Jake Shimabukuro can still vividly remember the first time he held an ukulele, at age four. It was an encounter that would shape his destiny and give the world one of the most exceptional and innovative uke players in the history of the instrument—an artist who has drawn comparisons to musical titans such as Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis.
“My mom played, and I kept bugging her to teach me,” he recalls. “So one day we sat down on the floor and she put her old Kamaka ukulele in my hands. I remember being so nervous. Then she showed me how to strum the strings and taught me my first chord. I fell in love with the ukulele immediately. From that day on, you had to pry the instrument away from me in order to get me to do anything else.”
As a member of the group Pure Heart, Shimabukuro became a local phenomenon. From Hawai’i, his fame next spread to Japan. He was signed to Epic Records (Sony/Japan) in 2001 as a solo artist. It was the start of what would become a deep catalog of solo albums, noted for their dazzling fretwork, ambitious repertoire and wistful melodicism. And in 2005, Shimabukuro became an international phenomenon when a video of him performing the George Harrison song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral on YouTube.
By adapting a guitar hero anthem for the ukulele, Shimabukuro made a significant statement: The ukulele, with its humble four strings and modest two-octave range, is an instrument limited only by the imagination and creativity of the person playing it. Along with his own original compositions, Jake became noted for his solo uke arrangements of such varied pieces as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Shimabukuro’s busy touring schedule—140 dates a year—is complemented by a rich and varied catalog of albums that capture the many moods of the uke. His most recent CD, Nashville Sessions, is one of his most adventurous, multifaceted and engaging records to date, blending elements of jazz virtuosity with heartfelt melodicism.
A husband and father of two, Jake balances his stellar career with family life and community service. He travels to schools around the world spreading positive messages to young people, encouraging them to live drug-free and find their passion—just as he did at age four when his mother gave him his first ukulele lesson. In the time since then, he has played a key role in the current revival of interest in the ukulele.
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