Along with more than 1,000 fans, I had the immense pleasure of hearing Jake Shimabukuro perform with the Maui Pops Orchestra last weekend. Though I’ve seen Jake in concert at least half-a-dozen times, this was my first opportunity to enjoy his musical mastery with full orchestra backing. Not surprisingly, the concert was superb, and the ukulele wizard brought the Castle Theater crowd to its feet, several times.
But the echoes of Saturday night that still ring in my head have less to do with Jake’s hands than his heart.
On and off stage he exudes such youthful exuberance, most people are surprised to learn he is a 40-year-old father of two. It’s not just his physical agility or fresh-faced appearance; it’s his sincerity, his genuine wholesomeness. He’s the good kid that every parent hopes to raise. Or hopes their child will marry.
During the concert, Jake repeatedly praised and thanked the Maui Pops musicians and conductor James Durham, as well as the staff, management and volunteers of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. He spoke highly of Maui’s ukulele talent pool, including Andrew Molina (who has just released his second CD, “A New Journey”), and he expressed deep appreciation for his fans, not only from the stage, but also in a post-show meet-and-greet, which lasted nearly two hours. He accommodated every single person who asked for his autograph or photo, speaking earnestly with each one.
As the audience emerged from the Castle lobby, we were pleasantly surprised to find an after-concert concert in Yokouchi Pavilion by the local band Kanekoa, featuring lead ukulele player Vince Esquire with Kaulana Kanekoa, Don Lopez and Travis Rice. By the time the last CD and ukulele had been signed, only 25 or so fans remained. We stalwarts were rewarded with another hana hou, as Jake bounded onto the outdoor stage and joined Kanekoa for two final songs, gleefully trading solos with Vince on “Down Under” and “Maui, Hawaiian Suppaman.” We didn’t leave the MACC until just after midnight.
I first met Jake more than a dozen years ago, when MACC President Art Vento brought him to Mana’o Radio for the first of several interviews and live on-air performances. We introduced Jake to Vince, who was our youngest DJ, and the two of them played “Body Surfing” together, unrehearsed. It was an amazing duet; both of them in obvious awe and appreciation of each other.
Jake became a regular visitor to the Mana’o studios and to local schools and senior centers, as part of the MACC’s community outreach program. Even after gaining international fame, he remained humble and gracious.
In 2007, two months after the death of my husband, I flew to the Big Island to emcee a huge corporate event at the Fairmont Orchid, headlined by Willie K, Jake and Kapena. It was my first off-island gig without Barry by my side, and I was melancholy but determined to put on a good front. Apparently, during the artists’ sound check, Willie had shared the news of Barry’s passing with Jake. When I arrived at the green room, Jake rushed up, hugged me and expressed his condolences. The rest of the evening, before and after his performance, he attended to me the way a son or brother would: holding my hand, urging me to eat, and at the end of the night, shedding a few tears with me.
Jake’s career began in 1998 with Lopaka Colon and Jon Yamasatoas as the trio Pure Heart. They recorded two CDs, won five Na Hoku Hanohano awards, and disbanded after only two years. I don’t know which of them chose the name or why, but Pure Heart remains a most appropriate description of this truly gifted man.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.