the Champions".

Yamaha ukulele schools also get some sort of write up. They are probably at least partially bankrolling the pubication.

Having a peek at their web site (link above) will reveal Rolling Coconuts TV. RC TV presents short ukulele videos, usually with some connect to the present issue of the magazine. In case you can't read Japanese, the "remote" for the TV is in the lower right corner fo the opening page. When I looked at it a few minutes ago, they had Channels 1-7. Just below that was a link that pops up previous videos. That link was in red just under Channel 7.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The logic behind this

A few months ago, a gent in Britain suggested that I set up a site on the ukulele scene here in Japan. There seem to be few that can relate to the outside world what is happening here in the land of the rising uke.

Being fairly busy at work, I just don't really have the time to run a full-blown HTML-type website--even with a content management system at my side. I am lucky to even get the time to practice let alone drone on and on to a computer where no one may be reading in the first place.

Be it synchronicity or what, I needed a couple of screenshots for a presentation I have to give in a few days to some educators on blogs. The birth of this blog ensued. With luck, it may be nourished occasionally with a bit of verbage, a link or two, and--in uncontrollable moments--a photo or other graphic.

There are some really good blogs out there with very dedicated writers. This is probably not going to be one of them for most. It is unlikely that I will be one either, but, if someone gets something out of it, at least it might be worth it.