Artist Spotlight: Jake Shimabukuro

It’s rare for a young musician to earn comparisons with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. It’s even rarer to find an artist who has entirely redefined an instrument by his early 30s. But Jake Shimabukuro has already accomplished these feats, and more, in a little over a decade of playing and recording music on the ukulele.

In the energetic hands of Shimabukuro, the traditional Hawaiian instrument of four strings and two octaves is stretched and molded into a complex and bold musical force. On his most recent album “Peace Love Ukulele” (which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard World Album Chart), Jake and his “uke” effortlessly mix jazz, rock, classical, traditional Hawaiian music and folk, creating a sound that’s both technically masterful and emotionally powerful—and utterly unique in the music world.

Jake Shimabukuro is a ukulele virtuoso whose covers and original works make a niche musical genre show universally loved. Expect him to coax unexpectedly complex rhythms, moods and harmonies out of his instrument’s two-octave range during his performance at the Rialto Theater in Tacoma on January 20, 2012. broadwaycenter.org

What do you hope people take away from your music?
I hope listeners experience the same joy that I’m experiencing while strumming the ukulele. The ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to play. Anyone can pick it up for the first time, learn a couple chords and immediately start strumming songs. It’s so relaxing. I always tell people that playing the ukulele is like an entire yoga session in one strum.

When did you first pick up the ukulele?
I first picked up the ukulele at the age of 4. My mom played and taught me my first few chords. I started out strumming mainly traditional Hawaiian music as a child. But later, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to play other styles of music like rock, jazz and classical.

After taking on covers of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” are there any other songs or artists you’d consider covering?
I love covering tunes that were written or performed by my favorite artists. Covering a song of your favorite artist is like wearing your favorite basketball player’s jersey.

Who inspires your musical style?
Growing up, I loved Bruce Lee’s philosophy and applied a lot of his ideas to my approach in music. For example, Lee embraced all forms of martial arts and didn’t believe in having just one style. I love all forms of music and try not to get locked into one genre. Bill Cosby inspired me to be a solo performer. Cosby could simply sit in a chair with a microphone, tell stories and bring joy to millions.

What do you hope to accomplish with “Peace Love Ukulele”?
I believe the ukulele is the instrument of peace. If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.

jakeshimabukuro.com

LEAH GROUT