Uke virtuosos catapults to international fame
March 24, 2010 | 09:59 AM
Next Gig: Saturday, March 27, 7:30pm, Castle Theater, MACC, 242-7469 or mauiarts.org
Essential Tracks: "Bach Two-Part Invention No.4 in D Minor," "Five Dollars Unleaded," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," off Live (2009)
As fast as his fingers take to the frets, Honolulu's Jake Shimabukuro—the "Hendrix of the ukulele"—has become an international darling. Flashing grins that are naught but authentic, both as he plays and as he speaks with genuine humility, his talent and true Aloha spirit have garnered the adoration of fans and willing interest of media folk.
"I discovered that not only was he a player, but also a gracious, humble young man—attributes not often found in people with that much talent," Jimmy Buffet told the Music Player Network. Buffet sought out Shimabukuro (though "these days I don't usually go looking for talent—we have plenty in our own band"), inviting him on tour on a "hunch."
"At the end of soundcheck, Jake got a round of applause from my band. That is a tough thing to achieve from a group of veteran players, but we all sensed that Jake was special," said Buffet.
Special indeed. It's his uncommon use of Hawaii's hallmark instrument that has ushered him into music's upper echelon. Changing the way the world (and even we here at home) perceive this diminutive, understated, two-octave, hollow-bodied string instrument, Shimabukuro channels an array of genres from rock to bluegrass to flamenco, masterfully interpreting sound in ways that were once not attempted—or perceived as possible—on the uke.
In an online interview produced by CNN—made after this year's TED conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design) where Shimabukuro performed, and after which even @BillGates Tweeted "Amazing ukulele performance w/standing ovation"—Shimabukuro explained how the ukulele's limited range of notes is something he's embraced. He said it's shaped his philosophy of the instrument and his approach to music as a whole.
"Your lowest note is Middle C on the piano," he explained. "So everything from Middle C and above, your brain doesn't hear as a note that's functioning as a bass." That means, he said, that the ukulele "falls more into the range of a child's voice, or children laughing."
Like the instrument he wields, Shimabukuro's sugar-sweet candidness is fresh and endearing. He also aims his talent toward altruistic ends, with his involvement as spokesman for the nonprofit organization Music is Good Medicine (musicisgoodmedicine.org), whose mission is "to use the power of music to heal, influence and inspire people to improve our community, maintain a healthy lifestyle and pursue their dreams with a positive attitude."
Shimabukuro is also generous with his knowledge. Instead of hording his self-honed technique, he frequently passes along strumming styles or chord theory via Internet clips and Twitter, and even produced an instructional DVD titled Play Loud Ukulele.
Nearly every recent report of Shimabukuro refers back to a short YouTube video produced by UkuleleDisco.com, which, as of this writing, had nearly 5 million views. The clip shows Shimabukuro perched casually on a stone, playing his acoustic Kamaka, ripping a rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The video is credited with catapulting him to beyond-808 fame. And, while it may not replace the word "Guitar" with "Uke" in the title of George Harrison's seminal ballad, it puts Hawaii's favored instrument in the conversation.
Check out the YouTube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puSkP3uym5k
Two Mauians who are also spreading the power of the ukulele…
Neal Chin, Who I Am (2008)
Derick Sebastian, From His Heart (2009)
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