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Jake Shimabukuru: Ukelele Virtuoso Makes Waves

Jake Shimabukuru

Jake Shimabukuro may be the first jazz musician to gain a pop following via the Internet sensation, which makes streaming video instantly available. Aptly situated on a rocky outcropping in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields, the Hawaiian-born ukelele master is caught in the act of turning George Harrison’s White Album classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” into a scorching solo tour de force. With close to 100,000 hits, the four-minute clip served as a savvy preview of his first solo album, Gently Weeps, which hit stores in September. In truth, Shimabukuro isn’t a jazz musician per se, though jazz is certainly one facet of his ever-expanding musical persona. A gifted improviser who is perfectly comfortable reharmonizing American Songbook standards, Shimabukuro is a dues-paying member of what Bela Fleck calls “the odd instrument club,” a loosely affiliated group of musical explorers determined to turn theirs axes into all-terrain vehicles.

Over the past six years, Shimabukuro has transformed the diminutive four-string uke into an infinitely pliable instrument, capable of generating everything from crunching, effects-laden rock to sensuously swinging jazz. Along the way he’s shared stages with a plethora of artists, including fingerstyle guitar star Kaki King, vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin, mandolin master Mike Marshall and fiddle renegade Darol Anger. In a conversation last spring in San Francisco, he had just returned from a stint at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and he was still buzzing from four non-stop days of making music.

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