Chattanooga Now Ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro's tour stops at Songbirds

Chattanooga Now Ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro's tour stops at Songbirds

February 20th, 2019 by Bill Forman / Correspondent in Chattnow Music

Jake Shimabukuro

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If you go

› Where: Songbirds Guitar Museum, 35 Station St. (South) and 41 Station St. (North)
› For more information: 423-531-2473

› When: 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 (S)
› Admission: $18

› When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 (S)
› Admission: $12 in advance, $15 day of show

› When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 (N)
› Admission: $25

› When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 (S)
› Admission: $15

› When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 (N)
› Admission: $30

› When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 (S)
› Admission: $12 in advance, $15 day of show

Honolulu native Jake Shimabukuro has had a ukulele in his hands since he was 4 years old and was capable of pressing all four strings down on his own. At the age of 30, his extraordinary instrumental performance of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" took the YouTube world by storm.

Now he has his own artist line designed and manufactured by Kamaka, whom he describes as "the godfather of ukulele luthiers."

Currently, the 41-year-old instrumentalist and composer is touring behind August 2018 album "The Greatest Day." The tour stops in Songbirds on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

For the tour, he's joined by bassist Nolan Verner and guitarist Dave Preston, with no drummer in sight. Even so, Shimabukuro promises that the trio's overall sound will be far from minimalist.

"Dave doesn't play the guitar in the conventional sense, he really approaches it in a very ambient, very symphonic way," Shimabukuro says. "Sometimes he gets these tones that sound like horn pads, and sometimes he sounds like a string section. It's just really neat the kinds of sounds that he gets out of his instruments, so we've been having a lot of fun, a lot of textures and just a lot of richness."

Shimabukuro hasn't forgotten the Fab Four, whose music helped elevate him into the spotlight. In the years since his breakthrough cover, he's done songs by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

"I've got to tell you how I got introduced to The Beatles," he said, "because I didn't learn about The Beatles through the Beatles. My dad had a couple of [jazz guitarist] Charlie Byrd's albums and they were some of my favorite recordings. I'd listen to them all the time as a kid. And he covered a lot of Beatles songs, right? But I had no idea that they were Beatles tunes, so all the way up until I was a teenager, I thought songs like 'Let it Be,' 'Here, There and Everywhere' and 'Yesterday' were all Charlie Byrd originals. I remember just thinking like, 'Charlie Byrd, man, he writes great melody lines!' I remember the first time I heard The Beatles version of 'Yesterday,' I was like, 'Oh, someone wrote lyrics to this song.'"

Today, Shimabukuro has had more than a half-dozen albums of his own reach the Top 10 on Billboard magazine's world music charts, positioning him to cause at least as many mix-ups among his younger listeners. "The Greatest Day" includes renditions of "Eleanor Rigby," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle."

Expect even more covers a year or so from now, when Shimabukuro releases his duets album, for which he's already recorded tracks with Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson and Michael McDonald.

"Of course, all of Michael McDonald's recordings sound great," he said, "but to hear that voice with just my little ukulele behind it, it's something else, man. I was just smiling ear to ear."

Even after all these years in the spotlight, Shimabukuro still doesn't take any of this for granted.

"I feel so fortunate for all the opportunities that I've had in the last 20 years," he said. "It just kind of blows me away and so I'm very thankful. I just love playing — it's my passion — and I just hope to keep going."