Jake Shimabukuro

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Jake Shimabukuro changes perception of ukulele with 5 million youtube views

:: Jake Shimabukuro ::
:: Colorado Music Festival at  Chautauqua Auditorium :: June 29 ::

By Karen Maye

Some people may be quick to dismiss the ukulele as a novelty instrument — an accessory for grass skirts and coconut-shell tops. But world renowned ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro is on a mission to change that image.

Shimabukuro uses the instrument in a new and unique way to explore every possible music genre, not limited to classical, blues, funk, jazz, bluegrass, flamenco, folk, and rock. Through his work, he is creating a new image of a solo instrumental ukulele musician.

Born in Kaimuki, Hawaii, Shimabukuro began playing the ukulele at the age of four. His mother was his first teacher, igniting his passion for learning and experiencing new things. At the age of seven he began studying at the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studio. By his late teens he was playing in coffee shops around the island. At the end of 2002 he was signed by Sony Music Japan International as the label’s first ukulele artist, and released his debut album Sunday Morning.

Ironically, it wasn’t his signing or his album that thrust him into international fame, however. In 2005, a casual video of Shimabukuro playing his version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at Strawberry Fields in Central Park was posted on YouTube, and to date the video has had more than 5 million views. Prior to the YouTube video, Shimabukuro was mostly just known throughout the local music circles in Hawaii.

“It’s so great that artists like myself have an avenue [like the internet]to promote ourselves where people have access to what we do,” Jake Shimabukuro told The Marquee in a recent interview. “It’s great to have that entire library at your fingertips … and it’s right there, all this inspiration,” he said.

In 2006, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” became the title track of his fifth and best-selling album, containing a wide range of diverse music, from Chick Corea’s “Spain” to Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

Shimabukuro’s humble beginnings of playing in coffee shops blossomed into sharing the stage with artists such as Bela Fleck, Ziggy Marley, and Yo-Yo Ma. He is a semi-regular member of Jimmy Buffet’s Coral Reefers Band, and is the spokesman for Hawaii Tourism Japan.

In December, 2009, Shimabukuro performed with Bette Midler, playing The Beatles classic “In My Life” for the Queen of England at the Royal Variety Performance Show. The annual concert was a benefit for the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund at the Opera Theatre in Blackpool, England.

“That was extraordinary. I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” Shimabukuro said. “Just being able to shake her hand and actually exchange a few words with her was something I’ll never forget.”

Shimabukuro’s latest album Live was released in April, 2009 and contains 17 of the “best of the best” of his live playing. Twelve of the songs are Shimabukuro originals and five are covers, including “Thriller” and J.S. Bach’s “Two-Part Invention No. 4 in D Minor.” In 2009, he also released a two-song mini-EP, Annon (which means “may peace and tranquility prevail throughout the world”). It was Shimabukuro’s composition for The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. The EP was recorded for the 750th Memorial Service of Shin Buddhism founder Shinran Shonin, and to coincide with the Mission’s 120th anniversary of the establishment of 35 temples.

Currently, Shimabukuro is working on his first studio album since 2006.

“It’s mainly original tunes,” Shimabukuro said about the yet-unreleased album. “This is actually my very first recording on an independent label. I have a song on there called ‘Go For Broke’ that I wrote in honor of the Nisei [second generation]Japanese American veterans from World War II. I did a couple of covers on this one, too. There is a cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that I was pretty excited about,” he said.

With the rest of his free time, Shimabukuro is keeping busy exploring the possibilities in film, both on and off screen.

“I recently had a little cameo in an Adam Sandler film that’s going to be coming out and that was pretty exciting ’cause I’m a huge, huge fan,” Shimabukuro said. “But if you blink you’ll miss me.”

In 2007, Shimabukuro scored the Japanese independent film Hula Girls and more recently took part in documentary filmmaker Mike Lawrence’s Bach and Friends DVD project.

“Just the last few years now, I’ve been able to do some film scoring and that was awesome,” he said.  “They are all different. They are very challenging.”

But at the heart of his schedule is touring, and while some musicians hate being on the road, he said it’s a dream come true that he never wants to take for granted. “I love it,” Shimabukuro said.  “For me, it’s like my college education — being able to travel and learn new things, experience new cultures.  It inspires me to write and exposes me to new ideas, new sounds, new colors. You definitely want to have new experiences all the time.”

:: Jake Shimabukuro ::

:: Colorado Music Festival at Chautauqua Auditorium :: June 29 ::

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