Jake Shimabukuro: "The Jimi Hendrix of the Ukulele"
“I just wanted to play the ukulele my way, which turns out to be very different from what everybody else has done,” says Shimabukuro, who started playing the instrument at the age of four and learned the basics from his mother, Carol. “Most people just strummed the ukulele, but I started playing melodies, and a new world opened up – I was singing through the ukulele.”
As soon as music fans got a listen to Shimabukuro’s virtuosic approach to the ukulele, they were hooked. Albums such as Gently Weeps, Peace Love Ukulele and Grand Ukulele topped the Billboard World Music Charts, and as a live performer he became one of the hottest tickets around, headlining the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and the Sydney Opera House (he even performed for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) while making frequent appearances on media outlets like The Today Show, Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. In 2016, Shimabukuro recorded the all-original Nashville Sessions at Music City’s famed Ronnie’s Place studio with producer R.S. Field (Steve Earle, Webb Wilder) and the ace rhythm section of bassist Nolan Verner and drummer Evan Hutchings. And now he’s returned to the same city and studio – and with the same gang, too (augmented by guitarist Dave Preston) – for his newest record, The Greatest Day, which will be released on August 31, 2018.
“On the last record, it was pretty much the sound of a live trio, which sounded fresh, raw and organic,” says Shimabukuro. “Now we’ve expanded to a quartet, which has added more colors and variety to the overall production. Once we recorded the live takes, we experimented with overdubs, and added horns, strings and keys, and other funky sounds. There are even some vocals on a few cuts.”
The 12 studio tracks that comprise The Greatest Day feature some of Shimabukuro’s most imaginative and adventuresome playing yet. Half of the album is devoted to originals, on which the instrumentalist reaches new heights of compositional distinction. And on the covers, Shimabukuro’s prodigious skills allow him to transcend his material – no mean feat considering some of the classics and standards he’s tackling. Shimabukuro has already been performing some of the material from The Greatest Day live, and he’ll soon work more songs into his set. In mid-July, he embarks on an extensive tour of the U.S. and a fall tour of Japan. “I’m really excited to play the new songs in my shows,” he says. “Making this record was one of the highlights I’ve had in the studio. I couldn’t be happier with the sounds and arrangements. But most of all, we had a ton of fun making it.”
- Jake Shimabukuro