Group of ukulele enthusiasts tune up and turn heads in Montrose

For Kate Friedricks, a Tujunga resident who grew up in Glendale and taught herself how to play the ukulele as a girl, the instrument has become an addictive mode of expression that keeps her up at night playing song after song.

All it takes, she says, is a quality ukulele and the Internet for her to put off sleep.

“You get a good ukulele and you go online, and you just keep downloading all these wonderful songs, and it's midnight and you say, ‘I really should have gone to bed an hour ago. But just one more.'”

On the third Saturday of every month, Friedricks leads an ever-changing group of ukulele players who drive from near and far to play together, regardless of their skill level or however long they've been playing. This Saturday, they played at the Java Brew Coffee House in Montrose.

Of the two boys, seven women and four men who played together on Saturday, each told a different story about how they came to love the instrument.

Azusa resident Maxx Hiroto played the guitar off and on for 20 years before he turned to the ukulele three years ago. The appeal for him is the small size of the instrument and no pressure to perform perfectly within a group setting.

“Every chance I get, I'll play. Get three or four people playing — that's all it takes.”

Eleven-year-old Eddie Chang of South Pasadena was the youngest to participate on Saturday. Months ago, his father Richard gave him a ukulele for his birthday. Eddie slowly taught himself to play by watching tutorials on YouTube. Before long, he was attempting complicated songs like Eric Clapton's “Tears in Heaven.”

“Ever since then, everywhere he goes, he has it with him,” Richard Chang said. “I thought, he needs to know other ukulele players so he can learn and share what he knows, too.”

The informal jam sessions on the third Saturday of every month began in June after La Crescenta resident Bambi Leigh Hale scouted for a place to play on Honolulu Avenue. She secured permission with Java Brew Coffee House — a couple blocks from big-name coffee shops like Starbucks and the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — and now the players take over the patio and stop passerby in their tracks.

“I love Montrose,” Hale said. “I came here and I said, ‘I want to breathe life into this section of Montrose.”

Lately she has begun to rally players, hoping they can form a ukulele marching band to perform in the Montrose Christmas Parade. Hale started playing the instrument a year ago under Friedricks, who teaches classes at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga and the Griffith Park Adult Community Center.

Many of Friedricks' students set her expectations low by telling her they aren't the musician in their family, she said.

“That's not how it works,” Friedricks will tell them. “There isn't a musician in a family. Everybody has some musical ability and everybody has more than they think they have.”

Burbank resident Alissa Hunnicutt began playing the ukulele a couple years ago by watching YouTube videos and learning from an instructor in Burbank. On Saturday, she brought her custom ukulele featuring a painted design of a moon and stars created by an artist in Australia. In the coming months, she hopes to perform her own set on a stage at a local coffee shop.

“That's my goal,” she said, “To get a little half-hour set and sing.”


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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