Fifth generation Japanese American Jake Shimabukuro has been recording music since the late ’90s. At age 33, he’s earned comparisons to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis on the ukulele, and will release his latest album, Peace Love Ukulele (Hitchhike), in January. After playing high-profile shows like the Asian American Music Festival in Los Angeles earlier this month for his national tour, the artist answered some questions prior to his upcoming gig at New York’s Highline Ballroom on Oct. 25.
Tell us about Peace Love Ukulele. Do you have a few favorite songs? Why?
Peace Love Ukuleleis an album compiled of songs that I hope will bring joy and happiness to listeners near and far. I hope the emotions expressed in the music will connect people and make them realize that we all feel the same things—we just express them differently. I believe music is the greatest gift, and the ukulele is the friendliest way to present that gift to the world. A few favorite tunes on the album include “143,” a song inspired by the pager code 143, which simply means I love you; “Go For Broke,” a song written for the Japanese American veterans who served in World War II; and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” one of my all-time favorite classic rock tunes.
How does this album differ your last studio album?
The new CD, Peace Love Ukulele, is my first independent release. I had a lot of fun putting things together for this album. I really took my time with this one and tried to present the ukulele in ways that were fresh and exciting.
What do you hope people take away from your music?
I hope listeners experience the same joy that I’m experiencing when I’m strumming the ukulele. The ukulele is probably one of the easiest instruments to play. Anyone can pick it up for the first time, learn a couple chords and immediately start strumming songs. It’s so relaxing. I always tell people that playing the ukulele is like an entire yoga session in one strum.
What musicians have inspired you?
All the greats, of course. But a lot of my inspiration comes from figures outside of the music world—people like Bruce Lee, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and other artists who are passionate about what they do.
When did you first pick up the ukulele?
I first picked up the ukulele at the age of four. My mom played and taught me my first few chords. I started out strumming mainly traditional Hawaiian music as a child, but later enjoyed the challenge of trying to play other styles of music on the four string, two octave instrument, like rock, jazz, classical, etc.
After taking on covers of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” are there any other songs/artists you’d consider covering?
There are so many great tunes out there. I love covering tunes that were written or performed by my favorite artists. Covering a song of your favorite artist is like wearing your favorite basketball player’s jersey.
Who are your heroes outside of music?
Bruce Lee and Bill Cosby were my heroes when I was growing up. I loved Lee’s philosophy and applied a lot of his ideas to my approach in music. For example, Lee embraced all forms of martial arts and didn’t believe in having just one style. I love all forms of music and try not to get locked into one genre. Bill Cosby’s [1983 stand-up comedy film] Bill Cosby: Himself inspired me to be a solo performer. Cosby could simply sit in a chair with a microphone, tell stories and entertain millions. He’s the greatest.
Your style is extremely eclectic and spans numerous genres. What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I use recorded music for different things. I like up-tempo songs for when I’m exercising, slow ballads when I’m trying to relax, instrumental music when I’m studying, etc.
What do you hope to accomplish with Peace Love Ukulele?
With my new CD, Peace Love Ukulele, I hope to inspire more people to take an interest in the young instrument. I believe the ukulele is the instrument of peace. If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.
Where do you see your career in ten years?
I’m not sure where I’ll be in ten years. But I’m enjoying everything that is happening in my life at this very moment and extremely thankful for all the wonderful opportunities that have been coming my way.
Jake Shimabukuro appears at New York’s Highline Ballroom (431 West 16th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues) Monday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 general admission, $30 day of show. Visit www.highlineballroom.com/bio.php?id=1502 for more info and to purchase tickets. Visit Jake’s homepage at www.jakeshimabukuro.com.
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