[Creative Fridays] #18: Jake Shimabukuro

I am so excited to feature Jake Shimabukuro on #AzCreativeFridays today! This is a great honour to feature the ukulele player who basically made me decide to pursue fingerstyle ukulele as a second instrument. Since picking up the ukulele, I’ve had the opportunity to open for Kalei Gamiao’s Kuala Lumpur concert and also perform at the Thailand Ukulele Festival.

I still remember the first time I saw Jake play – it was the now legendary While My Guitar Gently Weeps cover that appeared on YouTube in 2005. I remember sitting in front of my Apple Powerbook G4 laptop in my bedroom at Westland Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts. I was in my very first year as an undergraduate jazz guitar student student at Berklee College of Music then! When I saw Jake play, my jaw dropped and I was mesmerised. I can’t recall how many times I rewatched the same video and each time being fascinated by the immense beautiful and grace of his playing. This was not what I imagined the ukulele to be. Since then, I knew the ukulele was a serious and powerful instrument.

Years later, as a Masters in Music student in Berkeley, California I bought my first baritone ukulele. It was still not the ukulele sound I heard Jake play but was a transitional instrument that helped me bridge the gap between guitar and ukulele. Much later, when I relocated back to Malaysia, I bought my first tenor ukulele with high G tuning. That in a way, was my real foray into the ukulele world.

But enough about me, let’s learn more about Jake:

Almost everyone in Hawaii has strummed a ukulele at one time or another. But at the age of 14, Jake Shimabukuro realized that he was doing something a little different with the four-stringed instrument – OK, a lot different.

Shimabukuro’s wholly unique approach to the ukulele started early. As a youngster growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Shimabukuro started playing the instrument at the age of four, learning the basics from his mother, Carol, and then developing his craft further by studying the likes of musical masters such as Eddie Kamae, Ohta-San and Peter Moon. As he matured, Shimabukuro also found inspiration from guitar players, drummers, pianists, and singers. Even athletes helped fuel the intensity of his artistic fire.

In 2005, Shimabukuro’s touring career really came to life with a video on YouTube. “I didn’t even know what YouTube was at the time, so I was totally surprised when people started telling me they’d seen a video of me playing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’” he says. “Before I got a chance to check it out myself, the video had gone viral and a lot of music industry folks seemed to know about it. It was crazy!” Shimabukuro’s deeply beautiful and original take on George Harrison’s love ballad, one which captured colors and moods never associated with the ukulele before, opened the floodgates – now legions of new music lovers had to hear this instrumental marvel – and the 2006 release of Gently Weeps (produced by Mac McAnally), which mixed his own originals with equally adventurous versions of “Ave Maria” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was an unqualified success.

Shimabukuro’s records have topped the Billboard World Music Charts on numerous occasions, and as a live performer he has become one of the hottest tickets around. He’s played with world-renowned orchestras and at prestigious venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and the Sydney Opera House, and has dazzled audiences at music festivals including Bonnaroo, SXSW, the Playboy Jazz Festival and Fuji Rock Festival. He even performed for that rarest of audiences: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Not too shabby for a humble young man from Hawaii and his trusty ukulele.

Even with the constant demands on his time – Shimabukuro tours roughly half the year and makes frequent appearances on media outlets such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, A Prairie Home Companion and NPR’s Morning Edition – Shimabukuro’s album output hasn’t slowed. In 2016, he 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.

I would to thank Van, Jake’s manager for making this interview possible! Jake’s latest record, The Greatest day will be released in Japan (album street date) on August 29. World street date is August 31. Links already up for preorder at jakeshimabukuro.com for CD and vinyl so go there to get your copy today.


1. What’s your latest project?
I have a new album being released on August 31. It’s called The Greatest Day. There are 6 originals and 6 cover tunes. Some of the covers are: Time Of The Season, Eleanor Rigby and If Six Was Nine.

2. What inspires your music?
I find inspiration everywhere. Traveling definitely plays a large part in the creativity process. But most of all, my family inspires me, especially my children.

3. What’s your 5 Desert Island Albums?
Guava Jam (Sunday Manoa)

Live At Makaha Bash (Makaha Sons Of Ni’ihau)

Grace (Jeff Buckley)

Tropical Hawaiian Day (Ka’au Crater Boys)

Abbey Road (Beatles)

4. Who’s one artist/musician that you love but most people probably don’t know of?
Gordon Mark – He’s an incredible ukulele player. I’ve always loved his sensitivity on the instrument. He plays beautifully and has a gorgeous tone. I grew up listening to his music and he was a big influence for me.

5. What’s an advice you wish someone told you when you started in the arts?

This is a tough question. Not sure.

6. As a ukulele performer, composer, and music education advocate via The Four Strings Foundation, what has been your biggest challenge in your work? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is keeping a healthy balance between traditional and nontraditional playing. I love exploring different sounds with the ukulele, but I want to always be respectful to the instrument and culture.

7. How do we reach you?
Website: http://jakeshimabukuro.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jakeshimabukuromusic
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jakeshimabukuro/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/jakeshimabukuro
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jakeshimabukuro

Thanks for your support!

You’re welcome Jake!

Thank you to you and Van for making this possible. I hope you will come and perform in Malaysia in the near future.

Thank you for reading this week’s instalment of #AzCreativeFridays. Please do check out the past interviews (17 so far) and come back next week for the next one with jazz saxophonist Jared Sims. Till next time, Aloha! 🙂

Read the recent [Creative Fridays] interview:
[Creative Fridays] #14 : Taylor Roberts
7-String Solo Guitarist

[Creative Fridays] #15: Dylan Lee

[Creative Fridays] #16: Scott Murphy
Saxophonist and Composer

[Creative Fridays] #17: Nisa Addina

Next Friday:
[Creative Fridays] #19: Jared Sims
Jazz Saxophonist
Coming up August 10 2018

[About Creative Fridays]

The original Creative Fridays was an interview series I did back in 2012. Published on my website, www.azsamad.com, it explored the musical influences of various musicians from all over the world. Relaunching this now in 2018, there are some cool add-ons. For a super obvious one, we’ve now added Spotify and YouTube links whenever possible for the Desert Island Albums list.

This to me is amazing because you can actually immediately listen to the recommended albums. Coming from a generation that used to make trips to the record store to check out new music, it still boggles my mind that we can immediately listen to the records that is recommended here. Imagine if you listened to the 5 suggested albums – how much could you learn from it?

Also, in addition to the original questions from the series, I’ve added a new question into the mix asking about the biggest challenge each individual has faced in their work. I’ve found that we all can benefit by learning from one another. Let’s share and grow together!

If you know a musician who you think could be a good fit to be featured in Creative Fridays, please contact me with your ideas. The focus is in diversity for music, cultural background, geography, age and experience. It doesn’t matter where you are around the world, if you’re a creative making interesting music on an interesting journey and have something to share, please reach out to me. Please do note, due to this being a weekly series, the interview may be featured later in the year depending scheduling.

Thank you! 🙂

[The Original Series]
Season 1: Every week for 13 weeks, published from Feb 2012 to April 2012.

[Creative Fridays] #1  : Kevin Broken Scar
(Melbourne Singer-Songwriter/Sound Engineer)

[Creative Fridays] #2  : Deborah Crooks
(SF Bay Area Singer-Songwriter)

[Creative Fridays] #3  : Dylan Kay
(UK/Auckland Jazz Guitarist)

[Creative Fridays] #4  : Azmyl Yunor
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter/College Lecturer)

[Creative Fridays] #5  : Gustavo Assis-Brasil
(Boston Jazz Guitarist/Educator)

[Creative Fridays] #6  : TragiComedy
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter)

[Creative Fridays] #7  : Candelaria
(Oakland Cumbia-Dub Band)

[Creative Fridays] #8  : Pete Teo
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter/Filmmaker)

[Creative Fridays] #9  : Lori McKinney
(West Virginia Bandleader/Festival Organizer)

[Creative Fridays] #10: Helen Sherrah-Davies
(UK/Boston Violinist-Composer & Berklee faculty)

[Creative Fridays] #11: Adam Everett
(SF Bay Area Drummer-Composer)

[Creative Fridays] #12: Julian Chan
(Malaysian Jazz Saxophonist)

[Creative Fridays] #13: Sharon Chong
(Malaysian Keyboardist and Vocalist]

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