The term “elite” has been hijacked by the lunar right to have pejorative connotations in all areas except sport, when obviously excellence should be celebrated in all its guises. Take Azo Bell, who represents the pinnacle of ukulele playing in Australia. This century has seen an explosion of interest in the miniature instrument, mostly among massed amateurs revelling in the sheer joy of collective music-making, but Bell takes the baby device and plucks high art from it.
While some others shoot for ever more improbable virtuosity, he is committed to the power, truth and beauty of music, not to idle displays. Immediately striking is the roundness of his tone on an instrument that routinely sounds thin and jangly. Then there’s the breadth of his repertoire: from Tennessee Waltz to Human Nature and on to Lily Marlene, all rendered with due reverence for their melodies, alongside a high-calibre improviser’s ability to extrapolate spontaneous invention. He plays both acoustic and electric models, and is equally adept at making them laugh or cry. Elite work, indeed.