Book ‘em, Dano
This past Friday, despite the monochromatic landscape offering little incentive to venture beyond the hearth, the husband and I are able to convince ourselves of a night out because of a rare opportunity. In this world there lives a young man who, with a four-string, two-octave instrument regarded as a toy in most circles, can produce the most amazing melodies.
Jake Shimabukuro plays the ukulele. And he came all the way from Hawaii to feature in the annual jazz music fundraiser at a nearby high school. Yes, Jake and his ukulele (pronounced “oo-koo-ley-lee”) voluntarily left his home paradise to visit the (really) frozen northeast to play music with middle school and high school musicians. Why would he do that? Inspiration.
Shredding A Uke
If you haven’t heard of Jake Shimabukuro yet, your group is shrinking. Check out the links at the bottom. His hands move like hummingbirds – I dare you to try to puzzle out which of his fingers are producing which sounds. In his hands, a ukulele is a guitar, a voice, a percussion instrument, a whole song. We witnessed this magic once before during the Rochester International Jazz Festival, so when I saw the ad for the fundraiser I knew that we had to go – winter be damned. His performance is that inspiring.
So who inspires a ukulele virtuoso? Jimi Hendrix? Eddie Van Halen? Try Bruce Lee and Bill Cosby. Jake says,
“Bruce Lee’s philosophy on martial arts was that it’s a form of human expression and he didn’t believe in having one ‘style’; he studied all forms and was open to everything…Bill Cosby is a performer who can just sit in a chair with a mic, tell stories and entrance millions of people. I wanted to tap into that energy of just performing alone and connecting with an audience.”
The Big Island
Jake wears a bright fuchsia shirt, sneakers and a short-brimmed fedora. The kids in the jazz ensemble wear black pants, white shirts, with the boys in awkward ties befitting to an 8th grader. They are strings and brass, woodwinds and percussion. With Jake, they perform The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, a dreamy melody that is supported by a sitar on the original track. The kids are inspired by Jake, Jake is inspired by them, and I am inspired by all of them.
Jake is living his dream, playing his ukulele all over the world, bringing along peace and love. These kids have just jammed with a virtuoso; how cool is that? Will one of the eleven trumpeters go on to pack a jazz club someday? Perhaps, if inspiration has any say-so.
While the specter of winter is still upon me, I won’t be getting out much. I will choose the snuggie over another trip outside every time, as I warned here. But sometimes in the depth of winter there is a bright morning of sunshine, when the icicles threaten to drip away to nothing and the 3 feet of snow in the front yard is suddenly brilliant and beautiful.
Jake closes the night with an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, it-can’t-be-real rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. On his ukulele. Really. If he can be inspired by a long-departed martial artist and a grandfather stand-up comedian to play a rock opera on a toy, then I need to get up and go see that. I need all the inspiration I can get.
See Jake in action and be inspired: