Some of you may remember my previous posts on the Corktown Uke Jam. This Toronto ukulele institution went through a big change in the fall. The Wednesday night uke jam in the east end had its final gathering at the Paintbox Bistro on September 6, 2017 and the Annex version of the uke jam took over as THE weekly jam. This happens every Monday at the TRANZAC (8-11pm), complete with workshop, group jam and open mic.
(More info at the Toronto Ukes website)
Kitchener has benefited from the energy of the Toronto uke scene. After moving to Kitchener, Corktown jam stalwarts Sue & Bob Cutler brought some of that ukenthusiasm and started WUPS: Waterloo Regions Ukulele Performance Stage.
The event is relaxed. You can choose to perform, lead the group in a song, or just play along from your seat.
The next open mic is coming up: February 9th (7:30 pm start) at Bulls Eye Bar & Grill. There is no cover charge but the venue appreciates everyone ordering a drink or dinner item. There is often a group there that meets early for dinner before the music starts.
[Bulls Eye Bar & Grill, 446 Highland Rd W, Kitchener; 7:30 start – but come anytime after 6:00 for supper; watch the FB page for dates]
Looking for a place to share some ukulele joy? The Mighty Uke Club of Guelph has reconvened, Sunday evenings at the Red Papaya in Guelph. This is a relaxed group where you can join in as you like, lead a song (or not), learn some new uke chords and hear creative versions of music you’ve heard before – Guns & Roses, John Sebastien, Feist, Rolling Stones, and Leonard Cohen were just a few of the artists given a ukulele interpretation.
Hosted by our fearless leader, Kim Logue, the group is still sorting out how often it will meet so confirm on FB. Next meeting is Sunday, March 5th: https://www.facebook.com/events/1575065992511382/?active_tab=discussion
More good news for ukulele aficionados! There is a ukulele festival coming to Guelph this fall. The Royal City Uke Fest will offer workshops, group strums and a concert by the fabulous James Hill and Anne Janelle. Tickets for this September 30th event are already on sale.
[Mighty Uke Club, Red Papaya 55 Wyndham St N, Sundays 7-8:45 pm, no cover, licensed.]
It’s been a while since I visited Toronto’s beloved uke jam. Going strong for over 6 years now, the jam has recently moved to the Paintbox Bistro which seems to suit the event well. (This venue is an interesting venture in itself.) A clear wall separates the front of the café from the performance space so that it still feels like a part of the café but ambient sound of non-music-loving patrons, cash register, etc is blocked. And the food is good – worth having dinner there before the music starts.
The workshop portion of the evening is still lead by the dauntless Steve McNie. This particular evening the whole group participated in a kind of sound experiment that included rhythm (“the New York strum”), harmony and cameos from some stellar regulars at the jam. It was a “you had to be there” moment – really fun.
The open stage was hosted by Brendan O’Malley. I did pluck up my courage to sing an original, supported by the “A-list” musicians on stage (Richard Bales & David Olson), teased by the host that in doing so I was slightly cheating : ) Since the open mic requires performers to sign up on-line in advance, it makes it harder to chicken out at the last minute. This is more of a commitment than most open mics which might contribute to the quality of the performances.
The third portion of the evening was the group jam. This is a great place to pick up new techniques as well as new chords or alternate voicings of the old chords you already use.
One thing I like about this event is there are access points for participation of all levels of players. Beginner? Join in the group jam with help from Steve and the chord charts displayed on the front screen. No pressure – pull back when you’re lost, join back in when you’re able. Proficient? Bring your best to the open stage. Somewhere in between? Always something new to learn – new repertoire, theory, technique. If you want a little primer to get started visit the Toronto Ukes website.
Is this inclusive character the secret of the Uke Jam’s success? It could be the passion that host and uke aficionado Steve McNie brings to the group. There is also a sense of community. Folks here embark on music-themed adventures that go beyond the Wednesday night jam, from concerts to uke infused yoga sessions. There is a sense of mutual support and appreciation that makes it a safe place to explore, express and have fun.
[Corktown Ukulele Jam, The Paintbox Bistro 550 Dundas Street East, Toronto; every Wednesday; workshop 8-9:30 pm followed by open stage and group jam; $6 cover for workshop; $3 cover for theme night open stage first Wednesday of the month]
I’m just back from Shelter Valley Folk Festival. What a wonderful place to hear and share music! The after hours campfires are led by festival performers and open to all campers to join in and so many of the small stage performances get the audience involved.
One of the highlights of the festival was the Ukulele Master Class with James Hill. I have heard James perform (as well as his amazing partner, cellist and songwriter, Anne Janelle) but I have never heard him teach. When he started the session by naming the strings, I have to admit I was thinking less “master” class than beginner intro. However, James quickly built on the basics – inserting references to music theory for those that had that background – so that everyone was learning something, yet everyone was included. It reminded me of watching Shrek with my young kids: two levels of humour but we were all enjoying the same movie. Despite being a ukulele virtuoso, James’ gift is in demystifying the music to make it accessible for everyone.
An interesting tidbit I took away from the workshop is how useful the uke can be when arranging music for 3 or 4 voices. I love harmony singing, and I play the uke, but I have never used it as an arrangement tool. I’m looking forward to trying it out.
In addition to all of us participating, Anne Janelle added her voice, cello and lovely presence to both the learning and performance parts of the workshop. James called on a brave volunteer from the audience to play the left hand (chords we had just learned) while James soloed further up the neck. The workshop was perfect blend of humour and insight; my only complaint is that it was too short. For those of us who want to hear more of James teaching he has a website called The Ukulele Way . Free membership includes 6 video ukulele lessons and access to an on-line ukulele-playing community. There is also a full membership for a fee that involves lots more.
As the summer draws to an end I hope you got outside and played some music. Although it is hard to see summer go with its campfires and festivals, many music events that take a break over the summer will be starting up again in September. See you there!
The Moonshine Café is known for showcasing live music and for offering many opportunities to share music (acoustic open stage, dinner & jam, songwriter showcase). Once a month there is a uke circle and, being a uke aficionado, I had to check it out.
As opposed to an open mic or jam, the uke circle is more of a social event than one focussed on performance. The Flying Uke songbooks (I was immediately loaned a set) allow everyone to join in as they provide lyrics, chords and chord diagrams for any new chords players might encounter. This is a great place for beginners to challenge themselves to keep up with a group tempo.
Each person, whether playing or just singing, has a turn to choose the song, and signals to the group when they are ready to start with a few plinks on Charlotte, a toy piano. Charlotte makes her way around the circle so that it’s clear whose turn it is. This format makes the event very inclusive the and the group is relaxed and welcoming.
Host and facilitator, Monique of the Flying Ukes, had her work cut out for her as the enthusiasm of the group sometimes made it hard to rein them in, start together, play together, etc. But when we did come together we pulled off some fun ensemble work. “Another one for the bus!” was one response to a good sounding song. Attendance can range from 6-10 players to the 25-30 exuberant participants of this week. Usually on the first Sunday of the month, check the Flying Ukes FB page for schedule changes (like this month) due to events or long weekends. No cover but you are encouraged to buy a drink/snack as a thanks to the Moonshine Café for hosting the uke circle.
[Flying Ukes Night, Moonshine Café, 137 Kerr Street, Oakville; 1st Sunday of month (usually), 7-11 pm]