Meeting up with Jake Shimabukuro in Edmonton was a pleasant surprise. Dave Jacquin his soundman and tour manager and Alex Ferrari his film and videographer accompanied him.
I first met Jake in the late 1990’s when he played ukulele and Hawaiian music with Pure Heart, a musical group made up of John Yamasato on vocals and guitar and Lopaka Colon on congas drums. They came to entertain us at a Lahainaluna High School special assembly. I remember Jake as being this small Japanese kid jumping all over the stage playing his Ukulele really fast. Next time I met him was at a University of Hawaii Manoa concert on Oahu again in mid 2006, he was still jumping around this time playing solo Ukulele. Over the years I got to share the stage doing my own set with him doing his own thing. However, it was in Edmonton that I got to sit right next to him and watch him work his Ukulele magic on stage. We played a set called “the Pineapple and the Potatoe” where we shared the stage with Donal Lunny and Andy Levine from Ireland, and other Celtic and Irish bands, as well as with Uncle Richard Hoopii and Led Kaapana. Jake played a few bars from his version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a tune performed in Jake’s “Ukulele Weeps” YouTube video went viral 7 years ago! Then he accompanied us on “Hiilawe” and did a couple of solo riffs. We talked about playing “Akaka Falls” and “Kawika“, but never had a chance as there were 17 of us on stage taking turns during this 120 minute set.
Later that night, we shared a meal at the Westin and Jake treated all of us including his 2 roadies to dinner. We had a great talk-story session while waiting for our food. He talked about his wife and showed us pictures of his son Chase. We shared a great fellowship with him and his boys. And boy, as slender as he appears, Jake can grind! He put away a giant burger with fries and shared a bowl of Mac & Cheese with all of us! During Dinner, he even talked about his startup humble, younger, beginning days working at the Ala Moana House of Music with Aunty Lydia and Lea Uehara. Watching us Masters play the Ala Moana Shopping Center center stage and signing autographs at the House of Music with the thought and wish that he too might join us on that same arena one day! Well that day arrived in Edmonton!
The next day we both had our own solo performances on various different stages. Jake watched our set, and we got to watch his set. During his set, there was no more of the old Jake jumping around trying to play super fast! What we, Richard, Ululani, Led and Sharon Kaapana, Nancy and I, all witnessed was the seasoned, sophisticated Jake who has been playing 6-7 months on the road all year round for the past 7 years. He was very gracious and humble and thanked us Masters of Hawaiian Music, Richard, Led and myself for leading the way and mentoring him over the years. His set was well diversified between his solos and covers of other top 40 hit songs (all instrumental) done on his Kamaka ukulele. His introductions to his songs were meaningful and his playing soulful, interesting and deliberate! He had both us “masters” as well as the entire audience mesmerized and eating from the tips of his Uke fingers . I thought to myself: here is a son of Hawaii, passing on the Aloha Spirit though his fingers, sharing local style Hawaiian values and thoughts and here is a true master of the Hawaiian Ukulele; a true ambassador of Hawaii and of our Hawaiian music. Except that it had his slant, Jake’s slant to it! His gestures and face expressions had meaning and added to his musicality, and his stories were really close to the heart and memorable. His music was beautiful as well as astonishing. Slow or fast, he played with intention to wow us. After his set he even offered to carry Ululani’s Eke (Bag) and Uncle Richard’s Ukulele. We were all charmed by Jake.
During his set, Jake told a childhood story about the Shirley Temple drink that he drank as a youngster. That tale introduced and flowed into his original “Me and Shirley T” evidently written about being a kid and drinking one-too-many (at the Pearl City Tavern). He also performed his own solo rendition of the classic “Hiilawe” and talked about this beautiful waterfall in Waipio Valley on the Island of Hawaii. Jake also used his 4 string ukulele to imitate the sounds of a 13 String Japanese Koto with “Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossom)” that tied him to his Japanese heritage. His version of Brother IZ’s- “Somewhere over the Rainbow” medley proved that less is more when playing the uke and linked him back to his Oahu roots in Hawaii. He also did a song by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well as a few more of his originals and he did his entire version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He even used a few electronic toys to demonstrate the versatility of the Ukulele through looping, various synthesizer effects and he even some heavy effects rock ‘n’ roll without denting the integrity of the Ukulele. He gave credit to the Kamaka family who made his Ukulele.
Jake was fantastic on stage as well as off stage! This prompted Nancy and I to talk about him, his family and the possibility of bringing him to Napili for a two day Wednesday/Thursday show with his family and hosting them at the farm. We’ll see!