By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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The petite instrument lifts off, frolics and, thanks to one of the player’s heroes, it gently weeps.
Jake Shimabukuro has played the uke for 31 of his 35 years. But watch him. He doesn’t play so much as he cradles, coaxes and rocks, bending his slight body over the strings.
Shimabukuro was born in Hawaii in 1976; in 2006, he became a sensation via YouTube, after a clip from his New York City performance of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was posted there. Millions saw the video, and have since gone to see him live in concert halls across the world.
The uke virtuoso has released 11 records, exploring music by the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Queen and other inspirations. On albums from “Walking Down Rainhill” in 2004 to “Peace Love Ukulele” in 2011, he takes his instrument into the lands of jazz, rock, even flamenco.
His latest, “Grand Ukulele,” offers “Over the Rainbow,” “Fields of Gold” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” He’s touring in support of that record now, and has the Chimacum High School auditorium, 91 West Valley Road, on his itinerary this Thursday.
Tickets to the 7 p.m. concert, priced at $30 and $40 depending on seat location, are available at Quimper Sound, 230 Taylor St. in downtown Port Townsend, by phone from Ticketswest at 800-992-8499 and at www.ticketswest.com.
The artist is known for his pop covers, but his original tunes provide a counterpoint. “Grand Ukulele” features “Missing 3,” a tune he created one day when his third string was gone.
“Instead of rushing off to find that missing string, I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to write a song with just three strings?’” he recalls.
Then there’s “Music Box,” in which Shimabukuro uses his thumb to alternate between the uke’s third and fourth string, creating a simple bass line, while his index and middle fingers play the melody on the first string. He explains this as if it’s just a simple thing.
It was Alan Parsons, “Grand Ukulele’s” producer, who pushed him to play outside his comfort zone.
“He constantly threw ideas at me that were challenging,” the artist said.
Shimabukuro has played alongside a diverse bunch: Jimmy Buffett, Bela Fleck, Yo Yo Ma. He even joined Bette Midler in a performance of the Beatles’ “In My Life” for England’s Queen Elizabeth II.
The artist also uses the uke in his work as spokesman for Music is Good Medicine, a healthy-living presentation he gives in schools, hospitals and senior centers.
Shimabukuro jokes about the life of an internationally touring uke player. “The best thing,” he said, “is that audiences all over the world have such low expectations.
“But seriously, I am loving every minute of it. I’m learning so much . . . I’m also amazed at how the popularity of the ukulele keeps growing,” with artists such as Eddie Vedder, Paul McCartney and Train introducing listeners to the instrument.
When asked about the uke clubs that have come together around the country — such as Ukuleles Unite in Port Townsend and the Eden Valley Strummers of Port Angeles — Shimabukuro pronounced himself thrilled. He also offered words of encouragement to potential uke players.
“Don’t be afraid to pick it up and sit with it for a few minutes,” he said. “Play songs that you love.”