Friday, July 14, 2006

The Paganini of the Ukelele

Joseph Bottum has found Jake Shimabukuro, the greatest ukelele player to ever live:
It surely means something that we live in an age containing the greatest ukulele player ever born, but I’m not sure just what it means. His name is Jake Shimabukuro, a twenty-nine-year-old from Hawaii, and he can make a four-string ukulele do everything but sit up and beg—and the question, when you hear him, is why: If you are this good on a ukulele, why are you playing a ukulele?

Take a look at him here, for example, playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It sounds good from the beginning, but the moment, I think, when it ceases to be merely good and becomes simply impossible is the second time through the chorus (at 1:40 in the clip), when Shimabukuro starts adding on the rhythm guitar’s part—approximating two guitars on his four-string instrument. (On the original Beatles song, as I remember, George Harrison played the rhythm part and Eric Clapton sat in to play the lead.) By the time he reaches the piano-like arpeggios at 3:38, the listener’s capacity for astonishment is exhausted: The man is some kind of mad genius, because the ukulele just isn’t capable of doing all this.

Bottum isn't kidding, either. Below is the YouTube clip of Shimabukuro. It's 100 percent safe from the office, although you will want to play it very loud. You'll be cheating yourself if you don't watch the whole thing, but if you really want to jump to the insane part, go to 2:38.


arrScott said...

It's a good year for the ukelele. At a March 17 show in Arlington, I saw Pete Kennedy of DC's the Kennedys play Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue on a solo electric uke. Somehow, with four strings, he managed to sustain a chamber orchestra's worth of individual parts all at once. It was basically the most madly inspired thing I'd ever seen done with a string instrument.

Until just now. That's just ... wow. Clapton gets together with the Beatles and this kid blows the pants off the lot of them with a solo ukelele. Best. Youtube. Clip. Ever. Thanks, JVL, for absolutely making my month.

jon said...

While not as recognizable as a Beatles cover, this one here I think trumps Jake in the department of showmanship:

Anonymous said...

Wow that was awesome. Thanks to Jody Bottom for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Jake's original technique: the ten finger stroke (3:40). All this makes me a little sad though. To think what he would have been able to accomplish with three strings. I curse the day Jake's ancestors left Japan. (:>})


Anonymous said...

For anyone in need of a dissertation topic: a lot of the early Japanese immigrants to Hawaii were from areas in Japan where playing shamisen was an important part of the culture. The influence of classical shamisen techniques on Hawaiian ukulele is likely to have been great. Watching Jake sure gives me that impression. Anyway. The other way of looking at it, four whole strings!!! Compared to the usual three, heck, this is easy. And no pick!!

Ito (again)

Anonymous said...

Jake's long lost relatives, the Yoshida Brothers.

Ito (again and again)

Unknown said...

Holy Cow. Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

George Harrison would approve.