Ukelele Master Jake Shimabukuro talks in depth about his new album, his instrument of choice and his craft in our extended interview from the Baeblemusic Backyard.
City. The energy here is amazing, and, you know, the people are very inspiring. You know, I love the pace of life here. You know my ukulele touring career really started here, so coming back to New York City, you know, after all of that really means a lot. It's a very special place. - First piece was a song called "The Island Fever Blues", and that was a song that I wrote while I was in Alan's studio. You know, we took a little break and I stepped outside, and I was kinda working a little, you know, I was just noodling around, and I came across this little lick, and then I thought "Oh, this is kind of cool, " you know. And I just kept working at it, and Alan heard a little bit of it, and you know he made some suggestions for the arrangement, and, you know, he really wanted to keep that as a solo ukulele piece. So that you could, you know, he wanted to hear all the subtle, you know, things. You know, the finger work, right? Just the subtle details. Alan really helped me to come up with a title, you know, because we were trying to come up with titles for that song, and thinking, "Yeah, maybe like, it's kind of bluesy. " And then we were sitting around, I think we were just on another break, and then Alan was like, "Hey! What about the Island Fever Blues?", and I was "Ooh! I like that. " So we kept that. So I have a brand-new CD out. It's called Grand Ukulele. I'm just very excited about this project, because it was produced by one of my heroes, the great Alan Parsons. Alan Parsons who worked with The Beatles, did Abbey Road, and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. So it was just a tremendous honor to work with him in the studio. And I gotta tell you, he brought in an amazing cast of musicians. People like Kip Winger, Simon Phillips, Randy Tico. He even brought in a 30-piece orchestra, you know. I mean he's Alan Parsons, you know! He can do that. But the coolest thing about this album, and I think it's probably what Alan and I are most proud of, is that there are no overdubs on this record. You know, everything was recorded live. I mean, even when we played with the orchestra we were all in the same room and we all played together. They were all live takes, you know. So that was a lot of fun. It's rare that you get that kind of opportunity, so it was really fantastic. - The other song, that was inspired by... I joke around. I tell people--well, it's really true. It was inspired by one one of my favorite television shows. Back in the day, we had a show called Hawaii Five-0, so I worked with some of the producers for the new Hawaii Five-0, and they asked me to compose a little piece for a few of their episodes. I said okay, so I wrote this little thing, I told the producer, "Hey! You know what? How would you feel if I called this song 'Ukulele Five-0'?" And you know, he just laughed. He said, "Oh, that would be perfect!" I wasn't sure how he would take it, right? He'd be like "No! Don't do that!" But, he liked it, so the name just kinda stuck, and it appeared on a few of the episodes, and I've been playing it in my live shows. - One of the things I love about the ukulele is that everyone has their own take on it. For some people, when you mention the ukulele to them, they think of Tiny Tim and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which to me is great. I mean, that's a big part of the ukulele's history, and that's a big part of the culture. Or you have, for some people, it's like Israel's "Over the Rainbow", or for some people it's like Don Ho singing "Tiny Bubbles", you know what I mean? Or Elvis Presley in one of his movies. For some people it's George Harrison. But I think that's great. I mean, the ukulele is definitely branching out to different genres of music, and it's lending itself, I think, great in pop and rock music, you know? Which is kinda new. It's fresh. I turn on the television now, and within an hour there will be at least three or four national commercials that have ukulele track in them, you know? So, it's fantastic you're hearing all that, because for me I'm just a big fan of the ukulele. So seeing it just grow in popularity year after year is exciting. And now you have people like Eddie Vedder playing the ukulele, so now the ukulele's cool. But the most important thing to me is, whenever I'm doing a concert or show, I just want the audience to walk away smiling. I just want them, you know, to walk away feeling good or, for me I'm having so much fun onstage playing. I want that positive energy to be infectious. I want people to feel what I'm feeling. And, you know, I think so far it has been fun. I hope it's been fun for the audience. 'Cause I'm having the time of my life when I'm onstage. - The third piece is a piece entitled "143", and it was inspired by the numeric pager code 143, which meant "I love you", because when I was younger, we didn't have cell phones. There was no such thing as text messaging, so we had to be creative. A lot of us would carry pagers, and you know a pager is basically just numbers right? It's just digits. So you have to come up with creative ways to send messages. So I think, if I remember correctly, if you want to page someone "hello", it was something like 07734 I think. And when you flip it around it looks like "hello", right? I think that's what it was. 'Cause a four looks like an "h" when you flip it over. The three is an "e", the sevens are "l"s, and of course "o" i an "o". So 143 was the numeric pager code for "I love you", so if you were dating someone, you would page them, put your number, and then you put a little dash and you put the numbers 143, which was kind of the nice, sweet thing to do back then. - Aloha. I'm Jake Shimabukuro, and you're watching Baeble Music. That's a wrap!
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 disparate 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, Shimabukuros star may burn even brighter.
An ambitious follow-up to 2011s Peace, Love, Ukulele (which debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Charts), the Hawaiian musicians new record finds him collaborating with legendary producer/engineer Alan Parsons, best known for his work on Pink Floyds 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 didnt want to pass up hes 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 others subtle emotional cues you could feel everyone breathing together. It was like the old days of recording when everyone tracked together theres a certain magic that happens.