Friday, November 20, 2015 at 10:00pm* on PBS

The Kamaka family plays together

Four generations of luthiers preserve the Hawaiian heritage craft of making extraordinary ukuleles at Kamaka Hawaii, Inc. (Honolulu, HI). World renowned for their outstanding tonal characteristics, these instruments are collected and played by the finest ukulele musicians in the world including ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. At the age of four, Jake started playing the ukulele, quickly developing a unique fast and complex finger style. In 2006, his version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral on YouTube. He travels the world year-round performing at sold out concerts and his albums have won high praise and top music awards.

Scotty Barnhart, Director of the Count Basie Orchestra. Stephen Butler photograph

Now in their 30th year of inventing, designing and hand-crafting custom brass instruments and mouthpieces, the David G. Monette Corporation (Portland, OR) has developed a holistic philosophy taking into account the player, the instrument, the performance space and the audience as a complete communication system. Monette’s revolutionary “constant-pitch-center” mouthpiece allows the trumpet to be played from soft to loud without the pitch changing as in traditional instruments and Monette’s state-of-the-art, no-tension alignment creates an instrument so easy to play, it’s like breathing. These instruments are coveted by world renowned musicians like Wynton Marsalis, Charles Schlueter, Maynard Ferguson and jazz great Scotty Barnhart. Barnhart is a trumpeter, composer, educator, author, and after 20 years with The Count Basie Orchestra, was named its Director.

Bluegrass jam session with Darin Lawrence (not pictured), Jeff Vogelgesang, Geoff Stelling, William L. Ellis, Tony Ellis. Mark Markley photograph

Five-string Bluegrass banjos like those made by Stelling Banjo Works (Afton, VA) are designed for power and clarity of sound. Geoff Stelling has spent the past 40 years perfecting his banjos from the wedge-fitted pot assembly up to the pivot-pin tailpiece. The sound of a banjo is unique, he explains, it’s a percussive sound like “a drum with strings vibrating on it.” For renowned composer/musician Tony Ellis (Circleville, OH) who comes out of Bluegrass and Old Time music, a Stelling banjo is his choice. Named a “Pioneer of Bluegrass Music” by the International Bluegrass Music Museum, his experimental compositions have paired the banjo with the harp, pump organ and slide guitar.

Jim Hartel. Mark Markley photograph

In the 17th century, slaves transported from Africa to America began making early banjos based on indigenous African instruments. The banjo has since developed into a versatile instrument used in many styles of music: Bluegrass, Dixieland, Country, and Classical. Among the great banjo builders in the U.S. is James Hartel of Hartel Banjos, (Franklin, NY) maker of authentic minstrel banjos based on designs from 19th century American minstrelsy. Of the many musicians skilled at this instrument is the gifted Grammy-winner Rhiannon Giddens, African American folk music interpreter and revivalist, recently featured in a performance at the White House with a newly released solo album Tomorrow is My Turn.

Joseph Pereira and Jason GinterJoseph Pereira, Principal Timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2007, composer and teacher, has appeared in some of the world’s greatest orchestras and can be heard on numerous recordings and soundtracks to major motion pictures. Working closely with timpani mallet maker Jason Ginter of JGpercussion, together they create a broad range of timpani sounds and colors for the complex, expressive music performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Joan Baez with her Martin Guitar

Joan Baez, musician and political activist, often performs with only a guitar to accompany her clear strong voice, her Martin guitar. Since the landmark 1959 Newport Folk Festival, Baez has been at the forefront of and witness to significant social changes in the history of this country. Her favorite guitar is a C.F. Martin vintage 0-45, made by the Martin Guitar Company (Nazareth, PA), which for 6 generations since the 1830s, has been family run, continuously producing acoustic instruments preferred by worldclass musicians.


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Photos courtesy of Mark Markley, Stephen Butler.

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