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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 10, 2010

Shimabukuro shares passion for playing

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

'Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro gave Hawai'i State Library visitors a taste of his musical style and inspirations.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jake Shimabukuro performed on behalf of the Music is Good Medicine community outreach program.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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A month ago, Hawai'i 'ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro performed the Beatles classic "In My Life" alongside Bette Midler for Queen Elizabeth II at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance in Blackpool, England, a show that also included actress-comedian Whoopi Goldberg, singer Michael Buble and tween star Miley Cyrus.

And what was good enough for the queen and Bette, Whoopi and Miley proved good enough for hundreds of Hawai'i State Library patrons yesterday as Shimabukuro played a free 45-minute set, heavy on Beatles covers, and shared his views on music, passion and personal expression in support of the Music is Good Medicine community outreach program.

Music is Good Medicine started out as a marketing concept for a local physicians group but has since evolved into a program aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and musical and other artistic pursuits.

"I'm trying to take my passion for 'ukulele and music in general and use it to encourage kids to pursue their passion," Shimabukuro said afterward. "If you have passion and focus, you can accomplish anything."

That was the prevailing message yesterday as Shimabukuro discussed the inspiration he draws from a wide variety of musical influences and demonstrated the ways in which he's been able to use those influences to create music that is unique and personal.

In "Let's Dance," Shimabukuro paid tribute to flamenco legend Carlos Montoya. He also used his 'ukulele to mimic the sounds and phrasings of a piano in "Piano Forte" and of traditional Japanese koto in his version of "Sakura."

Shimabukuro also reflected on his professional and musical development, tracing a line from his childhood as a distracted youth who found focus in music to his early gigs playing at cafes and weddings, to his eventual audience with the queen.

"The arts are so important because they're our way of expressing ourselves," he said. "It's in our DNA, and when we express what is inside of us, we invite others to share in it."

Judy McClusky, a Montana resident who spends her winters in Hawai'i, found Shimabukuro's performance and his message particularly moving.

McClusky's father began playing the 'ukulele during a tour in the Pacific with the Merchant Marine in the 1930s, and McClusky herself took up the instrument more than 10 years ago. This year, McClusky, 66, joined her father and her husband in formal 'ukulele lessons at Roy Sakuma Studios.

"It's been a great bridge for us, something we have in common," McClusky said. "Like Jake said, music is a common language, and it's brought great joy in our lives.

"(Shimabukuro) is so enthusiastic about what he does and he's such a master of the instrument," she said. "It brings me to tears because I appreciate so much that he wants to give back."

Janel Ikehara, 45, attended the performance with her daughter Chantel and her mother, Jane Higa. Ikehara said she's as impressed with Shimabukuro's personality as she is with his playing.

"His music is unbelievable I can't believe an 'ukulele can make those sounds but he's very humble," she said. "I'm so proud of him being from Hawai'i."

Shimabukuro is at work on a new, as-yet-untitled CD. He is also about to embark on a Smooth Jazz Cruise series of performances with jazz greats Dave Koz, Earl Klugh, Brian Simpson and others.