Viewing music through a wide-angle lens, Paul Hemmings utilizes the unassuming ukulele to fuse together elements of modern jazz, free improvisation, and American roots music into a signature sound that has been called “bold, beautiful, and full of promise.” He has released six albums on Leading Tone Records, including outings with his ukulele-fronted jazz trio and critically acclaimed recordings with saxophonists John Tchicai and Eric Alexander. His proclivity for crossing musical boundaries led All About Jazz to write, “Hemmings’ mixture of cultures, influences, and genres, exploring the edges of harmony and rhythm, is remarkably fresh and a complete success.”
Based in New York City, Paul performs regularly as leader of the dynamic ukulele-bass-drum team he uses to interpret his own original compositions and renditions of modern standards. The group’s latest album, The Blues And The Abstract Uke, focuses on a wide cross-section of American blues music and received a glowing four-star review in the pages of Downbeat. Along with Paul on ukulele, the album features Gaku Takanashi on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, in addition to special guests Greg Tardy on tenor saxophone and Curtis Fowlkes on trombone.
Introducing…The Paul Hemmings Uketet, the trio’s aptly named debut, was released in 2012 and features idiosyncratic renditions of contemporary standards – from Thelonious Monk and Antonio-Carlos Jobim to Bob Marley and The Beatles – along with a handful of Hemmings' original compositions. The album was met with widespread critical acclaim and continues to find airplay on jazz and public radio stations around the country.
Since releasing his first album with The Uketet, Paul has become a familiar face on the burgeoning ukulele festival circuit. With appearances at the Cairns Ukulele Festival in Australia, the New York Ukulele Festival, the Centrum Ukulele Festival in Port Townsend, WA, and many others, Paul has garnered a reputation not only for his compelling performances but also for his accessible workshops. By presenting technically in-depth material in an approachable manner, he has cemented a reputation as the “mad professor” of ukulele instruction. Paul is currently toiling away on a series of books and video tutorials for ukulele players of all stripes.
Playing the part of music educator is a role that Paul has been enjoying for well over a decade. Since 2001, he has been teaching at the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York City, the nation’s oldest community music school, in addition to teaching classes at Marymount Manhattan College, the National Guitar Workshop, the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, and the California Coast Music Camp. Paul also holds a degree from the acclaimed Jazz Performance program at the New School University in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Before focusing his attention on the ukulele, Paul started his professional musical life as a jazz guitar player. On 2003’s In & Out, Paul’s first album on Leading Tone Records, his trio, joined on several tracks by the robust tenor saxophone of Eric Alexander, received praise from Cadence magazine for their “superb renditions” of jazz standards and original compositions.
His second release in 2006 was a marked departure: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Live!) captured the seamless stream-of-consciousness concert in which Paul and his trio performed their highly original reinterpretation of the classic Beatles album. The gritty lo-fi recording documents Paul digging deep into his bag of effects pedals in addition to performing on electric guitar, Cuban tres and, for the first time, the tenor ukulele he’d picked up on a trip to Maui earlier that year.
Then in 2007, Hemmings teamed up with avant-garde saxophone pioneer John Tchicai for the genre-blending Letter From America. The album was praised in the pages of Jazz Times and other notable jazz journals and was named “one of the year’s best albums” by the Los Angeles edition of All About Jazz.
But by this time, the proverbial writing was on the wall and Paul was spending most of his time focusing on the beguiling ukulele he’d brought home with him from Hawaii. “I love that bright, organic, warm, and focused sound you can get out of a good ukulele,” he told an interviewer in 2013, “and that has everything to do with why I’ve chosen to focus my music around it recently. I also feel like the instrument’s limited range has forced me to be more creative in terms of doing more with less, which I think has helped me get closer to the elusive goal of finding my own sound.”