Jake Shimabukuro

This past Saturday night, Nov. 9th, I had the enjoyable experience of seeing Jake Shimabukuro perform at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul.

Like most people, I was introduced to Jake’s playing by the video posted on YouTube of his rendition of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps in 2006.

Watch Ukelele Weeps here:


Being completely blown away by his playing, I thought  “I would like to photograph this guy playing live” which seemed fairly unrealistic at the time, for I had yet to own a DSLR and had no clue if he was even touring.

Within in a few months of seeing that video, Jake played at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. It was after this performance during a meet and greet that I met Jake for the first time. Over the next two years, I had a couple of chance encounters with Jake before and after shows, I gave him my business card, sent him a letter and we exchanged tweets and a bond was formed. He began to grant me clearance to photograph him at shows.

I photographed a couple of his shows at The Cedar on the West Bank in Minneapolis. It was always a challenge, for the lighting at the Cedar isn’t all that great and always made for extremely contrasting imagery.

 November 2010 


The full set can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157625200659159/

March 2012


The ful set can be viewed here:http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157629197082172/ 

When the images started being posted of Jake’s current The Grand Ukulele Tour, the lighting was AWESOME!!  Nice multiple colored background lighting, over head lighting, smoke…the true “rock star” stage experince. I was excited to see that the tor would be passing through St. Paul and was anticipating the opportunity to photograph Jake under such optimum lighting conditions.

At the end of September, in Las Vegas, five hours before I was to fly back to Minneapolis, I broke my ankle that required surgery to repair. Bedridden, then on crutches, I had to withdraw from all of my photographic commitments for October and November…with December still uncertain.

Of all of events I had to withdraw from, not being able to photograph Jake was the most disappointing. I had purchased a front row balcony seat back in May when tickets for the show first went on sale, so I “surrendered” that I would just  sit back, enjoy the show and not do any photography.

When I arrived at he box office to retrieve my ticket from will call, I was informed there wasn’t an elevator and they wouldn’t let me hop up the stairs to the balcony. After a brief discussion with the Lead Usher, I was moved to a seat in the 7th row, stage left, on the aisle.

The experience of watching Jake play is such an incredible one.  From the moment he humbly walks out on to stage, through a mesmerizing set varying from jazz, blues, classical and rock is such an emotional charged experience. And his 90 minute set kept me moving with wowed impression on into blue sadness to a jazzy hyperness to a rocking elation.

As always, his playing style just blows me away and leaves me in a state of awe and, no matter what emotions it may invoke, over all, hearing him play just makes me happy.  There were two moments during this show that really stuck out to me: at the pauses while he played the tribute to a dying friend’s mother during  “Blues Roses Falling” the energy of the audience was silently still and you could have heard a pin drop.  While playing “Dragon” he electronically added riffs and overlays through a wah pedal and a delay, then played a lead over it all to create an “electronic ukulele orchestra.”  You can fully understand why he is called the “Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele”  ever expanding the sonic vocabulary of the ukulele.

What I love the most is his sharing stories behind certain songs, how he came to play ukulele, what inspires him, but mostly his goof –ball antics, reflected on this tour by sharing stories of being a recent new dad. And too, as the show came to a close, how he thanks and acknowledges the various people that are significant to the night’s production and to the theatre, especially the volunteers and then his acknowledging the audience for their attendance. And all of this is so truly genuine and sincere, not just a musician saying from stage “Thank you  (insert town of the night here)”

If you get a chance to se Jake play in your area, it is a truly worthwhile experience to watch this virtuoso express and share his talent.


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