Jake Shimabukuro is just about the perfect person to have as the unofficial goodwill ambassador for the ukulele and maybe even for his native Hawaii.
There's something about him that just exudes positivity, humility and passion. His ukulele playing is effortlessly virtuosic and his attitude is one of constant improvement and constant searching. It’s inspiring for people who aren’t just looking to play the ukulele but any instrument.
Shimabukuro (pronounced Shima-bo-kuro) is a positive role model who doesn’t take his gifts, his development, his success or his roots for granted. His isn’t the story of the tragic, self-absorbed or self-destructive genius; it’s the one of the young boy who fell in love with the musical instrument his mother, Carol, gave him at age 4, as well as its inherent possibilities.
Local audiences will have a chance to see that tale unfold firsthand when Shimabukuro performs with his trio at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace as part of the Guitar Masters series on July 23.
“I really love the ukulele,” Shimabukuro said in a phone interview from Hawaii. “There's something about the instrument that I think kind of brings out the kid in you in some ways — I don't know what it is about it. The lowest note on a ukulele in traditional tuning is the third string, which is middle-C on the piano, so every note on the ukulele is middle-C and above. There are no bass notes or notes that function in the bass register. And because of that, I tell people that — because it is in that upper register — the natural timbre and the tone of the ukulele sounds like kids laughing and talking.”
The ukulele's higher pitch might sometimes suggest childlike whimsy — anyone remember Tiny Tim? — but in the hands of Shimabukuro, it's a formidable instrument, played with flawless technical facility, emotional resonance and dynamic musicality. He makes the ukulele sound like a classical guitar. Can't imagine it? Go check out his powerful, off-the-cuff 2005 performance of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that made him a viral internet star on YouTube (16 million views and counting). Or see him absolutely nail Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," opera section and all. Both of them. On the ukulele.
He's also wisely realized that the best way to expand the scope of an instrument is to retain its center.
“When I first started playing,” Shimabukuro said, “I started out playing just traditional music on the ukulele. But I think, because I started out going that route, people — especially here (in Hawaii) — realized that I always had that respect for the instrument. It’s not like I just picked it up one day and started trying to play rock or blues or something with it. I always admired how (jazz banjoist) Bela Fleck started out as a very traditional bluegrass player. At any point, you throw down any bluegrass standard and he’ll play the heck out of that thing better than anybody else.”
And whether it’s jazz, blues, bluegrass, rock, classical, flamenco, you name it, the 41-year-old Shimabukuro is up to the challenge. That ambition, focused determination and talent has led to an upward career trajectory as well as being the focus of the acclaimed 2012 documentary, “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings," which was released on DVD and aired on PBS and Netflix.
“I was very honored that they wanted to do a story of me,” Shimabukuro said of the filmmakers. “When they first approached me, I told them, ‘Really? Are you sure? I don't know if anybody would be interested in my story.’ They followed me around for about two years, me and my family, and just kind of traveled with me on tour and all that. It was a very positive experience and just such a great process."
"I thought they did a really nice job. My family though, they hated being in front of the cameras all the time. But it's funny, because after a few months you forget the cameras and you just go about during your own thing.”
Shimabukuro’s latest album, out Aug. 31, titled “The Greatest Day," is a collection of six original compositions and six covers. And even though Shimabukuro has often been called the "Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele," he's never actually recorded one of the late guitarist's songs. That streak ends on "The Greatest Day" with Shimabukuro's version of Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9," which also features the famed dobro player Jerry Douglas.
This Monday, whether you enjoy beautiful music, instrumental fireworks, technical precision, or are just looking for a nice, entertaining evening filled with good music played, really, really well: This night's for you. Don't wait, though, as of this writing there were around 100 tickets left and those will be going as fast as Shimabukuro's fingers. Well, not that fast.
"To all the people reading this," Shimabukuro said, "please come down and check out the show. It's always fun, we love it, we have a good time and all we want to do is make people smile by the end of the night."
Guitar Masters presents An Evening With Jake Shimabukuro, 7 p.m. July 23, Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd. $35 (plus fees) at vallitix.com; 328-7560.
One doesn’t watch comedian Pablo Francisco, one survives him. For the duration of his set, Fransisco bounces from one riff to another at breakneck speed; his audience forced to follow his train of thought that oftentimes derails, achieves flight and eventually lands on another set of tracks without missing a beat. His show Thursday at Temblor Brewing Co. shouldn’t be missed by fans of energetic performance-based comedy a la Robin Williams.
Get there early to grab a seat and hang on: Francisco doesn’t just tell jokes. He embodies them. It’s as if the jokes are all actors in his psyche and they are full-on method. He’s very, very funny and just as fearless. The show is 18 and over but not for the easily offended.
Temblor Brewing Co. and Under the Blood Orange Sky present Pablo Francisco, 8 p.m. Thursday, Temblor Brewing Co., 3200 Buck Owens Blvd. $25 (plus fees) at eventbrite.com.
If there’s one facet about our local musical community that has been proven true time and time again, is that when someone from it is in need of help, the rest will swarm into action with compassion and purpose. Regardless of our inherent differences, our inner nobility always wins out.
Loved ones have rallied around Earl Parsons — aka JD Dyslexic, one of the regular rotation disc jockeys during 89.7 KSVG Savage Radio’s brief but glorious run on FM radio. Parsons was struck by a car on July 7 on North Chester near the Longbranch Saloon. The hit-and-run damaged both of his legs, leaving him bedridden and looking at a long road to recovery. (At the time of this writing, the driver of the car has yet to be found.)
His fellow Savage Radio DJ, Kim Arbolante — aka Princess Darkness — along with some other concerned friends are putting together a fundraiser Saturday on Parsons' behalf to help pay for his expenses.
“Oftentimes, with traumatic incidents such as this,” Arbolante said, “the victim is faced not only with medical bills but the reality of no longer being able to maintain gainful employment. In Earl’s case, both of these things are true.”
Along with a barbecue provided by Bako Skate Co. and Henry Brown, entertainment will be provided by Life/Fail and Darkside Deejayz Josex, La Pelona and the Princess herself. The event will be coordinated by All Inclusive Entertainment. $5 donations are suggested for each food plate and each entry, but feel free to donate more. Raffle prizes will also be given out at the event.
BBQ Benefit Show for Earl Parsons, 5 p.m. Saturday, location to be announced Friday on the Facebook event page; attendees encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. For those who can’t make the event, there is a crowdfunding page at the perfectly descriptive link gofundme.com/earl-got-hit-by-a-car.