Saturday, December 07, 2013

Back on my feet

OK, I know it's been a long time since I posted.

The truth is, I did not have a whole lot to talk about with regard to music. Physical problems were slowing me down, and making me a bit depressed -- not really conducive to posting positive things, I guess.

In mid-October, I had an operation to replace my left hip joint with a shiny new titanium one. The difference is amazing! I'd been walking with a cane most of the time for over 10 years, and absolutely couldn't get around without one for the past 3 years. The constant, daily pain interfered with everything I did, including sleeping. I could not stand up to play an instrument - I always had to sit to play. The operation removed my pain completely. I was up and walking right away, and returned to my normal activities in a couple of weeks. I could not have even considered doing this without the support and encouragement of my wife, June.

"Normal activities" - this includes music, of course. A couple of years ago, I quit playing the bass on a professional level. The progression of arthritis and nerve damage had taken enough of an edge off of my technique that I didn't feel I could be a solid contributor in a jazz setting. Lugging my equipment around to gigs was a challenge, too.

Gerry Garcia on pedal steel
I started looking around for an instrument that I could pick up that might better accommodate my limitations. I considered the pedal steel guitar; other players seemed to have picked it up as a second instrument. But after a lesson with local pro (Larry Behm), I decided that -- despite my fascination with that wonderful contraption, I most likely would not be able to develop an acceptable level of proficiency in my lifetime. I actually think I'm more attracted to their complicated mechanics than their musical qualities, anyway. Plus, they are damned expensive and heavy!

I found a terrific new instrument: the baritone ukulele! It's small, light, and fun to play. For those who don't know, the baritone uke is the largest and lowest pitched of the uke family (not counting the recently invented bass uke). From smallest to largest, the family is: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The first three ukes are all tuned the same: gCEA, while the baritone uke is tuned DGBE, just like the top 4 strings of a standard guitar. The three smaller ones use what's called "re-entrant" tuning - that little "g" means it's an octave higher than you'd expect. The baritone uses "linear" tuning. This guitar-like tuning made it really easy for me to pick it up, and to start playing with others right away.

I've been very fortunate to be allowed to sit in at regular weekly jam session hosted by local blues artist Ben Rice. I usually only play the first set or so, and Ben has been very supportive and generous with me and my funny little axe.

Playing the baritone uke at Voodoo Martini in Newberg, Oregon, with Dan Seymour

I'm also looking for other opportunities to play, and I'll post about them here. I've joined the Portland Ukulele Association, and I hope to hook up with other friendly uke-players through that organization.