Friday, December 9, 2011

Remembering Bill Tapia: Jazz Ukulele Virtuoso

From the Los Angeles Times:

Bill Tapia dies at 103; virtuoso ukulele player

Tapia was born in Hawaii and learned to play the instrument at age 7. He performed for U.S. troops during WW I and taught classes until recently.
  • Bill Tapia first heard the ukulele as a 7-year-old. He soon mastered it and went on the vaudeville circuit as a youth to help support his family.
December 06, 2011|By Claire Noland, Los Angeles Times
Bill Tapia, a virtuoso ukulele player from Hawaii who learned to strum the instrument at age 7, performed for U.S. troops during World War I and was still touring and teaching well after hitting the century mark, has died. He was 103.
Tapia died in his sleep Friday at his home in Westminster, said his booking agent, Mark Taylor.

Tapia was born in Honolulu on New Year's Day in 1908. As a child he heard musicians playing at a neighbor's house and became fascinated by the size and sound of the ukulele, which had been introduced to the Hawaiian islands by Portuguese immigrants in the late 19th century.

For 75 cents he bought one and quickly learned to make music. By age 10 he was entertaining military troops stationed on Oahu with his arrangement of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." He left school and became a vaudeville performer and traveling musician on ocean liners traveling between Hawaii and the mainland. He taught tourists to play the ukulele and wrote an early instruction manual; among his pupils were movie stars like Shirley Temple and Clark Gable.

"I was brought up with a ukulele," he told The Times in 2007, "and I guess I'll end with a ukulele."
In the '20s Tapia discovered jazz and eventually set aside the ukulele in favor of the banjo and guitar. He played with bands in Honolulu, L.A., and San Francisco in between steamship crossings. One of his gigs was at the opening of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach in 1927....MORE
From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
103-year-old ukulele virtuoso Bill Tapia dies in California
Talents with ukulele spanned generations
Live recordings age well for 103-year-old musician 

From Bill's website:
“As it Happens” on CBC/Radio-Canada remembers Bill
Listen to CBC/Radio-Canada’s tribute to Bill on today’s “As it Happens” show. Along with an interview with Mark Taylor, Bill’s tour manager and friend, you’ll hear a special recording of Bill performing “Stars and Stripes Forever” in the unique style only Bill could pull off!
(The clip starts at 12:00 min in the PART 2 segment.)
As a kid Bill wanted his uke to sound like the snare drums he saw in Sousa's band. I have no idea how much time went into figuring out that little trick.

Here are a couple of vids:


Some more of the obits:

Telegraph UK:
Washington Post: