Ukulele magician Jake Shimabukuro has been blowing away audiences for years with his extraordinary ability to perfectly play any style of music on his humble instrument.
Acclaimed for innovative interpretations of popular songs, Jake dazzles listeners with an astonishing studio and live recording of Queen's epic "Bohemian Rhapsody" on his latest CD, "Peace Love Ukulele."
"If Freddy Mercury were alive, I'm sure he would be in awe of Jake Shimabukuro's virtuoso ukulele version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody,'" raved a San Diego Reader review.
En route to a Saturday concert at the MACC, the master JAKE SHIMABUKURO dazzles with his new album on his new label.
HIDEO OIDA photo
And Jazz Times praised: "Shimabukuro is so good on record that it's easy to forget what instrument he's playing. His arranging (on "Bohemian Rhapsody") is as startling as his playing and will undoubtedly inspire others to pick up the little ax."
Jake knew he faced a formidable challenge in adapting Queen's masterpiece for solo ukulele, as it required 180 separate overdubs for the vocals alone.
So what inspired him to take it on?
"Often in interviews I'm asked if I think any song is possible on ukulele, and I always say you can make any song work," Jake explains. "And I've been asked many times, 'Can you play Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'?' "
"It's one thing to play the right notes and chords, but to really capture the essence and emotion of that song is really hard. There were so many moments I wanted to throw in the towel. The hardest thing was the transitions from almost being like a whisper and then coming out aggressively with a head-banging piece, and then an almost operatic, playful feeling. It was a huge undertaking. I love playing it now; it's become one of my favorite songs to play."
A primarily original work, the CD also includes another cover, a beautiful, emotive version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Performing in a variety of contexts from solo to full band and string section, Jake ventures from romantic pop territory with "Boy Meets Girl" and the jazz fusion of "Bring Your Adz," to neo-classical with the Bach-flavored "Pianoforte 2010," and the more somber "Go for Broke" homage to the 442nd Combat Regiment.
Such is his stature and appeal that it's no surprise that "Peace Love Ukulele" landed at No. 1 on the Billboard World Music Chart.
And one of the songs, the sunny "Boy Meets Girl," has already been picked up by "Hawaii Five-0," on an episode screened in February.
"That was really neat," he says. "This album was special because it's my first independent release. For the last nine years I've been under Sony Music Japan. This was released on my own record label, and I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. I own all the masters. So when 'Hawaii Five0' asked if they could use one of the songs, it was easy for me to say sure. It's very empowering to own your own music."
Jake's music was also heard on the soundtrack of the latest Adam Sandler comedy, "Just Go With It." He contributed the original song "Angel," and a version of the Police classic, "Every Breath You Take."
"I actually made a cameo appearance," he reports. "I'm at the closing scene playing my ukulele in the background while Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman are having a heart-to-heart conversation. I'm playing a ukulele arrangement of 'Every Breath You Take.' "
For his upcoming Maui show at the MACC on Saturday, Jake will perform with a five-piece band including Honolulu Symphony violinist Iggy Jang, who duets with the ukulele wizard on the "Peace Love Ukulele" track "Trapped 2010."
With so many Japanese family and friend connections, Jake will take time at the concert to honor the tragedy unfolding in Japan.
"I'm going to do something to support in some way," he says. "It's really unbelievable. More than 10,000 have lost their lives and the count is still climbing. My hometown where my family came from is Fukushima where there's the nuclear power station, and my manager is from Sendai that got hit the hardest. She can't get in touch with family members and friends. And a lot of my friends are from Tokyo.
"We just had a really nice charity concert in Waikiki (on Sunday) to bring people together and bring a lot of the Japanese visitors, who are worried and scared and don't have homes to go back to. It was very emotional."
* Jake Shimabukuro plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $40, $30 and $12, plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
The Rotary Clubs of Maui present a "Maui March Madness" fundraiser at Mulligan's on the Blue in Wailea on March 26. Proceeds from the event will assist student scholarships, a leadership camp and other community programs supported by the organization.
Entertainment includes the band Brighter Day, featuring Tom Cherry on guitar and vocals, Mike Finkiewicz on bass and vocals, and Gerry Davis on drums and vocals, along with DJ "Dr. Love" Smith, and a cello duet during dinner.
Brighter Day performs a mix of classic rock, R&B and soul ranging from Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers to the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, and Santana. Throughout the evening, magician Brenton Keith will entertain guests with his "Bag O' Tricks." Artist Aubrey will offer face painting, and prizes will be presented for the best "March Madness" attire.
Live and silent auction items will include artwork from Maui Hands; jewelry from Topaz Goldsmith & Gallery; excursions from Classic Charters, Trilogy and Pacific Whale Foundation, a Maui's Winery gift basket and restaurant gift certificates.
"Maui March Madness" is presented from 5:30 to 10 p.m. March 26 at Mulligan's on the Blue. Tickets are $40 in advance; $45 at the door. A VIP table for 10 can be reserved for $500. Tickets are available from Mulligan's, Topaz Goldsmith & Gallery, or the Kihei Rotary at 264-3468.
The Maui Choral Arts Association will present its annual Lei of Stars Choral Festival with special guest conductor Dr. Donald Neuen at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kihei Baptist Chapel.
"We are excited to be featuring Donald Neuen, who is world renowned," said Maui Choral Arts Director Celia Canty. "Selections will include operatic and sacred music, both modern and from the classical and baroque periods, as well as Hawaiian."
The head of the Music Department at UCLA, Dr. Neuen will also conduct a three-day workshop for Maui singers today through Saturday, culminating with the concert (more info at www.mauichoralfestival.com).
* Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door. Advance tickets are available from participating chorus singers, by calling (800) 838-3006 or by purchasing online at MauiMusicArts.org. There is a 50 percent discount for students with ID and all youth 18 and younger.