Monkeying around with a ukulele leads to a serious jazz project |

Monkeying around with a ukulele leads to a serious jazz project

Tim Parsons

When a ukulele goes jazz, there is plenty of jumping around. The Paul Hemmings Uketet plays Thursday at the Fifty Fifty Brewing Company.

Check out this trio: fresh powder, microbrewed beer and a jazz ukulele band.

If the latter component is a bit startling, just imagine how Thelonious Monk might react.

and#8220;Itand#8217;s a lot easier to twirl around with a ukulele in your hand,and#8221; reasoned Paul Hemmings, a longtime jazz guitarist who switched a few years ago to the ukulele.

A New York native, Hemmings begins a weeklong northern California-Nevada tour Friday, March 30, at the Fifty Fifty Brewing Company in Truckee. He appears the next day at a Sparks ukulele festival.

Hemmings picked up his first ukulele in 2005 during a vacation in Maui. After some Japanese players sat in at one of his gigs during a ukulele festival in New York, Hemmings decided to take the instrument seriously.

On March 20 he released an album, and#8220;The Paul Hemmings Uketet,and#8221; which includes jazz standards by Monk (who twirled when he danced) and Billy Stayhorn and pop songs by The Beatles. While all of the songs have jazz arrangements, a couple and#8212; and#8220;Here Comes the Sunand#8221; and and#8220;No Woman No Cryand#8221; and#8212; have an island-reggae flavor which is generally the style the ukulele is associated.

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So how is a trio led by a ukulele received in the jazz hub of New York?

and#8220;It turns heads,and#8221; Hemming said. and#8220;Thatand#8217;s one of the reasons I kept at it, because of the reaction I did get from audiences.and#8221;

When Hemmings went to school at UC Davis, he worked at a music store with Andrew Enberg, who will play drums on this short tour. Renoand#8217;s Mac Esposito will play double bass.

To be audible over a drum kit, Hemmings uses an Acoustic Image amplifier.