When Eddie Vedder starts name-dropping you in Rolling Stone and is inspired to record an album full of ukulele songs because of you, it's safe to say that you've arrived. Or maybe it's when Jimmy Buffett takes you on tour with him for three years. Or when you perform a cover of a Beatles song with Bette Midler in a performance for the Queen of England and Queen E. chats with you afterward. Or when a documentary gets made about you that focuses on how you're revolutionizing the use of your instrument? Yeah, you've arrived.
Hawaii's resident ukulele rock star, Jake Shimabukuro, has experienced all of these things during his short musical career, and he still can't believe any of it. But if you check out his latest release, Grand Ukulele, you'll see what all the fuss is about. We asked the uke man, why this of all instruments, and he told us about changing the channel when a commercial he's in comes on the tube.
New Times: So why the ukulele? As a child, when you were getting into music and instruments, what was it about the ukulele that made you say, "Oh yeah, that's it for me?"
Jake Shimabukuro: One of the main reasons is because I grew up in Hawaii and the ukulele is very popular here on the islands. A second reason is that my mom played the ukulele and she was actually my first teacher. And the third reason is that was the only instrument we had in the house, so I really didn't have a desire to play anything else beside the ukulele.
A documentary about you premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this year. What was it like having a documentary done on your life and career? Did it ever feel surreal having that sort of attention paid to you?
Oh yeah, definitely. CAAM [Center for Asian American Media] approached me and said they wanted to do this documentary on me. It took about two years to put everything together. And actually what premiered at the festival was just the first cut. It actually was completed about a week ago. We got to show it at Pixar that week, and that was great. Tonight it's actually going to be premiering at the Hawaii International Film Festival, so I'm pretty excited.
So have you seen the final cut or will it be new to you?
Yeah, I saw it for the first time at Pixar, and it was kind of unbelievable. When they first approached me I just said, "Are you sure you really want to do a documentary on me?" But it was an honor and it's so weird seeing myself on a big screen like that, you know? I've seen myself on television a couple times but never in a theater with the theater sound and that big screen and all. It just blows my mind.
But it really was such an honor to be a part of that, and I really enjoyed watching the documentary too. I got a little emotional because it deals with my family and a lot of my personal life. I love everything that's in this documentary and just seeing it all come together was amazing. It was very touching to me.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable with the notoriety that you receive as an artist? When you see yourself up on that screen is there ever a moment where you just want to crawl under a rock or something?
All the time, all the time! In Hawaii, I've done a few local commercials and every time one of them comes on I try to change the station really quick before anyone notices.
When people like Eddie Vedder are singing your praises and critics are repeatedly saying how you have revolutionized the use of the ukulele as an instrument, does that ever get embarrassing? Or do you just smile and say thanks?
It's an honor, really. I remember when I first read that quote from Eddie Vedder in Rolling Stone and the way he was talking about me. I just couldn't believe it. I was thinking, "There must be some other guy out there named Jake playing the ukulele." But it touched me to hear him say those things because he's one of my heroes. He's such an icon, and just the fact that he's familiar with what I do just blows me away. It's all still so new to me too. I'm still trying to make sense of it all and trying to take it all in. I just feel very fortunate and very blessed and am trying to enjoy every moment of it.
Jake Shimabukuro with support from WPBT Channel 2 at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Boulevard, West Palm Beach. Tickets start at $15. Visit kravis.org.
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