On Wednesday night, the University Musical Society (UMS) had ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro at Hill Auditorium. Shimabukuro wowed the crowd as he strummed so fast that his hands were a blur. Him and his bass player Nolan Verner played original songs off of his new album titled Nashville Sessions such as “F Minor”, “Celtic Tune”, and “Blue Haiku”. They also played popular songs such as the Beatles song “Come Together” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Shimabukuro took the stage alone as he paid tribute to Leonard Cohen by playing “Hallelujah”.
My friend and I ended up getting the opportunity to meet Jake after the concert and get a picture and autograph. He was so sweet and extremely down to earth, even thanking us for coming to his concert! I told him about how I started playing the ukulele a year ago and as I was leaving he said, “Good luck on the uke!” Definitely an experience that I’ll never forget!
Upcoming performances through UMS can be found at http://ums.org/season/.
This Wednesday, November 16, the University Musical Society is bringing ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro to the University of Michigan! The concert will take place in Hill Auditorium at 7:30pm.
Shimabukuro started playing ukulele at the age of four, and now he is doing concerts around the world! With a four-stringed instrument, he is able to play anything from classical music to popular songs such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. More information on Jake Shimabukuro can be found at his website: http://www.jakeshimabukuro.com/home/
Tickets are on sale for $16.00-$60.00 (depending on the location of the seats) at http://ums.org/performance/jake-shimabukuro/.
You could see it from the way he enters the room, lightening up the cold weather mood with a smile. From his first “Aloha Ann Arbor.” From the way he collapsed his inner fingers in and stuck out his pinky and thumb to create the “hang loose” sign. From the way he bowed to the audience. From the way he fist-bumped his bass player after every song, as if it was the best time he’s ever played each song – consistently. You could see that Jake Shimabukuro is one of the nicest performers around, and has a unique talent.
When I entered Hill Auditorium, my eyes were filled with a startling haze that replicated what one might see at a rock concert or a smog-filled arena. On stage were four stalks of concert lights. I was wondering how Jake was going to fill the stage. Would he sit on a stool, Nirvana-esque, and we would listen? Would he be leaping about like Lindsey Stirling? The audience surrounding me had a good mixture of young children and families, college students, and surprisingly, a large community of white-haired folks. Could one musician cater to all people in this broad spectrum of ages?
And then Jake came on the stage, and the lights flared with vibrant colors, bouncing shadows off the walls. While his bass-player appropriately took the simple accompaniment lines and stayed stone still, Jake made up for his stillness by strumming right into an uplifting, high-energy ditty. It must be difficult to create kinetic intrigue, especially when holding such a small instrument as the ukulele. But Jake’s stage presence (although one in his position may feel awkward by the way he bopped his head and bent his knees in rhythm) became larger than himself and was quite necessary for the enjoyment of the show.
If happy had a sound, it would be the ukulele.
Jake is most well known for his covers of classic rock songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which resonated with the older generation in the audience. While he played these two, as well as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (*sobbing*) and Ave Maria, he also played quite a few original pieces, which were terrific! He has a unique talent in that he is not solidified in one genre. He is a master of many styles, including flamenco, bluegrass, rock, Hawaiian, and Japanese folk songs! Although he has the skill and control over his flying fingers, his instrument is able to achieve different tones through the use of several effect pedals, as well as one which he can create a sound sample and then loop it and play with it in the background. He told us that many of his pieces are influenced directly from experiences in his own life, as art usually is. Past travels to Japan led him to write a piece called “Ichigo Ichie” which translates to “the once-in-a-lifetime crossing of paths with a person who you may never meet again.” His own childhood in Hawaii inspired a Hawaiian-style folk song. He told a tender story about his friend’s grandmother who, while in the hospital, hallucinated that blue roses were on the ceiling and were dropping their petals on her – a powerful image. This story inspired his elegiac song entitled “Blue Roses Falling.”
The show would have suffered, I think, without Jake’s conversational interlude. He brought us closer, knitted a connection between him and the audience in this moment of ichigo ichie. We were able to listen and appreciate his music in a different way, because we understood how his head worked. We could empathize with the way he felt when he was composing the piece. He probably paid homage to the wonderful venue of Hill Auditorium five times during the night, revealing that he was awe-inspired by the beautiful structure we walk past every day (this parallels how amazed we are by the instrument that he plays daily). Jake is a performer who not only wants to entertain, he wants to inspire, he wants to uplift, and bring good cheer to the world. He gave a quick fatherly preach to the younger generation in the audience : “to choose whatever they’re passionate about and go out into the world and do it.” He followed up with “And you don’t need drugs. I’ve been drug free my whole life. You don’t need them.” Although perhaps a little overdone, I know that he meant well. He believes in “music education,” which got the entire auditorium applauding. After a little research on him, I am pleased to find out that the 38-year-old has created his own music education non-profit organization called “The Four Strings Foundation,” proof that he does not just talk, but follows his own advice.
Aloha Jake. We hope you come back to Ann Arbor and bring your sound of happy with you.
“If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a happier place,” Jake says in his 2010 Ted Talk.
And for those of us who have not picked up the underdog of all stringed instruments, perhaps we’ll just be happier watching Jake turn contemporary jams, such as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” into perfectly plucked tunes with a uniquely island breeze about them.
Who: Jake Shimabukuro, the YouTube Ukulele Extraordinaire (part of the UMS season)
When: Wednesday, November 19 at 7:30 pm
Where: Hill Auditorium
How Much?: $16-$25 for students (in the Mezzanine section only…you’ll still have a good view!)
While you wait for the show to begin, watch Jake perform the song that sent him to stardom: The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” … or should we say, Ukulele?
What I truly love about UMS is the variety of their performances. This season, we have classical pianists, Indie rockers (as I’m calling James Blake…sorry if that makes anyone mad), traditional Sufi music, and this: an orchestra of ukulele players from England. It was so unlike anything I’ve seen before at UMS. There wasn’t anything to analyze or interpret. Nothing to look at and be like, “Wait…why are there lambs on stage?” It was just exactly what you were expecting: an hour and a half of covers of songs performed on the ukulele. Don’t get me wrong; I like risqué, innovative, renegade material as much as the next person, but it was a nice change to know what was coming.
And it was fun too! Everyone left with a smile on their face. Prior to the performance, audience members were asked to bring their ukuleles and several people did! In the middle of the show, they played Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and uke-playing audience members took up the challenge and played along! It was a really cute way of engaging the audience. And such a great way of utilizing the smallness of the ukulele! It’s such a lap-friendly instrument! I mean, if they had brought a harp orchestra to Ann Arbor, you couldn’t necessarily ask people to bring along their harps to play along mid-show. It was the perfect way of getting the audience involved without making people nervous or annoying those who didn’t want to participate.
One thing that seemed to detract from my personal experience of the show was my age. All the songs were covers and while I did recognize “Pinball Wizard” and a truly fabulous rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, the rest of the songs were from a time before my generation. I understand that UMS audiences tend to be on the older side, so I know there were a lot of people who got more out of the performance than I. Which is fine – I’m happy that they enjoyed the show (and I think they did because oftentimes just after three chords were struck on stage, I’d hear elderly whooping erupt behind me). It was still good music and fun to watch just how awesome all the band members were at the ukulele…I just think I would have liked it even more had I been more familiar with more of the songs.
Great show, lots of fun, and super cute. Glad I went. Going to shop around for a ukulele so I can learn too!
Tuesday, November 12 at 7:30 pm in Michigan Theater, UMS presents a quirky group of seven ukulele players in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Members George Hinchliffe, Kitty Lux, David Sulch, Jonty Bankes, Richie Williams, Peter Brooke Turner, and Leisa Rea come together to bring you a very diverse program of classics and modern pop hits. This group is definitely not to be missed.
Annnd if you’re curious to learn more about ukuleles and their history, check out this clever infographic on the ums lobby website, designed and crafted by yours truly 🙂
Hope to see you there!! Student tickets only $10!!