When I started playing uke a decade ago, it was a solitary pursuit. (Pursuke?) The phrase I remember hearing a lot when I was arranging ukulele shows at Café Nine was “Oh, he’ll play. He’s got a ukulele in the closet.” Nobody was brandishing the uke as a primary instrument. But every notable guitarist in the scene seemed to have a uke in the closet.
Flash forward a few years. Ukes were out of the closet and prominent at shows by a variety of bands on a variety of stages, from open mics to stadiums. The phenomenon has (thankfully) faded a bit now. Ukes are an accepted part of the arsenal for rock and string bands alike. They’ll likely never be obscure or underappreciated again (though that’s probably what people thought in the 1920 and 1950s too).
More importantly, a uke culture has grown. There are uke clubs and uke orchestras and uke conventions all over the world. Instruments and songbooks have been styled expressly for the needs of this society.
Half a dozen or so active Connecticut-based “Player Groups” are listed on the uke player directory at www.fleamarketmusic.com, the site run by Connecticut-based uke entrepreneur Jim Beloff. There are clubs in Bristol, Danbury, Darien, Glastonbury, Middlefield, Orange, Preston, Westport and Hamden.
For many of us, uke clubs still take some getting used to. A lot of players embrace the uke as a misfit instrument, and to think of whole gangs of uke players knocking out “Bye Bye Blues” seems like a bizarre dream. To those in those clubs, however, it’s perfectly natural. It feeds into a sensation even stronger than the “He has one in the closet” sensation. When people who play the uke see other people playing the uke, they invariably want to play along. It’s that kind of instrument—absurdly welcoming.
Of the Connecticut uke clubs, The Hat City Uke Band of Danbury are senior citizens who gather on Friday mornings at the Danbury Senior Center. The Milford-based KookeeUkies Ukulele Club of Southern Connecticut has developed its own online Jam Songbook, with selections ranging from “Home on the Range” to “Secret Agent Man.” Most of the groups meet once a month or so. The Four Strings Ukulele Band of Southern Connecticut meets twice a month, in Stratford. The Glastonbury Ukulele Club held its annual Big Sing sing-along last month at the Riverfront Community Center.
The idea of ukes socializing still amazes me, and I have yet to join a club myself. But Connecticut has them for players of many different persuasions, and you might be so inclined.
Here are some links:Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times