The sad truth of the musical world is that some instruments are pretty seriously underappreciated. The accordion. The tuba. The xylophone. Until quite recently, the banjo. At perhaps the top of that underappreciated band of misfits sits the ukulele. And while the ukulele is often considered with a kind of affectionate amusement, in the hands of a master its music is a thing of airy, trilling beauty redolent of sun and tradewinds, and capable of covering music from Hawaii to Appalachia to the old courts of Vienna, and beyond.
James Hill is that ukulele master.
A classically-trained musician, Hill has been playing the ukulele since childhood, and does for the sweet little instrument what Bela Fleck did for banjos—he smashes those tired stereotypes, amply demonstrating the ukulele’s variety, depth and virtuosity. A charismatic performer barely into his thirties, Hill charms his global audiences with his entertainingly unpredictable concerts, and challenges them with leaps from folk music to hip-hop influenced, beat-driven prepared- ukulele sound sculptures. And while he concentrated for many years on instrumental virtuosity (just search out his “Flight of the Bumblebee” for proof), he has lately unveiled a whole other layer of skill in the form of lyric writing that is at once sharp wit and tender poetry, the best balance between introspection and unsentimental wisdom. Hill’s recent Man with a Love Song leaps from soulful big-band jazz to barrelhouse-bluegrass, and from impeccable barbershop to spoken-word and junkyard percussion. Accompanied by his equally talented wife Anne on cello, James Hill will turn whatever you think you know about ukulele upside down.