Finger pickin’ good

With a repertoire that seems boundless, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro plays it all – from jazz, blues, rock and funk, to classical, bluegrass, flamenco and Japanese folk, masterfully interpreting material as varied as a Nicolo Paganini’s “Caprice,” to Chick Corea’s jazz classic “Spain.”

So when it came time to record his latest album, “Grand Ukulele,” Jake decided to expand his horizons by teaming with legendary producer Alan Parsons, who he says, “really pushed me in the studio to play beyond what I thought I could do, or what I felt comfortable doing. He took me out of my comfort zone, especially when I recorded with a 29-piece orchestra.”

An internationally acclaimed audio engineer/producer and recording artist, Parsons is best known working with the Beatles on “Abbey Road,” and Pink Floyd with “Dark Side of The Moon.” He also founded the band, The Alan Parsons Project.

“I never thought I’d be working with someone like Alan Parsons,” Jake marvels. “It was such an education and so inspiring. To see Alan work his magic in the studio was phenomenal. Once in a while he would share stories of when he was recording the Beatles and ‘Abbey Road.’ It was incredible.”

So how did he hook up with Parsons?

“He attended a couple of my shows on the Mainland,” Jake explains. “I did a concert in Santa Barbara and the promoter of the show knew Alan very well. He contacted me and said, ‘I really want you two to talk.’ He came to the sound check and we went out for sushi before the show and he casually mentioned he would be interested in working with me on a recording project. I was like, ‘What, really?’ and that’s how it came about.”

A review in Ultimate Classic Rock noted: “Jake Shimabukuro is well on his way to becoming the first ukulele rock star. The Hawaiian-born performer has released “Grand Ukulele,” produced by legendary rock producer Alan Parsons. It’s a pairing that justifies his nickname, the Jimi Hendrix of ukulele.”

The marvelous album, which topped the Billboard world music chart, finds the uke wizard covering a few well-known songs and delivering a bunch of original instrumentals.

Becoming a YouTube sensation with his interpretation of George Harrison’s “Why My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Jake excels at crafting novel versions of popular songs. The stellar covers on “Grand Ukulele” include a gorgeous, lush arrangement of “Over the Rainbow,” a song popularized by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

“It’s one of my favorite melodies, and of course Israel is one of my favorite musicians,” he explains. “It was really nice to do it with an orchestra. When we were thinking about recording it, Allan dug up a VCR and we watched the ‘Wizard of Oz’ together.”

And then there’s Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and an amazing, solo version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”

“The first time I heard Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep,’ I thought that would be a great tune to play on the ukulele,” he reports.

One of his favorite tracks on the album features a lovely orchestrated version of the Hawaiian classic, “Akaka Falls.”

” ‘Akaka Falls’ is one of my all-time favorite traditional Hawaiian tunes,” he says. “We did it with a string quartet and Alan did the arrangement. That to me is one of the magical tunes on the record. It’s one of my favorite Hawaiian songs since I was a kid, so to record it and hear strings behind it was incredible.”

Among the originals, highlights include the rocking solo “More Ukulele,” where Jake demonstrates his incredible nimbleness on his humble instrument, and “Island Fever Blues,” which artfully merges classical, blues and flamenco influences.

In an unusual step, all the material was recorded live in the studio. “There were no overdubs,” he says. “Playing live with the orchestra I was so nervous, there was so much pressure being in that situation.”

Musicians backing him on the album included acclaimed drummer Simon Phillips, who has played with The Who and Toto. “He’s one of my favorite drummers,” Jake notes. “It was incredible.”

Taught by his mother, Jake began strumming an ukulele at the age of four. After time with Pure Heart and Colon, he began developing a unique instrumental voice.

Attracting the attention of leading artists, he’s toured and recorded with Jimmy Buffett and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones; performed with classical legend Yo Yo Ma on his Grammy-winning CD “Songs of Joy and Peace”; teamed with reggae star Ziggy Marley, playing ukulele on “Love is My Religion”; and last year he was featured playing on the live “Jack Johnson and Friends – Best of Kokua Festival.”

In 2010 he joined Bette Midler performing the Beatles’ “In My Life” before Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Meeting the queen later, she told him, “you play such a beautiful instrument.”

The ukulele virtuoso is the subject of a new documentary, “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings.” Directed by Tadashi Nakamura, the film follows the musician as he tours throughout the U.S. and Japan from arenas to elementary schools, senior centers, and tsunami-ravaged Sendai. Along with the performance footage, the documentary shows him working with kids and spreading the joy of playing his four-stringed uke. Debuting at the Hawaii International Film Festival in October, it will be screened by PBS on May 10.

* Jake Shimabukuro will present a solo performance in the Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $12, $35, and $45, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or online at

Legendary Hawaiian group Olomana performs at 7:30 Friday at the MACC’s pavilion/courtyard.

Initially founded as a duo of Jerry Santos and Robert Beaumont, Olomana captured the islands with their debut album, “Like A Seabird In The Wind.” Subsequent Na Hoku Award-winning recordings cemented their reputation as one of Hawaii’s leading ensembles.

After Beaumont’s death, it reorganized as a quartet with Haunani Apoliona, Wally Suenaga and Willy Paikuli joining Santos. Later solo albums by Apoliona and Santos garnered Hoku Awards, as did the group’s 1992 release “E Mau Ana Ka Ha’aheo – Enduring Pride.” After 40 years, Olomana continues to delight audiences with its beautiful vocal and instrumental artistry.

* Tickets are $30 standard, $45 for premium table seating and $55 for VIP. Tickets are $12, $35, and $45, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or online at

A capacity 5,000-strong audience was treated to a night of exalted music delivered by a master, when Carlos Santana returned to the MACC last Thursday. This riveting, two-and-a-half-hour show, amply demonstrated that few artists who rose to prominence in the 1960s can still match Santana’s passion, enthusiasm and virtuosity.

His 10-piece band was on fire from the moment they opened with the Temptation’s “Cloud Nine.” All phenomenal players, they included longtime bassist/musical director Benny Rietveld (a former Oahu resident, who later toured with Miles Davis); drummer Dennis Chambers (Bill Evans, Stanley Clarke); keyboardist David Matthews (Etta James, Herbie Hancock); and percussionists Karl Perazzo (Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie) and Raul Rekow, who has been an integral part of the Santana Band since 1976.

Heavy on the classics, Santana blazed through the essentials like “Black Magic Woman,” “Jingo,” and “Oye Como Va,” while many more recent hits, from “Maria Maria” to “Foo Foo” and “Smooth,” also repeatedly drew the audience to their feet.

And it was so cool how Carlos would slip in snippets of familiar songs from Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” and the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” to “My Favorite Things” from the “Sound of Music.” Informing that covers were a way of honoring artists, Santana included a jubilant version of Bob Marley’s “Exodus.”

After introducing his drummer wife, Cindy Blackman, Santana sat in on “Corazon Espinado,” enthralling the crowd with a tremendous drum solo. This song also provided an opportunity for Benny Rietveld to solo on bass, surprising all with a rendition of the beautiful Hawaiian hymn, “Kanaka Wai Wai.”

In a 2008 Rolling Stone interview, Santana said he hoped one day to open a church . . . on Maui. His shows always include a “sermon” and at the MACC he emphasized the importance of self-love, a feeling of gratitude, the significance of our individual uniqueness, and the blessing of living on Maui.

To the strains of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” he advised: “If you remember one thing tonight, please remember the Mexican said, you are significant, you are meaningful, and you can make a difference in the world.”