This week’s UkePrints features the young yet accomplished Rio Saito. After moving to Hawaii as a pre-teen he began playing the ‘ukulele, studying under Herb Ohta Jr. He went on to win first place in several reputable ‘ukulele contests including the Annual Duke’s Ukulele Contest and the Royal Hawaiian Annual International Ukulele Contest. Since then he has played from Japan to across the US including the 2014 TedxTokyo to the Apollo Theatre in New York City.
Today we are going to listen to Saito playing alongside the Japanese jazz singer Rika at the 8th Annual Kiwaya Ukulele Contest. Playing the jazz standard On the Sunny Side of the Street, Saito does a tasteful job at both accompanying and leading, demonstrating his harmonic and rhymic sensibility. He starts the tune with a solo verse of the Gershwin song, Someone to Watch Over Me. Using a mixture of strong defined notes played with his thumb and the soft brush like strokes from the pads of his index and thumb keep the listener interested in a texturally dynamic intro (start – 0:33). A slight pause and Saito immediately starts swinging the rhythm, again with a mixture of the pads and nails of his fingers to help accent the rhythm. Sitting comfortably behind the vocalist, Saito uses choice chord voices such as the ascending turn around before the start of the bridge (1:15-1:19).
Saito takes a solo infusing his influences of Benny Chong, Lyle Ritz, and Jake Shimabukuro. Melodically driven, Saito stays close to the song climbing up the neck in a rich chord solo (1:50-1:56) separated by tasteful single note lick (1:56-2:00). He descends the neck with more chords before wrapping up his solo. I particularly enjoy the start of the second half of the solo as Saito hops back and forth a half step at a time on an F6 chord (2:06). Bringing the song to the ground, they jump into the bridge giving single strums on the chord changes creating diversity from the densely filled solo (2:22). They finish the last verse of the song twice; first in full strength (2:37) then one dynamically sparse (2:55), refraining the last line (3:10) until Saito gives us one last lick to wrap up the song (3:24)
UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.