Often referred to as the No. 1 ‘ukulele player of Japan, Iwao Yamaguchi holds this title wearing his love for Ohta-san on his shoulder. Starting with the guitar at the age of 12, Iwao played as a singer-songwriter until adding the ‘ukulele to his arsenal at 26. He has since played all over the world from Hawai’i to Japan to New York with his love for Hawai’i, jazz, and delicate sensibility for the instrument.
Today we hear Iwao playing an arrangement of the Lennon-McCartney tune, Yesterday. This short but sweet rendition features a great scope of Iwao’s skill as an ‘ukulele player. He keeps close to the melody and utilizes an array of techniques to color up the song and make it his own. Starting from the top of the song, he climbs up the fretboard with a mixture of light finger picking for texture (0:12) and strong chords (0:15) to push the first crescendo of the song. Climbing back down the melody and fretboard he softly uses double stops (0:22) and finishes the first verse of the song with light harmonics on the 12th fret (0:34). I love the various tones he gets from his ‘ukulele such as the pronounced Bbmaj7 for the first verse (0:21) and a much softer touch when he passes over it for the second verse (0:45). He ebbs and flows with volume, throwing us around as his listeners. The bridge brings a triumphant roll (0:58) with his index and thumb as he parades through the memorable melody with a beautiful chord solo, continuing to sway with the volume. Softly finishing the bridge (1:20) he takes the verse one last time, refraining on the tagline before finishing with a single delicate strum (1:43).
One of the things that really struck me with Iwao’s playing was his touch and use of tone for expression. He sets a good example to create a multidimensional tone for variety and artistry!
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.