News and Events
Center for the Arts Presents Ukelele Sensation Jake Shimabukuro
Center for the Arts will present performance by ukulele sensation Jake Shimabukuro at Smothers Theatre, Malibu, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4.
It is rare for a young musician to earn comparisons to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. It is even harder to find an artist who has entirely redefined an instrument by his early 30s. But Jake Shimabukuro (she-ma-boo-koo-row) has already accomplished these feats, and more, in a little over a decade of playing and recording music—on the ukulele.
In the hands of Shimabukuro, the traditional Hawaiian instrument of four strings and two octaves is stretched and molded into a complex and bold new musical force. On his most recent album, Peace Love Ukulele, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard World Album Chart, Shimabukuro and his "uke" effortlessly (it seems) mix jazz, rock, classical, traditional Hawaiian, and folk, creating a sound that is both technically masterful and emotionally powerful...and utterly unique in the music world.
The New York Times recently noted his "buoyant musicianship" and "brisk proficiency," adding, "the innovation in his style stems from an embrace of restrictions: the ukulele has only four strings and a limited range. He compensates with an adaptable combination of rhythmic strumming, classical-style finger-picking, and fretboard tapping." Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who recently released his own album of ukulele songs, had this to say about Shimabukuro: "Jake is taking the instrument to a place that I can't see anybody else catching up with him."
For Shimabukuro, his life has always centered on the ukulele. He started playing the instrument at the age of 4, at the urging of his mother (who also played). "Everyone plays in Hawaii," he says. "But I became obsessed with it."
Originally raised on traditional Hawaiian music, Shimabukuro soon became entranced by the sounds of Top 40 and rock. "I'd turn on the radio and try to play along to pop tunes," he remembers.
Shimabukuro began his music career in earnest performing at local Honolulu venues and coffee shops. "I loved playing in those intimate coffee shops and was very happy," he says. "But when Sony Music Japan showed interest in signing me, I realized that maybe I had a chance to take it a bit further." Although a few well-received album releases helped the musician earn some fame in Hawaii, his career really skyrocketed when a YouTube clip of him performing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in Central Park went viral—over eight million views and counting.
The clip certainly broadened Shimabukuro's audience. In the years since that clip aired, Shimabukuro has performed with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Yo-Yo Ma, Cyndi Lauper, Ziggy Marley, Levon Helm, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Les Paul, Dave Koz, Chris Botti, and Jimmy Buffett. He has played on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show with Conan O'Brien, The Today Show, and Last Call with Carson Daly; was a featured artist on NPR's Weekend Edition; and more recently was a featured artist on Rolling Stone Live. He has landed slots on the Monterey and Playboy jazz festivals, performed at the TED conference, and performed in front of the Queen of England in Blackpool (alongside Bette Midler). Shimabukuro also received a cameo in the Adam Sandler movie Just Go with It, in which he also recorded a few songs for the soundtrack.
As his stature grows in the music world, Shimabukuro continues to impress and stretch boundaries with each new release. While all the tracks on Peace Love Ukulele were originally arranged as solo ukulele pieces, he utilizes a full band for the majority of the songs, adding some orchestral touches on songs like "Five Dollars Unleaded" and marching drums on "Go for Broke," a stirring tribute to the Japanese-American soldiers who served in World War II. "So many of those soldiers were from Hawaii," he says. "I wanted to show my appreciation for what they did—as a Japanese American, I have a better life living in this country because of the sacrifices that they made. 'Go for broke' was their motto, which means to risk everything on one great effort to win big."
It also showcases Shimabukuro's lightning-fast skills and dexterity with the ukulele ("Bring Your Adz"), some humor ("143," a title based on a numeric pager code for "I love you"), and a couple of choice covers, including Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," the only solo ukulele performance on the album.
"Covers on the ukulele are hard!" Shimabukuro says. "You can simplify any song, but to actually come up with an arrangement that is respectful to the composer is quite a challenge. With 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' I tried to differentiate the vocal line from the piano line and guitar...It was tough, but really paid off. When I play it live, people usually just shake their head and laugh."
As his career continues to blossom, Shimabukuro is also busy giving back to the island community, using the ukulele as his tool. He is currently the head spokesperson for "Music is Good Medicine," a living healthy community program that tours schools, hospitals, and senior centers around Hawaii. "I share my music with kids, and I tie in the message of living a healthy life and staying drug-free," he says. "I'm trying to share something positive and show how music helped me make good decisions in life. But it doesn't have to be music—just something people can be passionate about."
Despite the success, Shimabukuro remains humble and admittedly "awestruck" by how his love of the uke has propelled him to such great heights. For that, he gives full credit to the instrument he has played with a passion since he was 4. "The ukulele is the instrument of peace," he says. "And if everyone played one, the world would be a better place."
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Center for the Arts Web site.