By: John Galloway
Jake Shimabukuro :: 02.06.08 :: Aladdin Theater :: Portland, OR
It's impressive when a theater fills up on a windy, cold, rainy night. The true diehard will not be deterred from gobbling up every last bit of something they love. This night it was the unbelievable array of sounds whirling from a single unlikely instrument: the ukulele. Far from being relegated to just Hawaiian folk music, the ukulele comes madly and feverishly alive in the skilled hands of Jake Shimabukuro, the Honolulu-born sensation who began playing at the age of four.
|Shimabukuro by Nobuyuki Ito|
He told us a story about entering a competition when he was seven-years-old with his younger brother Bruce, whom Shimabukuro jokingly claimed was named after his idol, Bruce Lee. He performed a Hawaiian folk song called "Crazy G," and undoubtedly blew away the audience back then. His brother dressed in cowboy attire and performed "Elvira," a Dallas Frazier song popularized by the Oak Ridge Boys. However, Shimabukuro said that Bruce won the competition.
Shimabukuro has won many competitions since, and his deft ability to cover multiple genres of music solo on an acoustic instrument as small and seemingly delicate as a ukulele is deserving of awe. Shimabukuro says he's taken voice classes, yet his concerts are purely instrumental. That's not to say he doesn't have verbal facility, as he's quite humorous onstage in the interludes between his jaw-dropping originals and inspired renditions of the great music of our time and especially times before us. Take for example his heart-stopping interpretation of Schubert's "Ave Maria," which has become as much a signature piece for Shimabukuro as his emotional cover of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." One could never bore hearing him play either of them, even if he played them in the same concert. They wouldn't possibly be identical.
One of the most touching musical stories of the evening was about Shimabukuro's encounters with Cyndi Lauper on the Big Island of Hawaii. He said a few years before he'd been in Japan at the same time as Lauper was on tour there. He'd joked to his friends that he was in the country "with Cindy." When Lauper came to Hawaii for a series of concerts, her manager somehow learned of Shimabukuro and contacted his booking agent. She invited him to open for her concert and then play a song with her. Of course, he was dumbfounded. How can you say no to Cyndi Lauper? So, when it came time for him to come onstage, Lauper took up a dulcimer and they played "Time After Time" as a duet. The story concluded with a solo ukulele rendition of that song you might call "brilliant" or "mellow" or "stirring," but that's like trying to describe how a scrumptious meal tastes - all words pale in comparison to the reality of the feast.
Shimabukuro steps into a realm beyond mere entertainment. Hypnotizing? Mesmerizing? Spellbinding? The raucous cheers from the audience indicated that we weren't just consumers of entertainment but participants in a musical adventure that took us around the world and through time. Stories of Singapore and touring with Jimmy Buffett followed childhood tales of Hawaii and appreciations of musical greats like Jimmy Page (with a great "Going To California" from the Zeppelin repertoire). Our capable guide was rewarded with resounding applause, ovations and the contemplative appreciation of each lingering note.
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