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S1E9 – Neal Chin on Jazz Ukulele

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A fun chat with Seattle-based Neal Chin on his journey with music and playing jazz on your uke.

Episode resources:
Neal’s website
Folklife Festival
Ukulele ebooks
Brad’s Youtube live stream workshop
Mike Love
KoAloha Ukulele
Neal’s Youtube
Lessons with Neal
Neal’s recordings

Transcript

Edited for clarity.

Aloha. Welcome to The Live Ukulele Podcast. My name is Brad Bordessa.

Got a fun show for you today. Going to be talking story with Neal Chin who lives out in Seattle, Washington, though originally from Hawaiʻi, I do believe. He’s a great player, he’s a great teacher. I actually met him a number of years ago – a couple years ago – at the Seattle Folklife Festival. He was hosting the ukulele artist showcase that I performed as part of. So I got to meet him out there. I haven’t talked to him since then, but for some reason I kind of feel like, it’s like, “Oh yeah, Neal Chin. I know that guy.” So we’ll find out what he’s been up to, talk some story, maybe get you some ukulele tricks – things you can improve upon. Because I know he’s big into like jazz kinds of stuff. And he does some fun fun different kinds of ukulele teaching.

Just want to remind you that The Live Ukulele Podcast is published on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Please subscribe on your favorite podcasting app so you can get the updates for when those go live. If you want to support what I’m doing here with the podcast or with my website, liveukulele.com, please spread the word! That is oftentimes the most helpful thing that a web publisher can have is word of mouth. And share it on your Facebook, share it on your Reddit, whatever your taste is – email your friends. That is super great. Get the word out about good ukulele content. Also, if you want to go a step further and invest financially in what I’m doing, the best way to do that is to buy one of my ebooks and take some learning home with you, in addition to helping fund all the free content that I do produce. So thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your support. Just listening and knowing that we have listeners out there who are excited about ukulele things is lots of fun. That’s what makes me get excited about making this episode every couple weeks.

Without further ado, we’ll get to the good stuff!

BB: Aloha, Neal. Welcome to the podcast.

NC: Hey, how’s it going, Brad? Thanks for having me.

BB: Yeah, thanks for being here. I met you in Seattle at the Folk Festival and we had it’s just very brief meeting, but I kind of have this warm fuzzy feeling about you that, like, we’ve known each other for a long time. I don’t know what that comes from, but it’s great and I was thinking of who I could interview on the podcast the other day. It’s like, “I should reach out to Neal. That would be be good fun.”

NC: Oh, well, thanks for reaching out, man. And that’s super lovely and super sweet of you to say. You know, I have a very similar feeling and, you know, uh it’s kind of been really interesting because I’ve heard about you in um in different ukulele circles, um you know, before meeting you. And so it was really nice because I got to see like Live Ukulele and the content that you’re putting out and whatnot and of course, students too have always only spoken highly of what they’ve, you know, learned from you. It was really nice to, like, meet you in person and, like, oh, you know… I mean, from all the good stuff that people have been saying, you know, it’s a usually, uh sometimes comes with a little bit of uh, what’d you call it – “high makamaka” – or something. But yeah, you’re super chill. And it was super nice, like again, like you said, brief, but it was super awesome to, like, talk story with you, man, and play… Hear your ukulele too. I mean, gosh, man. That was a some amazing tone that you had.

BB: Thank you. Just doing my thing. That’s what I tell everybody. So I mean, yeah, just… It’s what I like to do. It’s good fun.

You put together that showcase up there, and then, after Folk Life, I actually went around and did a number of of workshops. And I was I was blown away by the scene that’s in Seattle.

NC: Yeah.

BB: It’s, it was huge. I felt like I could have been there for a month and just taught workshops. Because people kept, “Oh, you should talk to so-and-so! Oh, you should talk to so-and-so! They have a group. They have a group!” and it just kept branching out further and further.

So you’re in Seattle now. What brought you out there as an ukulele artist?

NC: I’ll give you the condensed version. You know, I had been… When was it, 2014?… You know, I had been gigging on Oʻahu for about five, six years at that point and I was playing in a couple of groups. Actually, mostly playing guitar at that time. And one of the things is I just kind of got this like bite and hunger to, like, go and explore and, like, try and live in like a big city. You know a lot of it was just like, oh, I just want to kind of get tossed around a little bit, musically. I was just getting too comfortable, I guess, with my own playing and whatnot. So it was really nice just to… You know, a friend of mine too, we’d been talking about this – who I played music with – and, you know, we were talking about Seattle for a long time. It’s kind of been almost a romantic destination for music, you know. There’s just so much history that happened um up here, you know? And so just wanted to live it. And so, you know, I first actually moved up to Oregon. First in Eugene and spent about a year and a half there and went through some life changes. And then made my way up here up to Seattle and finally got to live up here. And I absolutely love Seattle. It’s a great city.

BB: Yeah, I dig it too every time I’m out there. It’s good fun.

So it sounds like you kind of had the “big fish in the small pond” syndrome that Hawaiʻi often kind of creates for us being out here. …There’s just not much… I mean, there is a scene, but especially on the outer islands, there’s really not that many guys – if you put it on paper – who are actually playing and gigging. So what have you learned being out there, kind of in the meat grinder, just seeing, like, all the cats from a big city?

NC: You know, it’s been wonderful. Granted, you know, I’ve only made it out to like a handful of like jam sessions. I’m a bit of a shy guy so, you know, I have a hard time going out into like, “Oh, let’s go into this jazz cutting club!” You know, everyone’s like, tossing around Cherokee and doing all these crazy things. I haven’t really attended too many of those types of events, fortunately um – or unfortunately, I should say. It’s one of the things I want to do more of when things open up. Crossing fingers!

But um, you know, honestly, the one the biggest takeaway is I have just been continuously humbled. Because I admittedly, when I was leaving Hawaiʻi, definitely – I don’t know if I was the big fish in the little pond. I doubt it, but it sure felt like it – and so I was just, like, yeah I’m gonna, like, conquer the world! I’m gonna, like, play all this great stuff. And I’m gonna get there and they’re gonna love me, right? But, of course, that’s not the case. And so uh I’ve appreciated constantly being humbled and um, you know, being exposed to, like, a lot of music. And different genres of music. You were talking about the ukulele scene up here; it’s huge! So it’s like, you know, I just love that every day of the week, you know – especially when things were open, of course – you could go find, like, a group of people who just want to sing and hang out and, like, play music. And like, you know, it’s those are always… It’s always a good reminder of, like, “This is why we do it,” right? So we can have these human connections and enjoy each other’s company and, well, and make good music too. That’s always always nice.

BB: Yeah, but that’s almost secondary with that I’ve seen a lot of times. You know, we’re so so invested in the people.

So how has COVID changed what you’ve been doing out there? I assume you’re teaching mostly? Is that sort of what you do?

NC: Yeah, yeah, mostly. Before COVID, you know, hit, I’d been kind of running a small studio up here in Seattle and unfortunately I had to kind of close the doors or whatnot because it was just like, well, you know, I don’t need to be paying this rent if we’re not even using the space and whatnot. And stuff like that. So um I have been very fortunate, you know, and I’m going to knock on wood right over here… It’s… The superstition kicks in, for sure. It’s like, you know, with teaching and whatnot, a lot of my students were very gracious to be open to moving to online classes, like private classes, like this. And I’ve had a lot of inquiries. You know, people looking to learn. Because I know a lot of people are at home and, you know, looking to develop a skill, or like, better themselves in some way. And I’m like well, yeah, “Let’s book a time, man!” So it’s been really nice. I mean, you’re looking at my life. You know, it basically ends in these frames too, you know, because I spend most of my time in this seat either working on my own music or, of course, like teaching. So yeah….

BB: Great. And is that full time for you right now?

NC: Yeah, yeah, yes, yes, yes indeed. It’s a bummer because, you know, of course, I had, like, 10 festivals booked up this year with, like, you know, a handful of different cities to go to and I’m super stoked… And, of course, all that income gets lost too which made me sweat a little bit, but knock on wood. I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed in the situation that I’m in now. You know, maybe I’ll just do a quick shout out to all the students out there, you know, who are with your inquisitive minds kind of searching and learning more about the instrument. It helps a lot of us musicians and teachers too, you know, we definitely appreciate it. And hopefully you’re learning something too!

BB: Well that’s the exchange that’s so beautiful about the whole thing, is that, you know, sure, it pays the bills and they get hopefully what they want, but it’s also kind of a, you know, reciprocate and feed each other’s souls a little bit. Because I’ve been feeling fairly isolated in that I haven’t been teaching – and I don’t normally teach a whole lot of private lessons anyways – but I’m thinking like, “Boy, I should do a workshop.” Just so I can have, you know, faces on a screen and kind of interact. Because I did one Youtube live and it was like, you know, teaching from a five gallon bucket or something. Because you have no idea how it’s landing or how people are responding to the content.

NC: Sure! That’s a good way to put it. I like that.

BB: So what is kind of your “thing” as a teacher? What do you present that kind of makes your style and your teaching unique?

NC: Huh. That is a good-looking question. You know, for me, like, a lot of it has… So I have kind of like two philosophies, really – kind of cornerstones – for my teaching. Number one. I want the things that I teach to reflect what exists or what’s out in the world, right. Which means that a lot of it will come with, like, practical application. And what I like to do is… I mean, I’m a kind of a theory nut myself and I really love exploring theory and, kind of like, the possibilities of what we can do harmonically and rhythmically and everything like that. But not everybody else gets that obsessive about these things. So I really enjoy kind of taking that – you know, what I notice out in the world – what I notice musicians are doing and kind of synthesize that in a way that it becomes approachable, I guess. You know? And relate it to some kind of life experience so it’s a little bit more relatable to, you know, people who are not, like, super steeped in music yet.

And of course, you know, I always go back to this quote, you know, I always think about is, you know: “if you want to teach someone to sail, you teach them the love of the sea.” And that’s always been my theory of just, like, you know, if you want someone to do something, like, don’t tell them what to do. Show them how to have fun with what they’re doing and they’ll fill in all the details and the rest of it on their own, you know. And if they want to seek more information or whatnot, I mean, of course, I’m right here. So if you want to, you know, investigate anything further… I don’t know all the answers; I’ll be the first one to tell you that! But um from the little bit of knowledge that I have, you know, it’s my one of my favorite things to do is to share it. So yeah…

BB: What do you find brings people to the point where they think, like, “oh this is fun”? Because I know a lot of people get hung up on, like, watching their fingers and hoping they’re doing it right and making sure that it’s all perfect to the book. Like we have expectations, as teachers? It’s like, no, no, no. That’s not – at least for me – it’s like, I’m not too worried about that as long as you’re having fun. So what is your approach to bringing people to that place?

NC: Yeah. Definitely, definitely. You know, I think what I try to do is really observe what kind of uh inspires that individual, you know? Because, like, I have some students that are invested in the theory and really, like, to them it’s fascinating, how logical a lot of, you know, what is seemingly just really emotional to them and kind of putting that together. And so if I can, you know, notice something like that in an individual, then I’m not going to sit here and show you right hand techniques yet, you know? I’m going to wait for you to ask that question. But I’m just going to keep feeding you theory until you get maybe even potentially bored of it and then you’re gonna be like, “Well, can we do something else?” or “Can we do this?” or whatnot. But I feel like them making that active choice of like, “I want to do this instead!” is good. Because I want my students to make active choices all the time.

Because it’s, like, you know, I’m not the source of knowledge, you know? Like, I mean, I can be a source of knowledge because I know maybe a little bit of stuff. But like, go fill your cup, man. Like, you know, there’s tons of resources online. And definitely don’t learn from one teacher too. You know, there’s so many great teachers out there that teach different things. And that’s why I appreciate your question, you know, of, like, kind of, like, “what’s your thing?” Because that really, at least for me, even, like, makes me focus. Yeah, what is my thing? Letting people kind of find out what works um best for them I think is the best way. And, you know, just treating the people in front of you like humans, you know. Just have a conversation. It’s like, most of the time people will tell you, you know, what what makes them happy – because it makes them happy! So yeah. I don’t know if that answered the question but….

BB: I think it did. I think that’s the question. Yeah. And it’s so interesting too that you have different teaching styles, but you also have different learning styles. And that, you know, the students sometimes resonate with one thing or another. Like, I’ve ran across people who are like, “You know, I don’t really like James Hill’s teaching,” or whatever. And I’m like, “What?! How can that possibly be?! James Hill is a brilliant teacher!” But, you know, who am I to say if that’s what doesn’t work – or does work – for one person or another. So, you know, having those different perspectives I think is so important.

NC: Oh for sure, for sure, for sure. I like the idea too of… I feel like it’s not necessarily a unique position, but, you know, I kind of view myself as like a teaching artist. And that’s because those are the two big pillars in my life is, you know, kind of focusing, of course, on the craft of education and then, you know, working on what I have to say. Things that I want to share with the world too. And I know those often times don’t go hand in hand and can sometimes, at least for me, has been a bit of a struggle, kind of balancing those two perspectives. But one of the conclusions that I’ve recently come to is that I’ve learned to appreciate that. Because at the minimum, it gives me a little bit more um maybe compassion for either side when I’m leaning that other way. And just a good perspective too. Just to be like, you know, as much as we’re learning all this great stuff and all this theoretical information and everything, it’s important to remember that, like, what you have to say is arguably more important, you know. But at the same time, hey, if you want facility to sound like Bill Evans on the piano, or if you want to sound like something, you know, then we’re going to need that other side. So I just love, you know, this kind of, like, ebb and flow. That it never really sits in one spot, but is just constantly like a boat rocking back and forth.

BB: So are you an ocean guy?

NC: Well, you know, growing up on Maui, it was my one of my sweet escapes, definitely growing up. But more of just kind of like splashing and stuff. I hope this doesn’t get too philosophical but I appreciate the metaphor of water. One of my big heroes is Bruce Lee and, you know, that he has that, of course that, you know, famous speech and quote, right? Of, you know, “Be water, my friend,” you know, “It can fill the cup, it could be crashing,” crash, and whatnot. And so I always try to look for these, like, metaphors. And I admittedly uh sometimes over extend them! But I do enjoy, you know, water as a metaphor because it really is a, I think, a really great element to kind of reflect on how we can approach life and, of course, something as esoteric as art.

BB: Yeah, totally. The words that we have don’t always do the job when it comes to music.

NC: Right, right. A couple more [makes drum fill sound] you know? Or a couple more….

BB: Can you sing it in a song?

So I was watching um one of your recent live streams and just watching you play – it’s always interesting to see how guys touch the instrument and interact with the instrument – and I noticed that you have a very ukulele player touch. Which not everybody has. A lot of people have kind of, I don’t know, I guess it’s like a more contemporary sound, but you just have a very Hawaiian ukulele touch. What do you think that comes from and where did you – how did you come to cultivate it to be so?

NC: Aww… Well, you know, first off, might I say, that’s one of the nicest compliments I think I’ve ever gotten on the ukulele. Because it’s something actively that I think about all the time. Because, you know, I played guitar for a number… I mean, I still play guitar, I got a couple hanging out behind me… and also play guitar from time to time, but, you know, one of the things – at least for me – that I appreciate in a lot of ukulele players is that same same ideal that you’re talking about. Because there is a… There’s a difference, right? In the way that the the right hand… And that’s for me that’s where a lot of it comes from, is how the right hand touches the strings. And I mean, if you, you know, really try to develop your skills around holding, like, a smaller instrument, right, you don’t need, like, full force of your shoulder necessarily or your arm. I mean, of course, you can, and it’s nice to use, but, like, we can do a lot of the work just from doing this…

That’s the thing too and I always like with the ukulele. It’s always a humbling thing of like, you know… Forward is not always the right direction to go into, you know. Like getting better or getting bigger or getting, you know, is not always the right direction to go into. Like with the ukulele, it’s like, yeah you want to develop strength in your fingers, right, to hold… You always hear about barre chords, you know, “I cannot hold barre chords because it’s sore on my finger.” And so definitely developing, you know, muscle is important. But that little technique, of course, goes alongside of that as well. I digress. But coming back to the right hand, you know. Having just like a really kind of light touch. And you know what I think? And I don’t know if this is just a self-fulfilling thing, but I think it’s the thumb too. That’s one of the things I notice. It’s like, a lot of the ukulele players from Hawaiʻi primarily use their thumb to like… And I don’t know, for like, for me, I just tried to copy Jake growing up, you know, so I just like wanted to… Or like Troy Fernandez, you know. And without a thumb pick, you know, just, you know, maybe do something like that instead – or something to that effect. So I think a lot of that touch comes from, you know, paying attention to the right hand and knowing that you really don’t need, like, a ton of force all the time, you know?

BB: Yeah, yeah. Stepping lightly. Hawaiʻi is all about stepping lightly.

NC: You know, hey, actually I never really drew that parallel. That’s so true, yeah? That is so true. That’s such an important… Yeah, I remember growing up; that was a very important thing. Leave the place how it was when you got there, right. Step lightly. Is that Mike Love? “When you’re trotting through sacred ground,” I think is the lyrics, right? “Step lightly…”

BB: Well, we’re on a video chat so we’re seeing each other, but you’re holding a beautiful KoAloha, which is like super blinged out. Is that Maui on the fretboard?

NC: Yeah, it is. Yep.

BB: Sweet. How did that come to be?

NC: Uh, you know, it’s just another blessing. I’ve really just been really lucky and really fortunate to have gotten to know the Okami family – they are the makers of this brand of ukulele called KoAloha ukuleles. And, you know, I first met them in – it was actually Alan Okami – back in 2007. And that’s when I was actually teaching my – oh excuse me 2008 – when I was teaching my first class of um kids. I had a class of third graders and fourth graders. It was a great year. But we kind of hooked up and kind of, like, really kind of connected on music education and the rest is history. I moved to ʻOahu the next year and got my first KoAloha ukulele after that and I’ve just been playing them since. A couple of years ago… You know, up here I really started doing a lot more ukulele gigs and whatnot and um for me it was a definitely a conscious effort to like be an ukulele musician, like an ukulele teaching artist. You know, things kind of lined up really well with what was happening at KoAloha and whatnot and they reached out to me and just said, you know, “Eh brah, it’s, like, it’s time, man. It’s, like, time to make you that ukulele we’ve been talking about for a while.” So really fortunate that I just sat down with Grizz, one of the makers, and we just talked woods a little bit and I kind of just like uh I kind of like just asked him like, what do you think, you know? I mean I have these like playing kind of things, but like, I don’t know, part of me is like the hopeless romantic in me it’s just like, I just like love the idea of like a craftsman just making what they love. And then me just trying to take what they love and and do something with it, you know? The only request that I had made is I wanted a cedar top and I wanted Maui in between 10 and 12 over here. But the rest was kind of like in Grizz’s hands. He did a fabulous job. The neck is really tight. It’s pretty fast. And the sound is really great too, obviously like…

BB: Super mellow.

NC: Super mellow, right?! I don’t know, I’m such a sucker for those, like, you know, real deep, warm tones and whatnot, especially with, you know, ballads and jazz standards and stuff like that. So this ukulele really helps bring that out so…

BB: It sounds like a vinyl record.

NC: Yes indeed. Yes, hopefully 2021.

BB: Well, it’s so interesting to hear you talk about craftsmanship because, I mean, probably for you, but I know for me, that seeing so many people online they’re always seeking answers for like, “Oh, what ukulele do I buy?” and discussing all these kind of esoteric ukulele things it’s like, does the design… I saw one the other day, “Does the design of the cutaway affect the sound?” And, you know, of course, you know, I’m kind of a hard-ass about this though, so I’m right off the bat, thinking in my head I was like, “Well do you practice every day?” That’s going to make way more different than whatever cutaway style you have is. But to kind of go to the craftsman and trust their sensibilities and their skill is sort of the ultimate treat for the artist. Because we just want to play.

NC: Right.

BB: …and make music. But then, you know, when it’s like, “Oh, I have to decide on an ukulele?” That’s like so much work.

NC: Right, right.

BB: But to have somebody who you can just trust is like, “I don’t know, man. Build me something good.”

NC: Yeah, totally. Totally.

BB: And so what did he come up with that, I don’t know, did he bring much to the design that kind of represented you and your style?

NC: Well, you know, one of the things that’s kind of nice is… So this is what they call like a Black Label KoAloha tenor. So they’re, like, a full custom. And the thing that they’ve been kind of like, pioneering over the years is, you know, they have different levels of custom build, yeah? Like aside from their rack stuff. And so they’ll have like a Red Label ukulele, which is, like, maybe just the same build, but with like a different wood, you know, like, they’ve been doing the mangoes have been kind of an extension of something like that. But, you know, with this one, the thing that I honestly didn’t know he was going to do, but I appreciate that he did do it, is that what he did is he took the dimensions of their concert body and then blew up that. So the dimensions are actually kind of like a small – or, excuse me, kind of like a big concert ukulele. But fit so that it can fit the tenor scale.

BB: So that’s why the sound hole is like oversized?

NC: Yeah. And that’s why, you know, the biggest comment that I get, you know, for sure is the headstock, you know? Like uh Craig Chee, for example, it’s the first thing, he always makes fun of me is, “Oh, look at headstock it’s so big!” And it’s like relative, yeah, when you look at the instrument it’s kind of big, yeah? But, you know, a lot of it is because the body is small, that’s why. And it just, you know… I mean it just pushes towards that. It just helps the the perception of the large head.

But I like it because um the thing is having such a soft top like cedar and then I got um uh rosewood on the back and sides having it being so dense, you know, the top is… It’s really warm! Real soft, real wavy, right? And so I feel like if it was any bigger I would probably have had a cannon instead of an ukulele because this already is like, I can’t imagine this being any bigger, you know? Like, you know, it might sound like a guitar at a certain point, right? So yeah, that was one of the things that I really liked about this model. And I’m pretty sure that they do that with um other Black Labels that they’ve made too.

BB: So is that considered like a super concert? Or is the body… The body is actually bigger than concert?

NC: Yes, the body is actually still bigger. So that’s where it’s kind of weird. It’s like a halfway point, you know, in a sense, you know, between the two. So yeah.

BB: Nice. Well, it’s beautiful.

NC: Oh, well thank you. That’s, I, well, right on, Grizz. And the neck too. That’s the thing that I go back and forth… Because I have, of course, my old older tenors and stuff that I’ve used and the neck is just, you know, it’s regular for an ukulele neck. But, you know, coming back to something thin like this, when I try to do something a little more challenging it is kind of nice. If I want extra training I go back to my old ukulele, but if I if I want to sound good I just come back to this flat neck and I’m like, “Wow, yeah, that sounds much better,” you know? It feels better at the minimum.

BB: So if you want to see it with your own eyes, you’ve been doing a live stream. Is that a regular thing?

NC: Yeah, yeah. It actually just started off in the, you know, kind of um when quarantine first kind of kicked off and whatnot um… I start off every week like in Monday morning just practicing. Just because I find it to be like a good meditation for me to set out like my intentions for the week and whatnot. And so, you know, one of the days I was just like, yeah, well, like, that doesn’t sound too bad, like, I mean, I’m just practicing tunes, you know, what if I just turn the camera on? And uh that was in April and here we are in what is it, October now. So ever since then I’ve been going live every Monday. I took a month off during the summer time just to see what the sun looked like. But basically I would just every Monday morning at 10 o’clock – originally it was on Facebook but now I’ve switched over to Youtube just to make it real official, you know. And just been, yeah, live streaming every Monday morning at 10 o’clock.

BB: Great, so what is your Youtube handle so people can find you?

NC: You know, that’s really funny. It’s my old Youtube handle so please don’t judge me or laugh at me or whatever the case is, but uh it’s “neo” – as in the guy from the matrix, neo – “dabodyguard” and that’s with the DA. So I’m just going to go ahead and say if you look up Neal Chin ukulele, you might be able to see my logo and that’d be a little bit easier to find. But for you OG folks out there, you can find neodabodyguard. It was the first band I was in. We were called “Da Bodyguards,” so, you know.

BB: Was that a reggae band? It sure sounds like a reggae band.

NC: It should have been. It was just me and my friend just, you know, playing Pure Heart covers on the ukulele. And uh yeah, the rest is history, I guess.

BB: These days are you playing… What style are you kind of living in more than others, if there is one?

NC: No, yeah. I mean, I’m definitely a jazz head so, you know, I’m pretty much always trying to listen to jazz and trying to work on the vocabulary there. You know, my obsession this past year, well actually, quite frankly, for the past couple of years, has been saxophone players. So um I feel like I spent a lot of last year just really trying to at least fake it uh so I could try to sound like Charlie Parker a little bit, you know, in brief brief moments. But this year I’ve been listening to a lot of John Coltrane and I picked up like a little omni book and I’ve kind of been working through some of his solos and stuff like that. So it’s been uh, it’s been really fun. Just to kind of, like, have a different lens, I guess, for how to, like, construct melodies and um… Helps me break out of my diatonic stuff too because sometimes I just get stuck on the same routines of like, “Ooh, play all the pretty notes!” It’s like, well, you have to play something ugly if you want this to be really pretty, you know? So it’s like look for something else. So…. But yeah, most of the time – nine times out of ten – I’m listening to some kind of jazz record of some sort.

BB: Do you feel like sharing something with us? Got a tune in your back pocket there?

NC: Yeah. Yeah. [Playing] …There you go, something like that.

BB: Wow. That’s fabulous!

NC: Almost lost it on the bridge. Hey, well, thank you, thank you. I love that song that’s “Have You Met Miss Jones?”

BB: “Have You Met Miss Jones…” Wow. No, it’s just, it’s so much fun to listen to you play. And seeing you kind of quote “struggle,” if you could possibly call it that, just really shows, you know, how skilled you are to be able to kind of, fake it if you weren’t…. Unless that’s just an act and you’re just pretending like you don’t actually know what you’re doing, but…

NC: No. You know, I think it’s important to cultivate a mind that is easily satisfied by things. You know, like in the sense of like… Because you just appreciate, you know, like sometimes it’s like especially studying, you know, jazz it’s like uh I’m gonna learn more chords and more extensions and more things and whatnot and um there’s a lot of great, of course, there’s a lot of great stuff going in that direction, but it’s like, I don’t know. I try to humble myself once in a while and just, like, remember, like, hey, F is a great sounding chord, you know? So is C7. Like right down here. It doesn’t have to be here, here. Like sometimes this C7 right here is gonna be the right one, you know? And so uh yeah I don’t know, it’s a just… Try to have fun I guess.

BB: Well you keep yourself delighted with the whole thing and you know, it goes that much further for you.

NC: Yeah, I think so.

BB: Well thank you. Thank you so much for sharing. That’s totally a treat to hear you play.

NC: Oh, well it’s my favorite thing to do so anytime, man.

BB: That’s good. It sounds like you’re in the right business.

Maybe we can we could wrap up with this: people hearing you play that… Do you have any kind of like, maybe a one-off tip or two that people could take away that’s kind of, you know, the jazz tip for bringing that jazz flavor out on their ukulele?

NC: Yeah… Um, you know… Okay, I’m gonna cheat. I have two. Okay, because one is like, you know, I’m sure we can all agree on as music teachers, right, is just like listen to music. Right? The more music you can listen to… And not just hear music, right, but like, listen to it. So like, you know, the same way that you might carve out some time to like, I don’t know, do a different activity like, you know, watch your favorite show or, I don’t know, something to the effect of that like, you know, carve out some time to, like, sit down with an album, put some headphones on and, like, just sit there and listen. Because there’s a lot of things that you would not hear otherwise, you know? So definitely number one.

But now with that on the side. Because that’s probably the most important thing. That on the side um, you know, one of the things that I find to be really fun is, you know, when you’re practicing all these different chord inversions and chord positions all over the fretboard um, the question then becomes, what do I do with them? And I think kind of a nice little usage is that we can put together little chord progressions in songs and stuff like that. Like I always think of something like F, D7 maybe Gm7 or Gm and C7. So you can have those chords um, but they don’t require all four fingers to play them. You got extra fingers, you might also put them to work too. So if you like on F, super small, but if you put one finger down on a little C note, that’s a small inflection difference, right? It goes up. And with that, right, that might inform, you know, maybe another decision and whatnot. It might sound great if we move into the next chord. I have a good feeling about it.

But yeah, don’t be afraid to like try things out with the chords that you have. Maybe just try and place a finger down and see what it sounds like. Here’s a good example. So I’m going to use, like, the C7. And I know you folks are just listening here on the podcast. So this would be good ear training too; we can use that. But as we’re coming down with each note like this, I have again two extra fingers here (you just have to trust me that they’re there) that I can just place down. So what if I just drop my ring finger. It’s actually kind of floating over this little A note right here. What if I just put that there and listen to that chord. Sounds kind of nice. Here’s C7 again and here’s me putting down my finger. And so it’s like, wait, if that’s an… I kind of like that sound. What if I just do the same thing I’ve been doing, same exact songs, everything like that, but instead when I play C7, what if I just put one extra finger down, right? It doesn’t require a lot of… You don’t have to think about it too much, right, and then it’s really rewarding because now we have…

Okay here’s the first version without that finger down, right? Works, sounds nice. That’s nice, right? See the job’s already done. But let’s put that finger down here what it sounds like. Like that’s a… it’s a – granted small – kind of a nice little change there. And this, of course, extends to other things so that’s four diff – well, five, actually – excuse me I can count. Five different sounds that work really good on C7. So there. I mean, that’s all one chord and just like moving around one chord, adding one extra finger and, you know, um can be really fun to explore, you know. In between every two points of anything, right, there’s a whole universe in between there, you know. And so use that same uh perspective right when you’re like working on chords. Like, you know, maybe not the whole song, but maybe just one chord. So yeah. Don’t be afraid to put those fingers down.

BB: There’s so much hidden in what people already know.

NC: Yes.

BB: With music and everything.

NC: Yes.

BB: Especially with music because that’s what we’re trying to convey here, is that, you know, is that just adding a finger, you’re not gonna break anything.

NC: Yeah. Exactly. That’s one of the things… I mean, like, you know, chances are you’re not gonna hurt yourself, you know. I mean maybe you put try to play it think something with your nose, you try to do one of the Benny Chong chords, you know, maybe handle with care, but for the most part, hey, you ain’t gonna do nothing wrong, you know. And if it is, then just don’t do it again.

BB: And you have to do those things wrong to know not to do them again.

NC: Yes. 100% Know with a capital K.

BB: Nice. Well why don’t you tell people where they can find you if they’re interested in maybe jumping on some lessons or checking out your live stream or just some of your music. You have recorded… I have at least one album, I mean, I think you have several.

NC: Yeah so um I post most of my updates and what not just right on my website. That’s just nealchin.com. N-e-a-l, might I add. Yeah I’ll post up most of my stuff up there where you can find links to my music and whatnot, the live streams that happen every Monday morning at 10 o’clock on Youtube, and of course, you can actually purchase both of the records, uh two of the records that I produce. These are um, you know, uh my ukulele records. My solo ukulele records that I’ve done. And there’s some of the other collaborations that I’ve done in the past that are listed there that you can find. But um all of my music is definitely up on Spotify and whatnot and most streaming platforms, though, you know, I’m sure you can relate, Brad, but, you know, we definitely love it when you buy that record from our website too. Supporting an artist that way is uh is great too. So if you are interested in having a digital copy of it, you know, you can go on my website or um email me if you want that physical thing and we can work it out. And uh, what was the other one? No, I think that’s about it, yeah.

BB: Lessons.

NC: Lessons. Thank you. Actually there’s information on lessons up on my website as well. Just go ahead and send me an email. I have to admit that I’m actually fully booked up right now so I do have a small wait list that I’d be more than happy to place you on if you are interested in lessons. I’ve had a handful of people kind of asking me to do group classes and uh maybe if I can get my stuff together I would be more than happy to do that and if I do end up doing group classes in the near future, same place nealchin.com is the best place to go check it out.

BB: Nice. Well they’ve heard the truth. They know where to seek you and why to seek you. Because he’s a great instructor and a great player and thank you so much for joining me today, Neal.

NC: Ah, it’s my absolute pleasure, man. I hope that we can do this in person one day soon and like jam too. Cause like that was a one of my only regrets when you were up here for Folklife is like, we didn’t get to, like, play music at all. I only got to listen to you play which, I mean, was awesome, but I was like, “Oh man, I want to play with you, brah!” So hopefully…

BB: That was kind of a busy day…

NC: Oh yeah. It was a nuts day. That’s true.

BB: Well, one of these years soon.

NC: One of these years soon!

BB: We’ll have to link back up.

NC: Sounds great, man. Sounds great.

BB: All right. Well thanks for talking story with me and yeah if you want to find out more, check out nealchin.com.

NC: All right. Thanks folks, Thanks Brad.

BB: I’ll be back December 19th with the next episode of the Live ukulele Podcast. I’ll try and come up with something holiday themed to talk about, though I don’t know what that might be as far as ukulele goes. But we’ll find something cool.

If you’re interested, there’s now t-shirts available on the Live Ukulele store. Go to the website and click on ”store” in the upper menu and you can find a page with a couple designs that you can check out. I’ve got a few that came in a couple weeks ago. Been wearing them on and off. My dad’s actually been rocking his a lot so it must be some kind of cool.

Thanks for tuning in. Thanks again to Neal Chin. You can check him out on nealchin.com. That’s n-e-a-l. And I’ll catch you in the next episode. Have a great December. See you soon. Aloha.

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brad bordessa avatar About the author: Brad Bordessa I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from an off-grid cabin in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me