For years, we have serviced all regional areas of New York State with our quality instruments and accessories.
This week, the Ukulele goes to: New York
My first time I travelled to America, I was fortunate enough to find myself in New York. Venturing over the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan, one is immediately gobsmacked at the sheer size of the place. It’s home to Friends, late night food covered in extra cheese, mile after mile of concrete buildings and big yellow cabs. When they say it is the city that doesn't sleep – they really do mean that!
You'd imagine then that the humble Hawaiian lute – in modern day times referred to the Ukulele – would be seemingly lost here? Well, you’d be wrong.
The Ukulele began its life in New York seeking fame in jazz clubs as accompanying instruments, an alternative to the fashionable guitar in the 1930s. Given its quiet timbre and rhythmic strumming, its use was sought after for ballads and romantic pieces that often featured a vocalist or solo instrument. At the time, the instrument would’ve been considered quite expensive; as a result of the types of heavy wood the Ukulele was made from.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing for Lucifer’s tropical guitar, as jazz would soon favour the loud, fast and melismatic calls of ska that conquered the 1940s. Couple that with world-dominated turmoil in WW2; the ukulele would soon be replaced by familiarity of the guitar for accompaniment. Musicians like Cliff Edwards and Roy Smeck would soon fade into the background – like a single tourist lost at W59 and 11th avenue.
It’s rather hard to trace exactly what happened to the Ukulele during times of Elvis and Guns and Roses; but thankfully the efficiency of Japanese engineering saved its bacon. Having made ‘law-suit’ guitars – effectively copies of classic electric guitars– various bright sparks expanded into other instruments: bass guitar, acoustic guitars and of course – the Ukulele.
Having seized this opportunity from Japan’s south island, the ukulele became accessible again throughout not only New York, but also most of the globe! What was made out of rich, dark walnut became simple ply painted in vibrant colours. “Easy marketing for easy music” reads one review of JIS (Japanese Industry Standard). And to their credit, they have a point: bright colours associated with the 1970s / 1980s make it desirable for kids; on an instrument that is light, quiet and easy to learn. It’s certainly a lot better than the besmirching insults of the recorder that most students traditionally learn as a grade one music student.
Fast forward to the 21st century, it takes just a quick Internet search to see countless shops dedicated to the Uke – its music and accessories, as well as popular ensembles. If you have a spare minute, I employ you to type New York Ukulele Ensemble into YouTube. Once again you will be greeted with familiar sounds that echoed traditional jazz, followed by Davis and Coltrane of the 1930s. Frequent performances and festivals are also dedicated to the Ukulele each year in New York city/state; as well as many after-school music classes can offer it as an assessable courses. Granted, these are for mad historians like myself who enjoy history, in attempt to place performance and history as accessible as the comforting combination of a hotdog and a Budwiser - it would be hard not to enjoy it.
Everything is bigger in New York – and maybe one day the Ukulele will be as well.
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