Went to see James Hill last night. He plays the ukulele. He's Canadian from B.C., but he now lives in Nova Scotia. That's almost as far away from B.C. as you can get (except for Newfoundland, but then you might bump in to Lester Bilbo)! James Hill. Remember that name. When people talk about certain musicians...like...Les Paul...you just know what instrument he plays. Don't you? Or Bela Fleck. Or David Grisman. Or Jimi Hendrix. Say the name and you've identified the Gibson guitar, the banjo, the mandolin, the Stratocaster. Well, James Hill is in that category. He and a small handful of others (like Jake Shimabukuro) virtually define the ukulele.
The ukulele (pronounced oo-koo-lay-lay) was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese cowboys. The Hawaiians thought that to sound it made was like dancing fleas, so they called it uku (flea) + lele (jumping) and they started laying it like crazy. The best ukes in the world are still made in Hawaii. And some of the best players still come from there (like Jake Shimabukuro) but not all! Nosirree! James Hill is one of the best, and he proved it last night at the Legion in Waterdown!
As I pulled into the parking lot, I thought, "Wow, there's a lot of people here." I had to park all the way 'round the back. There were generations of people from 8 to 80, and beyond. My ticket number was 290, and from the looks of things...there were maybe 100 more! The crowd was filled with anticipation. Most of them were uke players and students. Most of them carried their uke with them. About a hundred kids sat on the floor around the stage. We sat in the very back row. They were the only seats left!
James came on as promised at 7:00. He's tall, lanky, with long dark hair, and a beard which accents his fine features. He stepped over the kids, took the stage and took control of the audience by playing "Skipping Stone", an original piece which simulates the joys of skipping stones on the lake. This was followed by Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba" which Hill has turned into a showcase of all the sounds a uke can make, melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, percussive. He did it all. Look for that one on YouTube! It's amazing.
There was never a dull moment. Whether telling stories about the history of the uke, or his life delivering pianos on the East Coast, he was charming and entertaining. And the music was stunning. Relaxing, exciting, melodic, dischordant, even awe inspiring at times. And by 8:20 it was all over. An hour and a quarter, but the best $15 I've spent in a long time.
After the show I talked to James for a minute or two, I've been reviewing this guy's musical output since he was the star pupil of the Langley School...but we'd never met until last night. He was as warm and charming face to face as he was on-stage.
James Hill...don't forget that name.
Oh, afterwards we retired to the bar downstairs for a pint or two, and lo and behold...a guitar circle. The Skyway Bluegrass Club was holding its weekly guitar pull. We stayed for the whole repertoire. Another southpaw actually loaned me his Morgan guitar for one tune. Thanks mate! James Hill and his coterie arrived just in time for the last couple of songs and a couple of ukes joined the guitar/banjo/mandolin/standup bass mix. All in all, a splendid time was had by all.