Ukulele Advocate: Introducing Me and Uke

Advocate/Weekly editorial poobah John Adamian has challenged me to write a regular ct.com column on ukuleles. This is not altogether because “The Uke is on the March” as one of its longtime champions Ian Whitcomb once sang. The humble four-string had a huge spurt of popularity a few years ago, thanks to its use by certain big rock bands and the noble marketing efforts of companies like Connecticut’s own Flea Market Music. This led to a veritable ubiquity of ukes—have you been to an open mic in the past five years without several of the acts brandishing one?). Which led to the inevitable backlash.

I started playing, and writing about, ukes back in the early 2000s when they were still an underground, underdog indulgence. One of my efforts, a cover story for the New Haven Advocate titled Punk Uke, got a lot of attention nationally when there was still a real divide between traditional uke-players and newfangled experimenters.

I picked up the (very easy to pick up) instrument about a decade ago, when my older daughter was born. I figured that she’d be amused by my playing when she was young and embarrassed by it when she was older, and that’s pretty much how it’s working out.

I play out occasionally, but never go looking for gigs and only play when asked. That said, my steadiest gig is one I’ve created for myself, every December at the United Community Nursery School Book Fair. (This year the event falls on Saturday, December 1, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 323 Temple Street in New Haven.) I always get some local musician friends aboard (many of whom have never played for toddler audiences before—performers have included The Sawtelles, Tyler Trudeau, Bill Collins, Ray Neal, James Velvet and many others) and usually work up some fresh tunes myself. I’ve also had the honor of playing uke at Café Nine, the Meriden Daffodil Festival, Neverending Books and other cool places.

The more recent additions to my repertoire are “This is the Day” by The The, the ‘30s comic-strip standard “Barney Google With His Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes,” “Androgynous” by the Replacements, the ’60s instrumental “Groovy Grubworm” and Nick Jonas’ “Introducing Me” (from the Camp Rock 2 soundtrack). I’m still best known for my punk-uke arrangement of Question Mark & the Mysterians’ “Ninety-Six Tears,” which closes all my club sets for the simple reason that once I’ve strummed those last few angry chords I can’t use my right hand for a while.

Yes, uke playing can render you numb. Consider us introduced. I’ll be back soon with my first proper “Ukulele Advocate” column.

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