Dubbed "the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele," Jake Shimabukuro has redefined the Hawaiian stringed instrument and pushed the boundaries of what it can do.
The 35-year-old performer gained international attention six years ago with a viral YouTube video of his intricate version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." He has since appeared on TV with Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien and gained accolades from Rolling Stone as a "ukulele hero."
He performs Tuesday at Modesto's Gallo Center for the Arts as part of a 30-city U.S. tour to promote his new album "Grand Ukulele." The CD was produced by Alan Parsons (Beatles' "Abbey Road," Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon") and includes Shimabukuro's creative interpretations of Sting's "Fields of Gold" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."
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The album is a follow up to his 2011 CD "Peace Love Ukulele," which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's world music chart.
Shimabukuro, 35, said he was grateful to get the opportunity to collaborate with Parsons. "Just being able to work with him and hearing his ideas, getting his perspectives on his arrangements and tunes was an incredible learning experience for me," Shimabukuro said. "He's such a musical genius. It was the most memorable recording experience of my life."
Shimabukuro recorded with a 29-piece orchestra and worked with guest drummer Simon Phillips (The Who, Toto) and rock icon Kip Winger (Winger). Everything was recorded live.
"There's a lot of magic that happens when all the instruments are playing together rather than putting down the drums first, then the ukulele," he said. "In the song I played with a string quartet, we literally just stood in a circle."
The goal of the album is to demonstrate what the ukulele can do. "I really wanted to show the different sides of the instrument," Shimabukuro said. "I wanted there to be a lot of diversity on the album so people could see a different dimension and the depth of the ukulele — hearing it in these different contexts with all these different textures is really great."
Shimabukuro, who grew up in Hawaii, started learning the ukulele at age 4 under the instruction of his mother. "It's so easy to get started on it," he said. "You get that immediate gratification so you're encouraged from the very beginning. It doesn't discourage you like instruments that take a long time before you make a decent sound. That kept it interesting for me. I felt like, 'Wow I can do that.' "
He is married and has a 6-week-old baby, who will remain at home as he goes on tour. "It will be hard," he said. "I'll miss him."
When speaking at a TED conference in Long Beach, an event that spreads creative ideas, he said that the world would be a better place if everyone played the ukulele. Then he charmed the crowd with his version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," a popular number he also plans to play in Modesto.
"I just think the instrument makes people smile," he said. "There's something about the sound that makes people feel good. It makes you feel silly sometimes holding it. When you can laugh at yourself, that's the best thing. When you can make fun of yourself and you're not afraid to be laughed at or have fun, I think it brings something special to the world and I think that instrument does that."
WHAT: Jake Shimabukuro
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: (209) 338-2100