Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Jake Shimabukuro: From Hawaii to Sendai on Four Strings
the ukulele is descended from Portuguese instruments, Japan has long been the
instrument’s second home outside Hawaii.
Likewise, Japan had always been an important market for the fifth
generation Japanese Hawaiian virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. Filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura documents Shimabukuro’s
post-2011 Japanese tour and other career highlights in his profile Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings (trailer here), which airs on
PBS this Friday.
was a shy kid who was understandably troubled by his parents’ divorce. He did not have a privileged upbringing, so
it is hard to begrudge the good fortune he experienced early in his
career. As a mere teen, Shimabukuro established
a following, fronting a Hawaiian fusion band.
He struggled a bit at the start of his solo act, but a video of
Shimabukuro performing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (posted
without the musician’s knowledge) became one of youtube’s first viral
that point on, Shimabukuro became the reigning king of ukulele
crossover-breakouts. While not jazz per
se, he incorporates extensive jazz and rock influences. It would be interesting to hear him play a
session with Lyle Ritz, the original jazz ukulele player, especially
considering Shimabukuro’s knowledge and respect for his instrument’s
history. In fact, Strings often shows Shimabukuro acting as an educational ambassador—like
a Wynton Marsalis of the ukulele.
dark clouds gather in the third act, Shimabukuro is not directly affected. However, as a native of Sendai, his loyal
longtime manager is deeply distressed by damage and tragedy left in the wake of
the tsunami and earthquake. Shimabukuro
does his part, performing for displaced survivors, while remaining all too
conscious there is only so much his spirit-raising efforts can do.
throughout Strings, Shimabukuro never
falls into any shallow celebrity traps.
If that makes him sound likably boring, at least his music is dynamic
and vivid. Nakamura showcases his performances
well. Of course, his famous Central Park
Beatles rendition is included, but the film’s defacto theme “Blue Roses Falling”
is actually a more interesting piece. Frequent festival patrons and Indy Lens viewers might be more familiar
with Shimabukuro’s music than they realize.
He composed music for Hula Girls
(set in the hardscrabble Fukushima prefecture) and some of his tunes were
licensed for Debbie Lum’s Seeking Asian Female.
paints a portrait of a nice guy, with a nice story, performing some
impressive music. However, the third act
carries a bit of emotional heft. Recommended
for open ears, Jake Shimabukuro: Life on
Four Strings has its national broadcast this Friday (5/10) on most PBS
outlets (following a special presentation on Hawaii’s PBS station this past March).
Labels: Documentary, Jake Shimabukuro