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Jake Shimabukuro at NYC’s Highline Ballroom, Nov. 15, 2011

A virtuoso is redefining the ukulele

Jake Shimabukuro, Highline Ballroom, NYC, 11-15-11

Toward the end of his performance at New York’s Highline Ballroom, Jake Shimabukuro looked out at the sold-out house and commented, “When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a touring solo ukulele player.” Indeed, there was not and, truthfully, there still isn’t-with the exception of Jake Shimabukuro.

Of course, the reason for that is because there has never been a ukulele player like him, one who has integrated elements of multiple genres into his music, whose phenomenal finger work, vast range of textures and tones and endearing persona immediately flip any skeptics within earshot. Shimabukuro is well aware that the ukulele is considered by most a novelty, a toy, a four-string baby guitar-not a real instrument. He knows that audiences associate it with fat guys in Hawaiian shirts and leis playing hula music for tourists, or worse, with the late Arthur Godfrey or Tiny Tim, entertainers who knew their way around a uke but milked it for its comedic value rather than exploring its sonic possibilities.

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