Ukelele moving up the charts among music aficionados

By Chelsea Martin

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zxfgAn appalling thought it is to imagine a world
without music. While some may argue that
we’d be better off without the distractions
music can create, most defend it and spend their lives
submerged in beautifully and precisely constructed
sounds that waft through the air.
Jon Paul Escobedo and Merri Lewter, longtime
owners of The Music Store, are enthusiasts who
share the same passion for educating and sharing
music with all who wish to partake. Their longestablished
venue, known as The Music Store
(formerly Gerber Music), has been an incredible and
rewarding undertaking for the two partners since
they purchased the store in 1993.
The once 2,000-square-foot, three-teachingroom
music hall has grown into a 4,000-square- foot
mega-store, housing 11 teaching studios with 24
exceptionally versed instructors. All are musicians, in
one form or another.
“This store is really based on serving families.
Any time anyone comes in and wants to find out
whether it’s new (sheet music) for themselves, their
child, a loved one or a friend, we will sit down with
them and talk with them.
“All we want to do is help them find the right
answer for their needs,” Escobedo said. “At other
places there can be a whole lot of moving around
with a serious lack of interaction with the customers.
Here, it’s not like that.”
The two share the same vision.
“We are all about music education and bringing
people to music,” Lewter said. “Wherever they are,
whatever level, we want to bring them in for the first
time—and certainly bring them back.”
A recent trend that The Music Store has grown
fond of is the ukulele.
For the past year and a half, the couple host
a once-a-month “jam night” free and open to the
“A couple of years ago, we had
a salesperson who walked in with
ukuleles, and it was around the time
when Jake Shimabukuro was really
big,” Lewter said. “So we decided that
it was something we wanted to do and
within about six months from selling
them, we decided to host a jam night to
see if we could get people to come out
and try new ukuleles and have a chance
to try some new music.
“It’s great because a lot of people
don’t want to buy an instrument until
they hold it in their hands and try it
out. Then they can decide, hey, this is
for me, or no, this isn’t.”
After the first session was deemed
a success, the two mapped out an
entire year’s schedule. This year’s fresh
line-up is led by two multi-talented,
bright instructors. Byron Lipkins, a
former band director, is also a private
drum and bass instructor for the store.
He also works as an electric bassist and
blue grass bassist. Neil Bunker mainly
plays trombone, guitar and keyboard.
“We have a regular group that
comes every time,” Lewter said. “But
over the course of time it definitely
ebbs and flows. One time 10 people will
be there; another month as many as 35
will show up.”
Ukuleles have no age restriction.
“We’ve met lots of middle-school
and high-school kids that enjoy
playing,” Lewter said. “We noticed that
a lot of singers that are looking to start
something fresh and fun, the ukulele
is perfect for them. It’s been a very
entertaining thing to watch the variety
of people. I just love to see the new
people come in who have never played
before, and it’s all very exciting.”
The jam nights are something you
don’t want to miss, Escobedo points
“I really enjoy having nice
conversations with people about how
ukulele inspires them,” Escobedo
said. “After most ukulele jam nights
or a week afterwards, someone will
come in and say, ‘You know, we had
a really great time at the jam night
and I’d really like to get something.’
I can spend a half an hour with them
and tailor-fit the right one for all their
needs. It’s what I enjoy most.”
The jam nights leave everyone in a
good place, Lewter says.
“Nobody is unhappy when they
come in the for the ukulele jam night,”
she said. “They’ve all got smiles on
their faces and they’re having a good
time, and that, right there, is the whole
Added Escobedo:
“Like ice cream, playing ukulele
is one of the things in life that you just
have to try, and smile.”
The next ukulele jam session will
be Monday, March 24, at The Music
Store from 6-7:15.
For the complete schedule go to
There is also private instruction
available for ukulele and many other
Information: 480-831-9691. The
Music Store is at 2630 W. Baseline
Road, Mesa, just east of the Price/101



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