Ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro hits the stage solo at the MACC
While he has been lauded for many years as the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro has been reticent about actually recording a Hendrix tune until now. On his forthcoming album set for summer release, the ukulele virtuoso interprets the rock legend’s epic “If 6 was 9.”
“I always shied away from doing it,” Shimabukuro explains. “But I thought, what’s the best way to cover a Jimi Hendrix tune? You get the world’s greatest dobro player, Jerry Douglas, to play on it, then no one can say anything. It’s one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix songs.”
The new “The Greatest Day” album features guests like Douglas, who has played with everyone from Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan to Ray Charles and Van Morrison.
“Jerry Douglas plays with me on three tracks,” Shimabukuro continues. “He’s one of my all-time favorite musicians. I’ve never heard anyone play the dobro like him. We incorporated a lot more instruments. We added some horns and strings and keyboards.”
Recorded in Nashville, it features six original songs and six covers. The new covers include the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
“The melody is so gorgeous,” Shimabukuro says about the New Order song. “We did it in a mellow, more acoustic style. The Ed Sheeran one, you can see the young ones singing along (in concert). They know all the words. And I’ve always loved the Zombies’ tune. It works nicely on the uke.”
Routinely showered with accolades, the ukulele wizard was named in Guitar Player Magazine’s 2017 Hall of Fame Awards, alongside other “Gallery of Greats” members Jerry Douglas and rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer. Guitar Player noted that Jake is known for, “expanding the vocabulary of the ukulele with virtuosity and varied stylistic influences.”
Since his early days, Shima-bukuro has pushed boundaries exploring the virtually unlimited potential of the humble ukulele. The “Nashville Sessions” found him boldly stepping into fusion territory, where extraordinary soloing on tracks like “Motown” and “6/8” saw him verging into blissful Santana territory, and he truly attained the crown as the Hendrix of ukulele on the rocking “Man of Mud.”
So does he feel he’s accomplished his mission of showcasing the ukulele’s versatility? There’s still room to grow he says.
“I’m still trying to figure out more things. Almost every night I’m discovering something new on the instrument. I’m constantly switching out gears, trying different things. It’s all part of the growing process. I love it. As long as I feel I’m growing and learning, that’s what fulfills me.”
Known for his love of helping others, especially kids in need, Shimabukuro took on a project in 2016 of personally repairing 100 damaged Kamaka ukulele belonging to Hawaii’s public schools. He repaired them while he was out on the road touring.
“It was Kamaka’s 100th anniversary, and I had found a lot of schools had ukuleles, but they had been in storage because of lack of funding for ukulele programs,” he says. “A lot of them were damaged, and the schools didn’t have repair budgets. They were going to throw them away, so I worked with the nonprofit Music for Life. I told them if they can get me the ukuleles, I will donate my time to repair them. A lot were beyond my skill level. The goal was to finish 100 at the end of the year, and we worked all the way up to midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was such a great feeling.”
For those looking for a new ukulele, Shimabukuro now markets his own brand — Shima Ukulele.
His goal was to design and market a professional instrument that could be sold at an affordable price.
“A lot of times, I purchase and donate ukuleles because schools can’t afford them. My brother Bruce and I had been talking for years about making our own. We finally got it going. We had a soft launch last week. We’re very excited.”
Still astonishing audiences in concert, Shimabukuro recently inspired Pennsylvania’s Reading Eagle to marvel: “Powerful. Audacious. Transformative. These aren’t words one would expect to use when describing an ukulele performance. No recording can do justice to what the artist can do with the instrument.”
For his Saturday show at Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului, Shimabukuro will perform solo.
“I haven’t done a solo show at the MACC in a long time,” he notes. “It’s just me. There’s something cool about hearing the ukulele by itself. You can allow the instrument to really breathe, and the audience can hear everything.”
We lost another legend with the passing of Peter Moon this week. Influenced by Gabby Pahinui, Moon helped spearhead the Hawaiian music renaissance with Sunday Manoa in the 1970s.
A virtuoso on ukulele and slack key guitar, he went on to front the influential Peter Moon Band, which included Cyril and Martin Pahinui. The band scored a series of brilliant local hits, from “Cane Fire,” “Survivin’ “ and “Island Love” to “Ballad of Keawaiki” and “Kaulana Na Pua,” artfully fusing Hawaiian, funky pop, reggae, swing jazz and Latin influences.
Often playing on Maui, Moon credited our island with breaking “Cane Fire.”
“Maui was the first island to pick that song up and make it a hit,” he reported in 1988. “Honolulu didn’t play it ’til six monthslater. They didn’t understand it.”
Asked about his mission with music he said: “My aim in Hawaiian music has been to refine it to the potentially highest degree. It’s a love; it’s my way of expressing myself.”
A major “Concert for Our Lives” is planned for March 24 at the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater in conjunction with the March for Our Lives event on Maui. The lineup so far includes Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, surfer/musician Landon McNamara, Willie K and Lily Meola. A number of surprise guests are likely to attend.
Sponsored by the University of Hawaii Maui College, March for Our Lives is a student-led movement to stand together in solidarity with the students of Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and demand that elected representatives take action to stop the madness of gun violence in schools.
World-renowned surfers Paige Alms, Kai Lenny, Albee Layer and Matt Meola will be on hand to pass out prizes to students who go online to www.marchforourlivesmaui.com and sign the March for Our Lives Maui pledge.
* Gates open at 4:30 p.m., concert starts at 5:30 p.m. Free admission for students (with ID), $10 for everyone else. Tickets are only available through Eventbrite-concert4maui.eventbrite.com. The MACC is not selling tickets.
Renowned pianist Hyperion Knight returns to Maui to perform Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” with the Maui Pops Orchestra on Sunday in the MACC’s Castle Theater.
The “Spring Pops” concert will also feature the Maui Choral Arts Association with the orchestra in works by Ernest Bloch, Randall Thompson and Gershwin.
Known for the diversity of his repertoire, Knight is equally at home in serious classics and popular standards. His recordings range from Beethoven to the Beatles, Ragtime to Rachmaninoff. In addition to regular appearances with orchestras across the United States, he has been a featured entertainer at Manhattan’s Rainbow Room and Essex House.
“Not since Heifetz has anyone played Gershwin solos with this much panache … the songs glitter like jewels against black satin,” praised an American Record Guide review. And the Sensible Sound called his Gershwin recording, “nothing short of astonishing.”
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Knight started piano lessons at the age of 4 and debuted professionally at 14 playing Beethoven’s “Fourth Piano Concerto.” After graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Knight received a doctorate in musical arts at the age of 22 from the Cleveland Institute of Music.
* The Maui Pops Orchestra’s “Spring Pops” concert featuring pianist Hyperion Knight is presented at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $20, $35, $50 and $60, and half-price for students 18 and younger in the $60/$50/$35 price sections only (plus applicable fees). For more information or to purchase tickets, see the box office, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
Celebrating its 16th anniversary this month, Maui’s listener-supported radio station Mana’o Radio will host a special “Sweet Sixteen Birthday Party Fundraiser” from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the VFW Hall at 3650 Uluniu Rd. in Kihei.
Groups performing include the Deborah Vial Band, Soul Kitchen, Shea Butter and the Cream and the Gina Martinelli Band. The event also includes a silent auction, face painters and roving magicians.
* Tickets are $10 in advance available at Request Music in Wailuku or online at www.manaoradio.com, and $15 at the door. Proceeds support the all-volunteer radio station. The entire show will be broadcast live on Mana’o Radio on Sunday from 2 to 8 p.m.