Concert Recap: Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band (Phoenix, July 2011)

IMG_5748.jpgHeidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band played their first concert at the Children's Museum of Phoenix this past weekend, and we had fun indeed. It was a wonderful little concert targeted to the mostly preschool-aged crowd in attendance, with Swedberg occasionally pulling out a silly voice, while the Phoenix version of the Sukey Jump Band (Daniel Ward on bass uke and Doug Nottingham on everything percussive) held down the low end. (I think the kids particularly liked Nottingham's Boomwhacker solo.) Swedberg and her band also played a few songs she picked up in her recent trip to Haiti. I've embedded a couple of the songs below -- "Tonton Bouki," the Creole version of "Frere Jacques," along with a Haitian lullaby. They also did a Haitian call-and-response. I'm really only appreciating now how lucky we were to catch the gig in such a small space. IMG_5760.jpgWhile Swedberg didn't pull out her crate of ukes for kiddos at the show (though Little Boy Blue brought his new uke, as did another one or two kids), she did have lots of them for use at a workshop she hosted for 12-15 folks on Sunday afternoon in downtown Phoenix. While you can give ukes to preschoolers, kids have to be a little bit older to grasp the bare rudiments of musical theory you need to play the uke (or to have the patience to sit through the tiny little lessons). A lot was second nature to me, but Miss Mary Mack joined me, and it was definitely right at her skill level. (And while the notes/chords part wasn't new to me, getting guidance on strumming and finger-picking was a big help.) Swedberg's not the only ukulele evangelist, but she's doing the one-on-one work that'll make this resurgence more than a fad. She's coming back to town in January, and I think it'll be a big deal. (Also, attention Austin City Limits Festival 2011: -- if you don't have ukes for sale during her performances, you people are nuts.) Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band - "Tonton Bouki (Frere Jacques)" (Live at the Children's Museum of Phoenix) [YouTube]

The Ketchup Report, Vol. 9

1UkeCandy.jpgKetchup Report, Road Trip Division A couple artists are currently embarking on pretty remarkable journeys. Heidi Swedberg is currently in Haiti bringing to the Global Family Orphanage in Les Cayes not just a couple dozen ukuleles (offered cheaply by Kala Instruments and purchased by the St. Brendan's Ukulele Club via bake sales) but also ukulele technique. As Swedberg notes the ukes are "compact; a box of 12 can fly at the cost of a suitcase." Swedberg said her first song would be “Ton-ton Buki”, the Haitian version of “Freres Jacques” - I'm sure they're long past that by now... Second, Minnesota's Okee Dokee Brothers are heading down the Mighty Mississippi as we speak, part of their album-writing/portaging experience. They've received a bunch of publicity for the concept (guess it was more newsworthy than that time I drove down I-35 from the Twin Cities and sang along to a bunch of songs on the radio). You can follow their Mississippi blog here. The link below features an interview and a live cut of "Auctioneer" and an in-development track "Can You Canoe?" More videos, songs, and concerts after the jump...

Austin Kiddie Limits 2011 Lineup Announced

AKL_logo.jpgThe lineup for the 2011 edition of the Austin City Limits Festival (September 16-18, ugh, the humidity!) was announced this morning and, yeah, that top of the bill is pretty darn good. Stevie Wonder! Arcade Fire! Alison Krauss! Kanye West! My Morning Jacket! I've run out of exclamation points! (OK, now I have.) Still, scroll down a bit and you'll find the lineup for the Austin Kiddie Limits stage, not in a particularly friendly way, but the brainy among us can figure it out. As with the Kidzapalooza lineup, you can split the AKL lineup into 2 basic divisions. The first are the folks you'd most typically find here at this site... Sara Hickman Heidi Swedberg Mariana Iranzi Brady Rymer Recess Monkey That's a good lineup (heck, I've put on shows featuring three of 'em), and I think they're all a good fit for the AKL stage. Beyond that we have The Paul Green School of Rock, Q Brothers, Peter DiStefano & Tor, the Barton Hills Choir, and Quinn Sullivan, all making return appearances to the AKL stage. (Sullivan's performance may very well be the most crowded the stage gets all weekend.) So, in other words, while first-timers may find these performances worth sticking around for (and I think even I could be tempted to see the Barton Hills Choir), should we make the trip down to Austin again, I think it'll be an opportunity to broaden some of the kids' musical horizons... time to camp out in the gospel tent or catch Abigail Washburn.

Kindiefest 2011: Sunday Concert in Videos and Pictures

IMG_5313.jpgIf Kindiefest's Saturday night showcase was about introducing new(-ish) names (and one longtime favorite) to a new crowd, the Sunday afternoon public concert was more about a lineup guaranteed to draw in, you know, the public. There was indeed a nice crowd, both of conference attendees as well as local families. (It's not a coincidence that the conference is held in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, famous (and perhaps occasionally reviled) for the sheer number of families who live around there. And unlike the showcase, with its brief 20-minute sets that may subconciously lead artists to forgo contemplation for excitement, the public concert, with 30-minute sets, and a more passive audience, allows for more variation in styles. IMG_5279.jpgFor example, the concert kicked off with a set from Oran Etkin, who tells stories (either more traditional stories or about the instruments themselves) via jazz. He was very engaging with his young audience. Most of his songs are originals, but here he is with a take on a piece Dizzy Gillespie made famous... Oran Etkin - "Salt Peanuts" [YouTube] IMG_5280.jpgNext up was the delightful Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band. The Brooklyn iteration of the band included Phillippa Thompson (who sometimes plays with Elizabeth Mitchell) and multi-instrumentalist Dean Jones. The set was similar to the one she played here in Phoenix in January, but the more enclosed nature of the performance here led to something occasionally hushed. I spoke with Elizabeth Mitchell a little bit later and she, too, enjoyed it... Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band - "When You Get Old" [YouTube] And that was just two down...

Monday Morning Smile: "Billie Jean" - James Hill & Bakithi Kumalo

I love everything about this video: the choice of tune, obviously; the rediscovery of the lyrics; the gently educational nature of the performance; the way James Hill and Bakithi Kumalo (husband of Robbi Kumalo, incidentally) hold an audience captivated for more than 6 minutes with just 2 ukes. It's clearly a well-rehearsed piece (there are lots of YouTube videos featuring Hill covering this song), but so much the better for that fact. (Hat tip: Heidi Swedberg) James Hill & Bakithi Kumalo - "Billie Jean" [YouTube]

Ukulele For All of Us

MightyUke.jpgThis Saturday I spent some time with Little Boy Blue and a kajillion different instruments at Phoenix's Musical Instrument Museum. Now, you'll remember that I'd been to the MIM before and thought it was pretty fabulous. And while I hoped to see a few instruments (and bang on a few in the hands-on area) -- and we did, in fact, manage to do both -- my primary goal was to see Mighty Uke, a documentary on the resurgence of ukulele over the past ten years or so. The movie itself is good, not great, especially at first, where the brief history lesson feels a little rushed and not quite in-depth enough and where the paeans to how the ukulele brings people together don't quite feel totally earned. But to this relative ukulele amateur, I think they did a good job hitting a lot of the big names in the resurgence (Jake Shimabukuro and Jim Beloff) and introduced me to other names worth exploring. LangleyEnsemblesm.jpgThe movie earns its stripes in its last third or so as it turns its attention to the Langley Ukulele Ensemble, a youth ukulele orchestra based in a Vancouver-area suburb. Because as a viewer you're permitted to follow the Ensemble as they perform at a school assembly, then at concert hall in Nova Scotia, then in Hawaii, you start to care about the group. It doesn't hurt that this group of mostly high-school-aged students sound great, both on their ukes as well as vocally. A point made earlier in the film, that playing music together can strengthen bonds between people, is made much more effectively here. All of a sudden, this silly little movie about the history of this simple little instrument becomes a little more powerful, highlighting the power of music-making to change lives and communities. The leader of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble says something like, "Teach a kid how to play a uke, and I'll guarantee they'll be well-adjusted, do well, and be fun to around." Between that and another singer-songwriter who makes her living playing the uke and who said, "Ukulele players are like everybody else -- well, maybe we drink a little more beer," those seem like very good reasons to make music with others. [I'd also point out that if those are familiar attitudes, there's a reason for that. The ukulele community, which takes its music seriously but doesn't take itself too seriously, is very reminiscent of the family music community. It's one of the characteristics of the genre that I think helps keep people -- listeners and musicians -- from getting burnt out.] Heidi_Band.jpgAnd then, after the film, Heidi Swedberg (who'd introduced the movie) led the theatre in a group jam. Now, I should mention that the theatre was full for the movie. Not in a three-quarters, lots of seats near the top sort of way. No -- full. And most of them, like me, had brought a ukulele to play along with the jam. Little Boy Blue was particularly excited when the band came out -- he kept asking me when they would be there. And Swedberg and her band -- she called them her "special sauce" -- sounded really good. Lyrics and chords were projected on the screen above the stage, and there was just enough instrumental variety to keep it interesting if you weren't playing along (or if you were limited to, say, four or five chords). Swedberg picked a nice set of standards and slightly more off-kilter choices (yay for "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," a song reintroduced to millions by her cousin John Linnell, half of They Might Be Giants). On a Saturday afternoon that was pretty miserable otherwise thanks to events that threatened to rip apart communities, it was nice to be part of a group that created community. I'd like to play more music this year. Hopefully the memories of Saturday afternoon at the MIM and the good feelings it engendered will linger and remind me why it's important that I do, both with my kids and with others.