Person of the Week
Jim Beloff: A Look Inside a Life with Ukuleles
Clinton’s Jim Beloff used some of the time freed up by the pandemic to pen UKEtopia!: Adventures in the Ukulele World. (Photo courtesy of Jim Beloff)
UKEtopia!: Adventures in the Ukulele World is a new book released this week by Jim Beloff. From finding a calling in the ukulele world to jamming with George Harrison, Jim has quite a story to tell.
Jim chats with the Harbor News ahead of his book’s opening and notes that J. Horton gift store at 690 Boston Post Road in Madison will host a book launch party on Thursday, Dec. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. with drinks, food, and, of course, copies of UKEtopia!, which can be purchased and signed by the author.
The book tells the story of Jim and his wife Liz’s journey of re-popularizing the ukulele. Jim and Liz both co-own Flea Market Music, Inc., a publishing company established in 1992 that specializes in the “Jumpin’ Jim Series” of song books for the ukulele, the one of the first and only songbooks dedicated to the instrument. UKEtopia! tells stories of how Jim got his start in the ukulele world and how he was able to work with celebrities such as George Harrison, Bette Midler, Sam Neill, William H. Macy, and Eddie Vedder.
“All the writing took place over about three months. If you can call it a silver lining of 2020, I was able to do it all over the last quarter of that year,” explains Jim.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to just be able to tell the story,” Jim adds, noting how satisfying it is to have all the stories in one place.
“As for the hardest part of writing, you want to make sure you dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Make sure all your facts are correct and how you remember it,” says Jim. “I also benefited from having an editor I’ve known for 30 years,” Jim adds with a laugh.
January 2022 will mark 30 years since Jim first picked up a ukulele, an event that start by chance.
“Then I stumbled on a uke at a flea market at the Rose Bowl in California and it completely changed our lives,” says Jim.
Jim, who had played guitar for years, was working for Billboard magazine at the time and Liz was working on trailers for movies so though both knew the entertainment field, the ukulele was a mystery.
“The guitar was still the most popular instrument for young people. I was completely charmed by how fun” the ukulele was, Jim recalls. “I found it to be the perfect complement for the songs I wanted to write.”
As an added benefit, Jim says at that time he was traveling for work and given the small size of the instrument it was easy to transport it on trips with him.
As Jim and Liz fell more in love with the instrument, they found there wasn’t a ton of material out there for other enthusiasts given that the instrument wasn’t very popular. Eventually Jim says he convinced a publisher to let them publish a songbook for the instrument.
“It did much better than anyone expected,” says Jim.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“We’ve published over 30 songbooks and have over a million copies in print,” says Jim.
Over the years Jim has had the chance to meet and work with several prominent celebrities due to his expertise in the uke field, but one encounter stands out above the rest.
“The best one is the time where George Harrison came to the house and we played together one afternoon,” recounts Jim.
It turned out that Harrison had been a fan of the ukulele and given his friends copies of one of Jim’s songbooks as a gift. One day Harrison was visiting friends in Los Angeles and the friend suggested they look up Jim and Liz. Next thing anyone knew, the crew came to the house to play ukulele together.
“It was amazing having a Beatle in the house for the afternoon. Nothing can top that,” Jim says.
Asked what he likes most about the ukulele, Jim points to the ease that anyone can play one.
“It’s an informal instrument. It can definitely be taken to the extremes, but by and large a wide variety of people of all stages of life can play it,” says Jim.
In fact, Jim says there are now ukulele clubs for adults which can actually have real health benefits.
“It’s been shown that playing an instrument is very good for keeping the brain healthy for older people,” says Jim.
“To be a part of seeing people come together from all different backgrounds to play this music has been especially satisfying,” says Jim.
When not working with his ukuleles, Jim is also well known around Clinton for helping with the George Flynn Classical Concerts series, a rare opportunity to hear world-class music for free in Clinton. Thanks to a trust established by Clinton resident George Flynn in the early 1990s, the series provides for premiere musicians to conduct shows at The Morgan School or Town Hall at no cost.
“To be a part of giving people lg the shoreline the chance to see these shows is great,” said Jim.
Jim grew up in Meriden but has called Clinton home for about 15 years.
“We love the location of Clinton. We love that It’s in the center of a group of thoroughly charming small towns,” says Jim.