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EXCLUSIVE Artist Interview Series – “Jumpin’ Jim” Beloff of fleamarketmusic.Com

September 29, 2011

I recently caught up with Jim Beloff of Flea Market Music in the midst of his very busy schedule and we entered into a conversation about his involvement in the global ukulele community.  If you’re not aware of Liz & Jim Beloff then here is a bio and synopsis of their contribution to the wonderful world of the ukulele . . .

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Finding a ukulele at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market in 1992 inspired Liz & Jim Beloff to start Flea Market Music, Inc., publisher of the popular Jumpin’ Jim’s series of ukulele songbooks.  This series is sold worldwide and is distributed by the Hal Leonard Corporation. Some of the best selling titles in the series include Jumpin’
Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes
, Jumpin’ Jim’s ‘60s Uke-In and Jumpin’
Jim’s Ukulele Country
as well as collections of blues, bluegrass, classical
music and jazz standards arranged for ukulele by some of the finest players in
the world. Released in October 2010, The Daily Ukulele: 365 Songs For Better Living, is the largest ukulele songbook ever published.

Jim Beloff is the author of The
Ukulele—A Visual History
(1997 Backbeat Books), producer of Legends of
Ukulele, a CD compilation for Rhino Records and has made three how-to-play DVDs for Homespun Tapes, The Joy of Uke #1 and #2 and Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Workshop.
He is also an active songwriter who has collaborated and recorded with ukulele legends Herb Ohta (Ohta-San) and Lyle Ritz.  To hear some of Jim’s music, visit the JukeBox section of his website:
http://www.fleamarketmusic.com/jukebox/default.asp

Liz Maihock Beloff, with a background in film and television graphics, designs the covers and art-directs all of FMM’s songbooks, CDs and DVDs. Having been weaned on “The Lawrence Welk Show” in her Midwestern early childhood, she has a remarkable recall of American popular music.  She is also a talented singer who, before teaming up with Jim, sang with a capella groups in college and New York City.

In 1999, Jim and Liz, along with
Phyllis and Dale Webb, introduced a unique, colorful, and affordable ukulele
called the Fluke and, later, a smaller-sized model, the Flea, that have won
admirers all over the world. Jim and Liz regularly perform together at ukulele
festivals in the U.S.A. and have also gone on uke tours of Japan and Australia.
They truly believe in their company’s motto, “Uke Can Change the World.” You
can reach them through the Flea Market Music web site at
www.fleamarketmusic.com/

And now our interview:

UKULELE MIKE: Jim, would you tell us the evolvement of your interest in the ukulele?  How did you become so intensely involved with the current renaissance of this wonderful instrument?

JIM: I was a pretty good guitarist before getting into the uke.  I was also a songwriter and big admirer of sophisticated theater and pop writers like Stephen Sondheim, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, Joni Mitchell, etc.  Like many I thought the ukulele was a novelty instrument/toy with a high voice that wasn’t suited for nuanced chords and thoughtful lyrics.  That all changed when I found a Martin tenor uke in 1991 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market.  After a few days of playing this uke tuned down to DGBE (with a high D — a la “my dog has fleas”)  I became convinced that my kind of songwriting actually made more sense on a uke then it did on a guitar.

After spending a few weeks poring over old, out of print Cliff Edwards uke songbooks we pitched the idea. of compiling our favorite arrangement from his books to Hal Leonard Corp.  At the time they didn’t have any significant uke book offerings and they agreed to distribute what became our first songbook, Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Favorites. This book sold well enough that Hal Leonard asked me to write a how-to-play book, which became Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes.  From there, one project led to another.  During the early years we received a lot of encouragement from players who were thrilled to see new materials being produced again for the ukulele.

UKULELE MIKE:  Jim, what are your thoughts as to why the ukulele has achieved this current resurgence?

JIM: When we started publishing our earliest songbooks, I was still working for Billboard Magazine, the music trade publication.  I traveled a good deal and there were many nights in hotels where I missed having a musical instrument with me.  With briefcase, suitcase and computer it wasn’t possible to also travel with a guitar, but a uke was small enough that I could take that along too.  It occurred to me that a lot of folks who had some experience with the guitar might consider a ukulele if they knew how easy and fun it was to play and travel with. It was also a perfect instrument for guitar-playing parents who wanted to give their kids a fun and easy introduction to the pleasures of making music.  Of course, the internet has helped enormously to bring uke players together (our website, www.fleamarketmusic.com/ was one of the first uke sites on the web).  Ukulele festivals all over the USA and the world have played an important role in fueling interest, as have well known pop artists like George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Eddie Vedder and uke artists like Iz, Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill.  Hit songs like “Hey Soul Sister” and uke visibility on American Idol, Glee and especially YouTube have had a big influence on the larger culture.  One of the more unique aspects of the current wave is the proliferation of ukulele clubs throughout the USA and the world, especially Australia, Europe, Japan and lately, South Korea and Thailand.  These regular gatherings encourage amateur musicians to play, sing and socialize.  In Sydney, Australia alone, there are 8 uke clubs each with over 100 members and some with many times that amount.

UKULELE MIKE: Jim, surfing thru uke music in music stores we see a LOT of Flea Market Music products. . . Can you tell my readers the range of your offerings?

JIM: Since our first songbook, my wife Liz and I have published over two-dozen Jumpin’ Jim’s songbooks.  Some of the best selling titles in the series include Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips ‘N’ Tunes, Jim’s ’60s Uke-In and Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Country as well as collections of blues, bluegrass, classical music and jazz standards arranged for ukulele by Lyle Ritz, Herb Ohta, John King and Fred Sokolow.  Released in October 2010, The Daily Ukulele: 365 Songs For Better Living, is the largest ukulele songbook ever published.

In 2003 Backbeat books published the second edition of my book, The Ukulele, A Visual History and this past June Homespun Tapes released my third DVD, entitled Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Workshop. Liz and I also love to perform and in 2009 we released our latest CD, “Rare Air” which features a number of original songs, many of which I wrote with Lyle Ritz and Herb Ohta.  I’ve had the pleasure of giving workshops and performing with Liz at many uke fests as well as on tours of Japan and Australia.  Most recently I had the thrill of working with Eddie Vedder on a deluxe book/CD of the songs from his recent “Ukulele Songs” CD

In 1999 we helped market and introduce the Fluke ukulele designed and manufactured by my brother-in-law, Dale Webb, for The Magic Fluke Co.  Later on Dale went on to create the smaller Flea ukulele and recently the new Firefly banjo uke, all manufactured in a new and much larger facility in Sheffield, Massachusetts.

Liz and I perform a good deal in the New England area and attend as many uke fests as we can.  I also give workshops throughout the year.

UKULELE MIKE: Can you reveal future goals for yourself?

JIM: We’ve just finished a new book and CD of lute pieces arranged for ukulele by a classical guitarist/uke player in England.  That should be coming out in October.  We also expect to release at least two songbooks in 2012.

One of my greatest pleasures is writing songs, alone or in collaboration with Herb Ohta, Lyle Ritz and others.  Liz and I are always thinking of new recording projects and I’ve been thrilled to see several of my songs covered on CDs by Herb, Lyle, Michelle Kiba, Tripping Lily and Victoria Vox.

UKULELE MIKE:  Jim, what kind of suggestions can you give to the global ukulele community and especially those who have just discovered this wonderful instrument?

JIM: Have fun and keep in mind that there is no single correct way to play.  Get one hundred of the finest uke players in a room and they will each have their own idiosyncratic strum or style.  Whatever works for you is the right way.  That said, I still encourage new players to use their pinky as much as possible (especially when making a G chord).  Going from a G to G7 is much easier if two of the fingers stay in the same position and you just toggle your pinky and index finger.  One other reason is that many of the lush jazz chords require four fingers anyway.  So get that pinky working now so it’s ready for some heavier lifting down the road.  Finally, see if there is a local uke club you can join.  Playing regularly with others will encourage you to practice and improve.
UKULELE MIKE:  Wow, thanks, Jim. . . awesome interview. . . All the best to you and hope to catch up with you again soon.  Safe travels and . . . . “HAPPY STRUMMING” – Mike Lynch

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