Virtuoso, rockstar, composer, ambassador, that'll do for a start. All these roles young Jake Shimabukuro shoulders with grace and humor. He's been wowing millions of viewers of his legendary videos on youtube of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," or on "Stars and Stripes Forever" on the Song of America compilation featured in this issue. He's pyrotechnical, incendiary, but his playing will move you in many other ways.
Jake is, arguably, the greatest champion the ukulele has ever had, though there have been other candidates, among them Roy Smeck in the '20s and Hawaiian greats we're not even aware of. And the instrument itself has always been popular in Hawaii or Guam, and in the States has enjoyed great popularity on and off since the '20s, and is currently in a small renaissance. (Harrison himself was a well-known ukulele zealot.) Thanks to Flight of the Conchords' Brett McKenzie, it's allegedly infecting the kiwi youth--hell, just check out the video of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," there's a small revolution afoot.
After several releases in the late '90s with the group Pure Heart and one with the group Colon, Jake embarked on a solo journey, and has released five CDs of his own. He sometimes will use various effects pedals for distortion and delay etc., and masterfully turn the uke into something much bigger, but this reader's favorite material is when he plays not only clean, but as close to solo as possible. Because it's what one person can do on that tiny instrument that is So amazing.
And Jake's latest EP, My Life, is all that. Stunning. And he plays with irrepressible joy, humor, and something unusual: goodwill. As spokesman for Hawaii Tourism Japan, he has become so well known and respected that in 2006 he was appointed as the 160th Okinawa-Uchina Ambassador at the Okinawan State House.
We hope to speak with him this week and will bring you that interview in a future issue. But your place needs some beautiful ukulele music, right? Here's your man.