Jake Shimabukuro: Defying genres to bring the ukulele mainland and mainstream

Jake Shimabukuro live at Jazz24
Jake Shimabukuro live at Jazz24
Jake Shimabukuro performs live at Jazz24 on March 29, 2011. Credit Justin Steyer / KPLU

KPLU was pleased to welcome ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, into our studios on March 29, 2011. Jake played before not only a record number of KPLU Leadership Circle members, but four young ukulele players from Foster High School we recently featured in an installment of Artscape, which explored the rising popularity of the ukulele in local schools.

Known for his complex finger work and genre-defying style, Jake is in the process of doing for the ukulele what Bela Fleck did for the banjo and what David Grisman did for the mandolin; he’s taking a somewhat marginalized instrument into whole new worlds of music.

In this studio session, hosted by with Abe Beeson, Jake displayed his amazing mastery of the ukulele and talked about how he expanded his horizons from playing traditional songs from his native Hawaii to exploring all form of music on an instrument which only has four strings and a two-octave range.

As you’ll hear in this session, he attributes much of his success to YouTube and Bruce Lee.  A YouTube posting of his performance of George Harrison’s, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, is approaching 8 million viewers. He explained this not only opened many doors in his career, but it also has helped to bring the ukulele mainstream.

“Before that video, there was no such thing as a solo touring ukulele player.”

Jake was more than happy to play that classic rendition again for us in the studio (see the video above), as well as two original songs: 1-4-3 and Bring your Adz off of his new album Peace Love Ukulele.


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