Friday, July 27, 2007

Pops and Hawaiian

Out of curiosity, I decided to find out how many of what kinds of ukulele classes are on offer around Tokyo. The reasoning was that this should show to some extent what kind of demand there is.

Pops and Hawaiian are pretty much king. There are a few places offering other kinds of music, such as swing or some jazz, but in total terms, it does look like Hawaiian and Pops are about 45% and 45%.

1,000 person ukulele

It's pretty late notice, but there is the 1,000-person ukulele event going at the Yokohama Hawaii Festival tomorrow opening at 1PM. You can download the PDF for Hawai'i Aloha, the song to be played, here. This link will take you to the musicians from Hawaii that are playing there this weekend. For those that are interested, there are also some hula events.

Unfortunately, I am scheduled to be at a different ukulele event this Sunday.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tin jaPan Alley

A couple of weeks ago Chiyodad wrote:
The TPA theme is less-encountered in Hawaii. In California, there's a mix; but it still is predominantly Hawaiian. The East Coast seems to lean more towards TPA.

Are there similar theme associations in Japan? The impression that I get is that it is predominantly Hawaiian, with an infusion of Modern Jazz and Pop.
The impression you have is pretty much the impression I have with some exceptions.

As an instrument, it is not taken so seriously. In a group of people recently, one person introduced his friend as being able to play the ukulele really well. Most listening laughed. I remained cowardly silent.

Hawaiian is very much in the forefront of many--that and Takagi Boo, whom I wrote about 22 June last year.

Ironically, Jake Shimabukuro is one player that seems to be diversifying that image. Tsuji Ayano is well-known here more as a pop musician than as an ukulele-player.

Ohashi Hidehiko has put collections of music such as bossa nova for ukulele. There are gobs of books available for pop songs, some jazz, bundles of Hawaiian, and even some classical music. But, as for TPA, it is a bit sparse, with perhaps the exception of Janet Klein fans here and an Osaka-based group. (Their name escapes me right now, but I think I have made reference to them somewhere.)

I guess that in some ways that is not too surprising. During the time TPA was big in the US, Japan and the US were not in the best of terms and it wasn't a particularly happy time for Japan in general.

Personally, I would love to get my hands on some Fats Waller for the uke.

One of the exceptions I hinted at above was enka (Japanese country??). Some of the people who started playing ukulele during its first boom here are getting older and settling back into some more familiar music. I know several of these that play enka on the ukulele. To me that would be like playing blues on the bagpipes, but to each his own.

PS Sorry to take so long in getting back to you!

Kobayashi's Ukulele Method book

Well, I broke my promise to myself and ordered Kobayashi's book without looking at it first. I've got the CD coming out the speakers as I type. So far, so good.

The table of contents is broken up into three sections: exercises for the left hand, exercises for the right hand, and practice songs.

Had I been the editor, I would have broken the last section into two. Pages 58-78 contain a collection of practice pieces of varying lengths (8 bars-over 40 bars) and of graded difficulties noted by numbers of stars. Following the practice pieces are songs from Kobayashi's albums, mostly his own compositions. These do not really seem to be graded, but are simpler versions of what he put on his albums--and sanely so.

Working backwards, the section on the right hand (pages 46-56) is considerably shorter than the section for the left (pages 6-44). The right hand section focuses on using the thumb, arpeggios using multiple fingers, and rhythm patterns. There are 43 rhythm patterns introduced, but unfortunately, these are not included in the accompanying CD. The arpeggio practices are included.

The left hand practices what most would expect, scale training, hammer-ons, pull-off, slides, stuccato, and the like. One part of this section that I am looking forward to working with most is almost in the dead middle--diad positions in keys C and F. These should be pretty useful for adding a little color to arrangements.

Am I happy with the purchase? So far, it looks good and I am looking forward to being able to say that I have worked my way through it. But, I will really need to work through the material in the book before I can responsibly give it thumbs up or down.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Summer is here and Japan's ukulele scene is ramping up. It seems everyone is putting something out last month or this. Today's new introduction includes one of those.

A duet that has made mention here a couple of times but never properly introduced is Laula. (Linked page in Japanese.) Rinkai Hiroshi plays ukulele and Matsui Takashi plays guitar and sings. Readers of Rolling Coconuts or owner of any RC/Geneon compliations have without doubt encountered this pair.

Rinkai's mother apparently is heavily into hula, starting her son off on ukulele. Both members were born in Fujisawa, more or less next door to Kamakura, one of Japan's ancient capitols. It seems the combination of birth place and interests gives them their direction in choices of songs to record. They seem to focus on songs about the area from which they come and Hawaiian standards.

They released their "Double Rainbow Best of Laula" on 6 June this year. The double album also comes with a DVD. If this kind of music is your kind of thing, you can have a listen to some of their songs here.

Kobayashi Kiyoshi albums

Mr. Kobayashi has been keeping himself busy.

On June 27, he released his new album of classical music, "
Ukulele Adagio Vol.1". As the title implies, there will be a Volume 2; it's release date is set for July 25. On July 26, he also plans a promotional concert in Tokyo's Shinjuku area.

Volume 1 includes:
1 Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring (J.S.Bach)
2 Schon Rosmarin (Kreisler)
3 Piano Sonata No.8 In C Minor ’Pathetique’ Op.13-Ⅱ. Adagio Cantabile (Beethoven)
4 Rondo (Carcassi)
5 String Quintet, Op 13 No.5 Minuet (Boccherini)
6 Orchestral Suite No.3: Air (J.S.Bach)
7 Walzer Donauwellen (Ivanovici)
8 Zwolf Variation Cdur K.265 uber “Ah, vous dirai-je, Mana” (W.A. Mozart)
9 Traumerei (Kinderszenen) (Shumann)
10 Adagio (Albinoni/arr.Giazotto)

There are some samples available at Japan's Tower Records. Tower Records in Japan is still alive and kicking.

Samples of Volume 2 will probably come online after the album is released.

Method Book Breakdown

A quick check of the DOREMI publishing company website a couple of days ago has revealed that the publication of Kiyoshi Kobayashi’s “Ukulele Method” book has indeed been pushed back to the middle of this month. No reason was given, but they are at least now taking advanced orders for it.

Unfortunately, that means that it is probably going to be several weeks before I get the chance to even look at it…unless a local shop here starts carrying it. There is one shop here in town that may have it a week or so after it comes out.