Music fans globally are getting turned on to Jake Shimabukuro's sound, as his new CD climbs the charts
The usually ebullient Jake Shimabukuro sounds a little subdued on the phone from his Chicago hotel room on Monday.
Tuesday: Concert at McKay Auditorium, BYU-Hawaii, 7:30 p.m., $15 (293-3545)
Nov. 24: Salvation Army's annual Thanksgiving Day dinner, Blaisdell Exhibition Hall, 10 a.m. (www.salvationarmyhawaii.org)
Nov. 25: Center Stage at Windward Mall, 6:30 p.m. (235-1143)
Nov. 26: Borders Books and Music, Pearlridge Center, 2 p.m. (487-1818); Tower Records, Kahala Mall, 6:30 p.m. (737-5088)
Nov. 27: Borders Ward Centre, 2 p.m. (591-8996)
Nov. 28: Ohia Cafeteria, Kapiolani Community College, noon, free, for KCC students only (734-9000)
Dec. 9: Honolulu Marathon carbo-loading dinner, with Riders on the Storm (formerly Doors of the 21st Century), 7 p.m., Waikiki Shell; he also performs at the marathon awards ceremony, at approximately noon Dec. 11, Kapiolani Park Bandstand (www.honolulumarathon.org)
Dec. 10: Navy Exchange at The Mall. Pearl Harbor, noon (423-3330); DFS Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, 4 p.m. (931-2655)
Much has been made recently in the local press about the change in his look -- gone are the colorful aloha shirts and glasses, thanks to laser eye surgery, and he's now possessed of a leaner build -- but he's still the same humble and grateful whiz of an ukulele player, albeit with a higher profile.
That's thanks to the favorable reception his national debut album "Dragon" has been receiving: In the last week of October, it was the No. 5 album on the Billboard world music chart, and Shimabukuro has been booked as a musical guest on Conan O'Brien's late show, scheduled for Dec. 13.
Joining him on that high-profile date will be his album accompanists and mentors, local jazz veterans Noel Okimoto and Dean Taba. While Shimabukuro has been touring mostly as a soloist (that's how he'll perform in promotional gigs here starting next Tuesday), he values any chance to play with the dynamic rhythm duo.
"Those guys make any one sound good," he said with a laugh. "They're so great, they're my heroes -- especially Noel, since I first met him when I was still playing drums in high school at Kaimuki. Being able to share the stage with him, as well as Dean, Noel's a monster.
"All three of us last played last year in Saipan and Guam, and did Japan last summer. Dean and I did three gigs together earlier this year, in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C."
JOHN BERGER / JBERGER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jake Shimabukuro and another ukulele legend, Roy Sakuma, attended drummer Noel Okimoto's concert at Mamiya Theatre earlier this year. Shimabukuro says Okimoto is one of his heroes.
BY HIS COUNT, Shimabukuro has been on the road eight months so far this year, promoting "Dragon" on the mainland and making his usual visits to Japan, where he is already a star.
"It's kind of like music boot camp," he admitted. "Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by it all." Part and parcel of that feeling was touring with Jimmy Buffett, and the added exposure before Buffett's devoted Parrotheads. "Whatever you can imagine, multiply by it by a thousand -- performing in Pittsburgh in a stadium filled with 50,000, and the last show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the crowd was so intense, yelling and screaming."
Mainland audiences have been introduced to Shimabu-kuro's work, thanks to the Internet. A performance clip from a New York City TV show has been making the rounds online.
Thanks also to California jazz publicist Michael Bloom, Shimabukuro has been getting adulatory words in such national specialty publications as Acoustic Guitar, Downbeat and Guitar Player's offshoot magazine Frets, which put him on its Fall 2005 cover with the declaration "Jake Shimabukuro is the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele." The flattering comparison is mainly due to the way both pushed the boundaries and usual perceptions of their respective stringed instruments.
Another of Shimabukuro's musical compatriots is the amazing turntablist QBert, a regular visitor to the islands who laid down a drum loop for the "Dragon" track based on Rodgrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez."
They've been friends since he came to one of Shimabukuro's gigs at Chai's Island Bistro. "He takes turntables to another level, he's really a genius. He taught me about the whole hip-hop world, and how he approaches his instrument. It's phenomenal of him to think outside the box, but he first understands and respect where it came from, and everything he does is so tasteful.
"We've done some jam sessions, and I'm thinking of collaborating with him more, and really showing the interplay between my ukulele and his turntables."
SHIMABUKURO plans to be back in a local recording studio next month to lay down ideas for his next album. He's pleased that his brother Bruce, who has his own ukulele school, just finished his own solo album.
Shimabukuro said he's been featuring such songs in performance as "3rd Stream," "Dragon," "Touch," "Me and Shirley T." and "Making a Perfect Yesterday" off of the new album, plus others off earlier albums such as Chick Corea's "Spain," "Crosscurrent" and "Blue Roses Falling."
"I've also got some new pieces, plus covers of Schubert's 'Ave Maria,' 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' inspired by Israel (Kamakawiwo'ole), and George Harrison's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.' "
Don't expect much, if any, fast-strum showboating, as in his promotional spot for Oceanic Time Warner Cable.
"I'm trying to learn to be more musical. I'm starting to focus more on compositions and writing, which started with 'Dragon.' The whole thing about me now is respecting the song and instrument and, not wanting to sound corny, the best I can be."