Jake Shimabukuro Keeps Growing In Popularity – Played w/Bette at Caesar’s and the Queen

Ukulele Phenom To Play At Jorgensen
By OWEN MCNALLY, Special to The Courant
The Hartford Courant
November 15, 2011

If you think the ukulele is just about Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips, then you haven’t yet heard the sensational, Hawaiian virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, 35, who is both the Jimi Hendrix and the Andres Segovia of that much scorned and mocked four-stringed instrument.

Shimabukuro (pronounced she-ma-BOO-koo-row) presents a solo concert Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Connecticut‘s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the Storrs campus.

Since making his mark in Hawaii in the late 1990s, the Honolulu native has skyrocketed to international acclaim as the grand master of the uke thanks to a red-hot YouTube video of him playing George Harrison‘s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Central Park.

The video went viral, propelling him to fame and fortune as a versatile genre-crossing musician who has collaborated with a diverse array of artists ranging from Bette Midler and Jimmy Buffett to Yo-Yo Ma and Béla Fleck.

The soft-spoken, Japanese-American maestro has been successfully mounting a one-man crusade to overcome the ukelele’s stereotype image as a corny, severely limited and outmoded novelty instrument. Shimabukuro has been widely embraced as a practitioner of rock, funk, blues, jazz, classical, bluegrass, folk and flamenco.

“I can’t believe that all of this is happening, to be honest,” he says in a phone interview while on break from his national tour promoting his new album, “Peace Love Ukulele.”

“When I started, there was no such thing as a touring solo ukulele player. Playing the ukulele has always been my passion, but now to be able to do this every day of my life, to be able to travel the world and play for different audiences is really a dream come true.

“It’s something that was never possible before, and I’m having the time of my life,” he says.

Shimabukuro appreciates that living in the Internet Age, with its global village access to fame, is an “incredible blessing,” but also credits his success to his beloved ukulele.

“With more than 9 million hits on YouTube, my video of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ got the ball rolling and really started this whole crazy dream for me, which is just fantastic.

“But I think a lot of it also has to do with the ukulele itself. It’s so accessible, and more and more people are discovering how much of a gem the instrument is.

“You talk about technology in this day and age when all of our devices are getting smaller and smaller, including smart phones, iPads and laptops. Everything is getting smaller, so why shouldn’t our musical instruments also get smaller, right?

Appropriately, the ukulele is kind of like the iPad of instruments. You can take it everywhere, yet it is truly capable of doing so much.”

Cape Verde singer/songwriter Ilo Ferreira (EE-low Fare-AIR-ah), a Jimmy Buffet discovery, is the opening act.

JAKE SHIMABUKURO and Ilo Ferreira perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, 2132 Hillside Road on the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut. Tickets: $30 and $28, with some discounts. Information 860-486-4226 and http://www.jorgensen.uconn.edu. Free parking across the street in the North Garage.

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