UCSB Arts & Lectures presents ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro in a virtual performance, 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19. Shimabukuro takes the four-string, two-octave instrument to new heights in his performances of music crossing rock, jazz, blues, bluegrass, classical and folk. The musical program will be followed by a Q&A.
Cost to attend is $10 for the public, free for UCSB Students (registration required). For tickets and information, call 805-893-3535, or visit www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu. Ticket holders will be able to replay the event for 48 hours.
Since he first came to the world’s attention with his original take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in a viral video that dominated YouTube in 2005, the Hawaiian-born Shimabukuro has virtually reinvented the four-string instrument, causing many to call him “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,” said Shimabukuro, who started playing the ukulele at age 4, 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 he grew up, he learned other instruments, but none could match the ukulele’s magical influence, which shaped his interest in becoming a musician. “I was always very passionate about it. But when I was a kid there was no such thing as a touring solo ukulele player, so I always understood that it would be more of a hobby. Luckily it evolved into that,” he said.
“I feel very fortunate that I get to travel, perform and just play my ukulele everywhere. Yeah, since the time I was a kid, it’s always been my passion, but I never imagined that I’d be able to just do it all the time. This is really a dream come true,” he said.
Once music fans heard 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 a hot ticket, headlining the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center, and the Sydney Opera House.
In 2016, Shimabukuro recorded the all-original “Nashville Sessions” at Music City’s 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.
He returned to the same studio (and same gang) for “The Greatest Day,” which was released in 2018. Half of the album is devoted to originals, on which the instrumentalist reaches new heights of compositional distinction. In 2020, Shimabukuro released “Trio,” again teaming up with bassist Verner and guitarist Dave Preston.
“I really wanted to capture the sound that we make when we jam together,” Shimabukuro said. “We get into this amazing improvisational zone at sound checks: Nolan will play a cool bass line, and Dave will chime in with these incredible guitar parts. Then I’ll come in right after and play melodies to what they’re doing.
“So I finally said, ‘We should just go into the studio, hit ‘record’ and see what happens.”