Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro subject of PBS film “Life on Four Strings”

Thirtysomething, fourth-generation Japanese-American Jake Shimabukuro is the subject of the compelling portrait Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings. Jake Shimabukuro is a ukulele virtuoso, and you may have heard of and seen his YouTube video (which was posted anonymously) of him in Central Park playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on his uke (see video below). The video exploded into a viral hit (currently over 11.7 million views), and Jake Shimabukuro is now an international star and crossover artist, working to transform previous notions of his instrument’s potential.

“[The ukulele is] such a young instrument,” Jake Shimabukuro told reporters at a recent press conference and performance (he was amazing). “It’s only been around for — well, when the Portuguese immigrants first brought the braguinha over to the Hawaiian Islands, that was just a little over a hundred years ago. And the native Hawaiians learned how to build these instruments that were similar to the braguinha. And that’s what the ukulele is — what it’s become. And I’ve always felt that there was just so much more to this instrument than just strumming chords and playing. … I always felt that there was a place for the ukulele in a blues band … in a rock band or a heavy metal band or in a symphony or in a jazz trio.”

Part of Shimabukuro’s realization of his desire to see the ukulele branch out also may stem from that age-old male-musician desire to get attention from the ladies.

“I started playing when I was about 4 years old. But then when I was a teenager in high school,” he said, “there were a lot of popular songs on the radio, and in order to impress the girls, you had to play songs that they recognized. So I would learn tunes like ‘More Than Words’ by Extreme and I would learn how to play it on the ukulele. And then people would listen to it, and they’d be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could play that on the ukulele.’ And that’s kind of when I decided like, oh, yeah, it’s kind of nice to experiment with different styles of music.”

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings premieres on PBS May 10 at 9pm ET (check local listings).

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Courtesy of Merri Cyr

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