Appearances at the Convention
AJ Leonard and Jenny Rowlands
One of a multitude of baby boomers, AJ spent his formative years in early sixties America but returned to Australia in time for the British beat invasion and the coming of age of Australian pop and rock. His desire to emulate his heroes led him to trade in his father’s tennis racket for a real guitar and was his first step toward self-expression and a future in showbiz. A few years later, an interest in string instruments led him to the mandolin, ukulele and bouzouki, closely followed by the piano. The unique qualities of these instruments were a pipeline to creativity and gave AJ a different slant on songwriting and composition.
The 70’s brought performances in folk clubs, theatre restaurants and festivals and 80’s, experimentation in electronics and writing music for film. In the 90’s AJ returned to acoustic music, including the ukulele, which had spent the last decade alone in its case. However it was a trip to Hawaii in 2006 that provided the turning point and a rediscovery of the humblest of instruments.
The ukulele became the centrepiece of his muse, the key that unlocked the doors of creativity. AJ was able to use his ability as a writer to express something uniquely as his own. His lifelong interest in nostalgia and Tin Pan Alley mixed with a more serious classicism has combined to produce an unequalled versatility and a place in ukulele hierarchy.
The ukulele has had three golden ages and the one thing they all have in common is new technology. The Twenties had radio, the Fifties, television and the Noughties, the internet. But the ukulele has never been more important than it is now even if you just look at its worldwide appeal. It is finally shaking off its stigma as a second-rate instrument or figure of fun. The ukulele is a traditional instrument of a country as is the guitar, mandolin, violin etc.
“I strongly identify with the music of Hawaii where the ukulele has never been a novelty. Hawaii has produced many great players to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.” (ABC interview) Such inspiration sowed the seeds for debut album Tales From the Tropics (2009) where the Ohta-San inspired instrumental Makawao sits alongside Beach Boys style harmonies in Away From It All. This album has been described, as “a wonderful album with a therapeutic feel to it and every song is a delight to listen to.” (Trad & Now) The sequel MoreTales From The Tropics (2010) features AJ’s most covered song Under The Maui Moon.
Although already an accomplished guitar player, AJ was fortunate to learn techniques and an appreciation for the ukulele from a veteran of the Tin Pan Alley era. This helped lay the foundation for Blue Heaven(2010), an album featuring 20’s and 30’s swing & standards. AJ has put his unique stamp on this genre and this recording has become a firm favourite for nostalgia devotees. “I really like this rendition of Cole Porter’s Night & Day. It sounds ethereal and somewhat mysterious. Well done” (Ukulele Player Magazine)
The duo with classically trained cellist Jenny Rowlands is a result of an appreciation for classical and film music. They have performed and conducted workshops at major festivals and ukulele retreats across Australia and the USA. Together they have developed a rapport, becoming known for their ukulele/cello interplay.
AJ’s partnership with David Billings came about through a mutual love of original popular song and Hawaiian music. Together they have produced American Songbook (2010) and Australian Songbook (2012). “A.J. Leonard and David Billings have produced a great collection of songs from Americana...beautifully played with excellent vocals...they have arranged an intricate tapestry of music. I’d love to see international recognition for this duo.” (Ukulele Player Magazine) A.J Leonard’s Tropical Lounge was formed in 2009 with David Billings, Jenny Rowlands and multi-instrumentalist vocalist Wendy Rowlands. Their unique blend of ukuleles, strings, vocal harmonies and percussion has been popular at major music festivals.
“My number one hobby is listening to music and I’ve always wanted to produce music that other people can enjoy. I’ve gained a greater appreciation of the past especially in regards to music and its influence on me as a writer and arranger and of course the ukulele draws it all together.”(ABC interview) One such musical genre AJ is newly passionate about is Exotica. Three years of listening and planning culminated in the release Pacifica (2012). “I loved it…AJ really did a wonderful job on all the songs. In addition to the instrumental segments I think his vocal quality is very special - warm, inviting and with just the right touch of melancholy.” (Randy Starr -songwriter for Elvis Presley) In order to perform material from Pacifica a septet called Ozotica has been assembled adding drums, percussion, vibes, guitar and extra vocals to the Tropical Lounge lineup.
Image projection is the latest addition to all live performances: the duo with Jenny Rowlands, Tropical Lounge, Ozotica and the history of the ukulele theme concert presentation, In A Little Hula Heaven. “I foundmyself captivated by this ripping yarn of fact and fantasy punctuated by moments of beauty and humour” (Steve Barnes Artistic Director Folkworld Fairbridge Festival)
Since 2009 AJ has been busy touring and recording. With another four albums already in the planning stages, there is no sign of any let up from Australia’s number one authority on the ukulele.
Caroline Zeeman and Clare McCormack – C-Change
Caroline Zeeman has been teaching in the community for the last 15 years.
She runs four groups in Howick, called the 'Ukes of Howick' and does itinerant teaching at some local schools.
She loves being a member of 'North of Bombay' an upcoming ukulele group
Caro's biggest love is working with local communities and making music available to everybody.
As well as that, she really enjoys writing her own material.
Clare McCormack is a community musician and music specialist in two local North Shore Primary Schools. www.claremccormack.co.nz
She started a community ukulele group called ‘UkuBays’ five years ago. They enjoy playing socially, in the community and at the Ukulele Festival
Annually Clare organizes the ‘Uke Play Off’ which is a popular event for community ukulele groups to perform and share their music together.
Clare enjoys performing with the ‘North of Bombay’ ukulele group.
Clare and Caro publish music resources under the name of 'C-Change'. One of their resources is called ‘Okeley Dokeley Ukulele’. Their songs have been finalists in the APRA Ukulele Festival Song Writing competition over the years.
They often present music workshops around the country.
North of Bombay
North of Bombay are a group of seven Auckland-based musicians, which took shape in 2009 and which have now performed in a range of venues in the City of Sails and in the South Island. Five are music teachers, but the impetus for the group’s formation was a love and enjoyment of playing and singing together and the challenge of putting new material and uke-based treatments of cover material in front of a live audience.
At the core of the group are the C-Change duo of Clare McCormack and Caroline Zeeman, who, with Tony Ramsay (leader of Auckland jazz band Roundhouse) are responsible for the bulk of the band’s original material with songs such as “Poncho Rae”, “Wish”, “Ocean”, “Tropical Waiheke” and the award-winning “Misty Blue”, which takes its inspiration from the landscape of the West Coast of the South Island, and “Chapel of Ease”. The balance of the group is made up of Dan McCormack (tenor), Philippa Drake, (tenor), Millie Locke (soprano and melodica) and Terry Locke (baritone and banjo ukulele).
Kevin Fogarty is a music teacher and musician who has been playing the ukulele since he was eight. In 2007 he launched the New Zealand Ukulele Festival, which has since become an annual event involving hundreds of schools and thousands of students. In November 2009, the festival achieved a Guinness world record when 961 pupils strummed Kevin’s song “Kiwi Ukulele.” Kevin serves as a patron of the New Zealand Ukulele Trust, which stages the national ukulele festival, trains ukulele teachers, funds the provision of ukuleles to schools, hosts ukulele workshops and runs songwriting and performing competitions. This year he featured as a songwriter in the APRA MUSIC BOX 2014. He has published the best selling series of audio books UKULELE WORLD and produced a new resource for the Orewa Ukulele Convention - Double White Uke. This features new ukulele versions of classic Beatles tracks :
Back in the U.S.S.R. Dear Prudence Ob-La-Di Don’t Pass Me By Bungalow Bill While My Guitar Gently Weeps Mother Nature’s Son Blackbird Revolution Piggies Honey Pie I Will and Rocky Raccoon.
Kevin will be taking fun, interactive workshops on these tracks at this years Ukulele Convention.
The majority of my full time work has been while doing an extended overseas experience in Canada in Recreation and Tourism. However, during this time my underlying passion has been as an artist, musician and facilitator. My corporate life gave me the skills to lead throughout my entire life and now that I am focused solely on my passion for music, and sharing the techniques of playing ukulele, I have developed colour and texture in all my performances and ukulele workshops to share with other developing ukulele players.
My three Canadian born children got started in the professional arts before I did, and now we all travel the globe to present our different talents and skills on stage and in the classroom. I gained extensive customer service experience as a facilitator and trainer in Recreation and Tourism as a customer services consultant, and I use those people skills in every workshop and presentation I make.
My most memorable performances and workshops the past year have been at the New Zealand Ukulele Festival, Devonport Ukulele Blues & Boogie Workshops, Kerikeri Ukulele Workshops, Auckland Folk Music Festival, Melbourne Ukulele Festival, Emerald Ukulele Festival, Cairns Ukulele Festival and more international bookings to travel to this year…
I am confidence, creative, disciplined and passionate in my work, and am regarded as a ‘hands-on’ person and skilled in playing many instruments, and I use those combined skills to present ukulele playing with texture and in a whole new colour.
I thoroughly enjoy the interaction within the ukulele workshop environment and teach smart playing habits and maintaining the original integrity and respect for old and new melodies, and traditional folk and blues songs
While there are others with more academic music qualifications than I, and who present music notation as a must in ones learning, I prefer to teach people how to simply play with absolute enjoyment with the ease of fundamental chord shapes and using the simple foundation of core strumming and finger picking techniques. I teach new players the simple chords in a few minutes, but to their surprise and overwhelming joy, they quickly realize they can accomplish a whole lot more in the space of my workshop. They end up realizing how easy it will be for them to inject their own colour and texture into their playing with my basic list of playing ‘elements’ which has grow to more than 46. I am amazed after every workshop at the accomplishment they succeed to, and the joy they have getting there in a single session. They welcome the challenge to be a better player, and their positive expression of feedback from every workshop is incredibly humbling. I give people real life learning experiences that are simple and achievable, and not filled with the complexity of music notation.
forward to every opportunity of presenting myself as a performing musician and
ukulele workshop facilitator, and to share all that I have learned from setting
up instruments to delivering a fun filled learning experience, or performing on
the largest of stages with the most famous players.
Max has had a love of music from the time he took piano lessons as a young lad in Scotland. Although his main passion is creating joy and community through singing and his uke teaching he has studied or dabbled in various instruments over the years - guitar, organ, flute, recorder, African drumming. He currently plays traditional music from Zimbabwe with the Mhara Marimba Band and leads two ukulele groups – Uke N Sing (Auckland), Ukulele Junction (Wellsford).
Max’s mission in (uke) life is to totally dispel the notion that uke is a plunka plunka instrument. With his groups and in workshops he challenges his players with arrangements incorporating harmony, fingerpicking, riffing and strumming variations.
Says Christine Donehue, a ukulele leader from Katikati “It was one of the best workshop days I have been to. Max is a wonderful teacher and had the whole uke group singing and playing together in harmony, after a very short time. He has boundless energy and enthusiasm, is very friendly, inclusive and he doesn't pitch it above your head. However there was opportunity for extension for those who needed it. Notes and song sheets with computer links were most helpful. He had people doing things they may never have imagined they would be able to do”.
Ben (Country Boy) Collier
Ben Collier has been performing with the Nukes for years ( 2008 - forever ) and has a wonderful command of the ukulele. Like a lot of famous musicians he is understated and clever as well as approachable with a gentle sense of humour and loads of patience
It will be a mix of Hootenany/ Woodhill Forest Blues and more....