Ukulele legend 

Jimmy Buffett and The Coral Reefer Band with Jake Shimabukuro
Tuesday, Aug. 8
Verizon Wireless Music Center

When it comes to reasons for missing a family gathering, there’s one musician who had a unique and honest excuse not too long ago. He had a gig that night; and not in some hole-in-the-wall bar with an unknown house band.

Last year, Jake Shimabukuro (pronounced She-ma-boo-koo-row) was at his home in Hawaii when he received a phone call. The caller asked Shimabukuro to come down to the venue where Jimmy Buffett was scheduled to do a show that night.

“I thought it was to just come and see the show,” Shimabukuro recalled during a recent conversation. “But when they said that the sound check was at 2, I thought, ‘Sound check?’ It turns out they wanted me to play with Jimmy and his band during the show.

“I was supposed to be going to a family dinner at my parents’ home [that night]. I had to call my mom, and tell her I couldn’t make it that night. When she found out why, she understood. (laughs)”

To say that Shimabukuro plays the ukulele is like saying that Tiger Woods plays a little golf. The 29-year-old Hawaiian has been compared to the likes of guitar legends Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix. His lightning fast work on the fret boards of the instrument has dazzled audiences in Hawaii, Japan and, now, thanks to Buffett, a growing number of people on the U.S. mainland. In fact, Shimabukuro wowed the crowd at last year’s Lotus World Music & Arts Festival in Bloomington, Ind.

So how did “Mr. Margaritaville” come to know about Jake Shimabukuro?
A couple of years ago, Shimabukuro did a show at B.B. King’s in New York City. After the

show, Russ Titleman, a friend of Shimabukuro’s, came backstage with another musician, Mac MacInally, and introduced them. MacInally, a guitarist in Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, later told Buffett about this young musician, and a few months later came the call that altered Shimabukuro’s life and career.

“Jimmy has been a big supporter of mine,” Shimabukuro said, “and a true inspiration for me. When Jimmy’s on stage, you can tell he’s having fun, and he makes everyone in the audience feel like Jimmy is singing just to them.”

Shimabukuro admitted that it was a bit of a shock to walk out on stage with Buffett and find himself in front of tens of thousands of people.

“The crowds can be scary,” Shimabukuro said. “There is just this sea of people. We did a show at PNC Field in Pittsburgh, and there were over 50,000 people there. Right before the show, Jimmy came up to me and asked, ‘How ya’ feeling?’ Then he suggested that I might not want to look at the crowd when I go on stage. Of course, I walked on stage, and looked out at the crowd. I freaked out! (laughs)”

While the ukulele is usually considered an instrument used to play lush tropical music, Shimabukuro, through his playing, offers solid proof that it has much more to offer.

“The ukulele is capable of being a very dynamic instrument. I focus on trying to expand the dynamic range of the ukulele, from soft to powerful. People have always heard the ‘softer’ side, but never the ‘angry’ side, the ‘rock ’n’ roll side’ of the ukulele.”

In addition to being on the road with Buffett this summer, Shimabukuro has a new CD (his fifth) coming out in September, titled Gently Weeps.

“It’s a really different album for me. It’s my first solo ukulele recording. It’s a bare-bones project, which is a big change from my other albums. About 70 percent of the songs on this album are originals.

“I do [a cover of] George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ where the title of the CD comes from, as well as ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Sakura,’ a Japanese folk song. I also do a version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”

Whether it’s on stage with Buffett, or by himself, Shimabukuro looks to connect.
“When I’m playing the best that I can, I tend to feed off the crowd’s energy. There are magical moments when you and the audience are in the same place at the same time. That’s an important part of music.”

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