What we are listening to today (Bill Tapia)

Bill Tapia Livin It Live album cover

Bill Tapia’s “Livin’ It Live” (2009) is an album of Hawaiian-style smooth ukulele jazz with a mix of instrumental and vocal accompanied songs. We enjoyed listening to the album during our lunch break today. Since Rock-ish is the default music around here, it was a nice treat to listen to music that was comfortable but interesting enough to keep your ears tuned in and to get your feet tapping along.

Bill Tapia was born in 1908. In his interview with Kamaka Ukulele Club Japan in 2009, when he was 101 years old, he recalled how at age 7 he bought his first ukulele from Manuel Nunes, one of the original group of three luthiers who invented and began manufacturing ukuleles in Hawaii. He took two lessons, but mostly he taught himself to play the ukulele and soon became a professional ukulele player. After being hired to play the banjo at the Moana Hotel at age 16, though, he stopped playing the ukulele on stage, but his connection to the ukulele continued. Although he no longer performed with the ukulele, he became friends with Samuel Kamaka, the founder of Kamaka Ukulele, and worked for him to check the quality of the ukuleles Mr. Kamaka made at his factory.

Later, Bill moved to the mainland and made a living as a jazz guitarist. After his wife died, he was looking for things to do and decided to teach his grandchild the guitar. One day, when he was in a music shop to have his guitar repaired, he encountered a customer learning the guitar and the ukulele from the owner. Bill showed them how he played the ukulele, and the owner asked him to come join the local ukulele club. That brought Bill back to playing the ukulele at the age of 93. From there, he started teaching the ukulele and touring as an ukulele musician.

Before playing the last song of the album, “Stars And Stripes Forever,” he shared a story about playing the song for the troops in Hawaii during the First World War. Knowing his life story certainly adds another layer of enjoyment to the experience of listening to his music.

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