“Jake is taking the instrument to a place that I can’t see anybody else catching up with.” – Eddie Vedder
In his young career, ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro has already redefined a heretofore under-the-radar instrument, been declared a musical “hero” by Rolling Stone, won accolades from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Perez Hilton and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, wowed audiences on TV (Jimmy Kimmel, Conan), earned comparisons to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, and even played in front of the Queen of England.
With his new record, Grand Ukulele, Shimabukuro’s star may be burning even brighter.
An ambitious follow-up to 2011’s Peace, Love, Ukulele (which debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Charts), the Hawaiian musician’s new record finds him collaborating with legendary producer/engineer Alan Parsons, best known for his work on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, The Beatles’ Abbey Road and his own highly successful solo project. “It was very organic how it happened,” says Shimabukuro (she-ma-boo-koo-row). “He attended a couple of my shows near where he lives in Santa Barbara and the concert promoter put us in touch. I was stunned. I mean, THE Alan Parsons? We ended up having dinner before the show and he casually mentioned the idea of possibly working together on a project. It was a priceless opportunity I didn’t want to pass up – he’s a genius.”
Parsons ended up helping Shimabukuro expand his sound, bringing in a 29-piece orchestra and a big-name rhythm section, including drummer Simon Phillips (The Who, Toto), session superstar bassist Randy Tico and Kip Winger (Winger, Alice Cooper), who helped with the orchestration.
“The best thing was that, even with all those people, we recorded everything live with no overdubs,” says Shimabukuro. “It was great, tracking live with an orchestra and a rhythm section. We picked up on each other’s subtle emotional cues – you could feel everyone breathing together. It was like the old days of recording – when everyone tracked together – there’s a certain magic that happens.”
While still highlighting Shimabukuro’s musical dexterity on the uke, Grand Ukulele also shows off new sides to the musician, thanks to his new-found collaborators. That said, it’s still Jake’s show. “Alan wanted me to arrange each song as if I were performing it solo, then add the band around it,” he says. Highlights from the album include originals like “Island Fever Blues”, a beautiful and traditional Hawaiian song titled “Akaka Falls” and a unique track called “Missing Three,” performed with only three strings – an entire song created during a day when Jake was missing the third string on his instrument.
Given that Shimabukuro first won acclaim for a YouTube video of him covering George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” it’s no surprise that Grand Ukulele features a number of wonderful reinterpretations, including Sting’s “Fields of Gold” (with Parsons cameo-ing on keyboards) and, most prominently, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” a seemingly ubiquitous song given new life on the four-string.
“That one is fun to play,” says Shimabukuro. “I visit schools in Hawaii because I love sharing my passion with kids, but I don’t necessarily play all original pieces, because the kids may not recognize them. So when I cover a popular tune like ‘Rolling In The Deep,’ they really respond!
This fall Jake will embark on a 30-plus city tour, performing solo for the most part. “Someday I’d love to tour with a full orchestra, but these solo shows will be fun, especially since we arranged them so the new songs can stand on their own,” he says.
For Shimabukuro, Grand Ukulele feels like the next step in a career that really started at the age of 4 when he first picked up the instrument, through a successful local career in Hawaii and his first brush with fame on YouTube. Now, he’s a respected, popular musician looking to make a lasting musical mark.
“I feel really connected to this record,” he says. “It was an honor to work with Alan and all those great musicians. It really felt like old friends coming together – there was so much positive energy surrounding the project – it was a magical experience that I’ll never forget.”
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