Japanese American musician Jake Shimabukuro has been playing the ukulele since he was a child growing up in Hawaii, but became a YouTube sensation when his ukulele rendition of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" awed the world, with over 9 million views. Now, Jake is on tour, and tomorrow, he's coming right here to New York City, playing at the Highline Ballroom. We talked to the man on the uke about his music, covering "Bohemian Rhapsody," and even his favorite eats!
Tell us about your album Peace Love Ukulele.
Peace Love Ukulele is my first independent release. I took my time with the arrangements and tried to present the ukulele in various ways. One of the toughest arrangements on the album was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's always been one of my favorites and I didn't think it was possible to capture it on four strings. It will always be a work in progress, but I've been enjoying performing it at every show recently.
Why the Ukulele? What is it about this instrument that compels you? You have been compared to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis on an instrument that most people would never associated with these musicians.
I was born and raised in Hawaii so it wasn't uncommon to strum the ukulele as a kid. My mom was my first teacher, and I could already play three chords at the age of four. It doesn't sound like much, but on the ukulele, with three chords, you can play about three hundred traditional Hawaiian tunes. The ukulele is such a happy instrument, and I sometimes call it the instrument of peace--if everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.
The ukulele as an instrument of peace--we like that. What do you mean by this?
I believe the ukulele is the instrument of peace because it makes you feel like a kid again. You can't possibly be angry while strumming the ukulele.
Your rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was a monster YouTube hit and you have since gone on to perform songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Thriller." How do you choose songs to cover?
I love tackling songs that you wouldn't expect to hear on the ukulele. It's always a challenge to cover popular tunes because people have such a strong attachment to the original. Anyone can play the right notes and chords to make it recognizable, but the true challenge is in capturing the spirit of
If I weren't a musician, I would be a ____________.
Tell us one thing about you that people would be surprised to know.
I'm really only 19 years old. Haha! Just kidding. My favorite song to sing at a karaoke bar is "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," by Allan Sherman.
What is your favorite late-night bite?
Acai bowl with a side of fresh poi.
What are your favorite late-night pairings?
Ben and Jerry's ice cream with an episode of "Boston Legal" or fresh, organic strawberries with a touch of high-quality balsamic vinegar.
What is your favorite thing between two buns?
A good ol' Redondo's Hawaiian Teriyaki wiener.
What is your favorite dessert?
I love cheesecake and anything with custard. And, chocolate too!
Jake is playing Tuesday November 15 at the Highline Ballroom. Click here for ticket info. For more information on "Peace Love Ukulele," visit his website.
Watch Jake playing his rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."