by Jim Bea Sampaga
A musician with a passion for ukulele, Abe Lagrimas, Jr. is a Filipino American solo ukulele artist who just released his album titled “Beyond Words” last month.
As a composer, educator and multi-instrumentalist, Lagrimas usually has a very busy schedule of gigging, teaching and touring the world. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the free time he had helped him focus on album creation.
“I suddenly had a lot of time for myself and a lot of good things came out of it. I began practicing regularly, actively listening to more music, and spent more time composing,” he shared.
“I wrote enough material and felt that it would be a fun project to work towards making an album.”
“Beyond Words” is Lagrimas’ eighth solo album which features eight instrumental songs of his original composition.
“When it came to writing songs, which are all instrumental, I tried to write music that had a strong sense of melody, conveyed varying moods and feelings while containing elements in the music that would be interesting for the listener.”
Lagrimas admitted that the album’s recording process was quite different due to the pandemic. Every instrument was recorded separately and then put together in a studio.
Not being able to collaborate was the biggest challenge of creating an album in a time that gatherings are not allowed.
“I’d say the biggest challenge was not being able to hear this music before until it’s finally put together in the end. I wasn’t able to rehearse the music so when I was writing, I had to really think and imagine how I wanted the final product to sound, then do my best to achieve it. Luckily, my musical colleagues are world-class professionals and did an outstanding job interpreting my songs and bringing them to life,” Lagrimas said.
“Everything was done at our own modest home recording setups. I started writing the music in July and everything was finished in February, just in time for a birthday album release on March 23, 2021.”
Finding His Love for Music
Born in Guam and raised in Hawaii, Lagrimas grew up in Waipahu and is a proud Waipahu High School graduate. His parents were originally from Bicol, Philippines. When his father joined the U.S. Navy in the 80s, they moved to Hawaii to settle for good.
Being surrounded by a family of musicians, the 15-year veteran player started playing the drums at the age of four. When Lagrimas was in high school, the thought of becoming a professional musician came to life.
“As a high school student, I started meeting and working with some of Hawaii’s top jazz musicians like Gabe Baltazar, Betty Loo Taylor, Jimmy Borges, and Melveen Leed. Musician extraordinaire Noel Okimoto also had a lot to do with my musical upbringing and was an important mentor to me,” 38-year-old Lagrimas shared.
“Being around that at such a young age is probably what led me to pursue a career in music.”
Mentored by Hawaii’s jazz musicians, he then studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to start his music career.
“I had to be in a much more thriving and competitive scene so LA seemed like a logical choice,” he said.
Being A Musician
Lagrimas became “primarily known in the industry as a jazz drummer and vibraphonist, yet has a thriving career as an ukulele player,” according to his profile on Fender Play series, where he is an instructor. With that being said, Lagrimas is also called a jazz ukulele artist.
“I picked up the ukulele while I was attending Berklee College of Music. At the time, I was fully immersed in jazz and so it was natural to approach the ukulele as a jazz instrument,” he explained as he notes that he wouldn’t really say that he specializes in jazz ukulele.
“I really like to play all sorts of things on the ukulele, but it is what most people in the ukulele circles know me as,” he added.
Jazz ukulele sounds like a new genre to most people but for Lagrimas, jazz ukulele is nothing new.
The genre has been around for many years. Incorporating ukulele into jazz music has been popular especially from the 50s to the 70s. Lyle Ritz, Ohta-san and Benny Chong are just some of the musicians who are known for their jazz ukulele music.
“Benny Chong continues to be a force when it comes to jazz ukulele and still plays regularly around town. Neal Chin, another Hawaii musician who is based out of Seattle is also doing some great things in the jazz ukulele department,” he shared.
Regardless of what style his music is, Lagrimas said: “whether it’s pop cover, my original music or jazz standards, I strive to always put 100% of myself out there.”
As a proud Filipino American musician, he is thankful for the support and encourages fellow Filipino Americans to be proud of their roots.
“Thank you for all of your support through the years in helping and inspiring me to get to where I am today,” Lagrimas said. “Be proud of your ancestry and learn about the history of the Philippines. Take a trip to the Philippines at least once in your adult life to learn and experience the motherland.”
Abe Lagrimas Jr.’s “Beyond Words” is out now on Spotify. To learn more about his music, visit his website at abelagrimasjr.com. Follow him on Instagram @abelagrimasjr and Facebook at fb.com/abelagrimasjrmusic.