Uke-a-Billy Blues workshop, concert a sign of revival


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There's an American ukulele revival going on, and a Pittsburgh uke club is helping to lead the way.

Internationally known performer and teacher Stuart Fuchs will bring his musical talents to town in a Uke-a-Billy Blues workshop and concert Saturday. Ukulele players and enthusiasts of all levels are welcome.

Mr. Fuchs' first visit to Pittsburgh is sponsored by Steel City Ukuleles, a local community group dedicated to all things ukulele. (Full disclosure: I'm a member.) He is a multi-instrumentalist, a music educator and a performing artist. He plays everything he can get his hands on but specializes in ukulele.

"What's Uke-a-Billy?" asks Mr. Fuchs. "It combines guitar-style rock 'n' roll and rock-a-billy playing, both of them translated to the ukulele. The music is quintessentially American because it fuses together elements of country, honky-tonk, jazz, blues, swing and gospel. The interactive workshop will feature tunes from classic artists such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lil Richard, Lennon and McCartney, too."

Steel City Ukuleles workshop and concert

Where: Wilkins School Community Center, 7604 Charleston Ave., Swissvale.

Workshop: 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday; sign in at 2:30.

Concert: 7 to 9 p.m. Doors open at 6:30..

Admission: $25 for workshop only, $30 for both workshop and concert. $10 for the concert only. For concert only, pay at the door.

Information: See www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Ukuleles/events/132651412/ to register and purchase tickets. For info, contact steelcityukuleles@icloud.com.

Mr. Fuchs is a stickler when it comes to teaching techniques.

In his afternoon workshop, he'll demonstrate boogie-woogie bass lines, chord-based fills and solos, finger-picking backup and 12-bar blues form. He'll teach ways of practicing rhythms to make strumming defined and throw in Latin tempos, too.

In the evening concert program, Mr. Fuchs will play ukulele arrangements from the three B's: Bach, Brazil and Beatles. And, get ready to hear the didgeridoo, an instrument that Mr. Fuchs has played for 20 years. "I'm always interested in ethnic music, even though I come from a classical and jazz background," he says. "The didgeridoo is considered one of the oldest instruments in the world. The originals were made from hollow tree limbs in Northern Australia. I want to demonstrate what this ancient instrument can do."

When he's not on the road teaching and performing, Mr. Fuchs is a band leader and sideman, most notably with his gypsy jazz band Babik (bah-beek). It was featured on Public Radio International's "The World" and has performed in concert halls and festivals across the U.S.

Mr. Fuchs has collaborated to create original arrangements for Babik of Django Reinhardt's music for Symphony Orchestra, which he performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

But it's not all show biz. Mr. Fuchs works as an artist-in-residence at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., where he shares the healing nature of music and the creative process with patients, families and hospital staff.

As a spirit musician, Mr. Fuchs has studied and practiced yoga and meditation for more than 15 years and is experienced in the use of Naad Yoga (yoga of sound), Mantra and Kirtan (sacred chanting) for wellness and personal transformation.

If you can't get to the workshop or concert, you can hear musical segments and an interview with Mr. Fuchs when he guests on "The Saturday Light Brigade" radio show with Larry Berger on WRCT-FM (88.3) at 11 a.m. Saturday.

But what's with Mr. Fuchs' signature long hair? Isn't that a little 1970s? If he expects Pittsburghers to be impressed by his curly mane, he's dead wrong. This is Troy Polamalu hair country. (Mr. Polamalu, a spokesman for Head & Shoulders shampoo, is a recreational ukulele player, or so we've heard.) Mr. Fuchs' hair measures a mere 18 to 20 inches; Mr. Polamalu's measures about 30 to 32 inches.

To determine which has the more serious head of hair, members of Steel City Ukuleles will stage a "Hair-off." The winner will be determined by ballot box at Saturday's concert. Proceeds from the vote will benefit SCU's Music Education and The Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation.


Marlene Parrish: marleneparrish@icloud.com or 412-481-1620.

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