By MIA NAKAJI MONNIER
Rafu Staff Writer
Older women and young men alike chattered excitedly amongst themselves as their turn in line approached to meet ukulele sensation Jake Shimabukuro after his concert at the Colburn School on Feb. 8.
Despite having made the six-hour flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles just hours before his concert, Shimabukuro treated each one of his fans with the same patience, allowing families to snap multiple photos with him, and even playing a few notes on the instruments of aspiring ukulele players who hoped he might leave traces of his talent on their strings.
In these moments in the foyer of the Colburn School of Music’s Zipper Hall, it’s obvious that Shimabukuro’s stage persona — bright, humble, and kind — extends beyond the performance hall. It’s just who he is.
During his Los Angeles concert, Shimabukuro played mostly selections from his recent album, “Peace Love Ukulele” (2011). The original pieces ranged from the light, smooth jazz “143 (Kelly’s Song),” written for Shimabukuro’s wife of several months, to fast, uke-rock “Bring Your Adz,” a song as heavy as the diminutive instrument will allow.
Between songs, Shimabukuro paused to share the stories behind each of his selections, explaining that “143” was, in the days before cell phones, the pager code for “I love you,” and that “adz” refers to a small Hawaiian woodcarving tool. If a guitar is an axe, he says on stage with a laugh, then its mini version… well, it must be an adz.
Midway through the concert, a three-piece jazz combo led by David Benoit arrived on stage, lending more body to the soloist’s performance. Together, they played another Shimabukuro original, “Five Dollars Unleaded,” a humorous three-movement song about driving that describes the feeling of cruising on a full tank, running out of gas, and filling up again.
Other highlights of the night included “Go for Broke,” an earnest earnest tribute to the Japanese American troops of World War II, and “Piano Forte,” a simple ukulele-piano duet treated with great sensitivity by Benoit.
Having charmed the audience with talent and warmth, Shimabukuro received three standing ovations through the course of the concert and followed his set with two encores, which may have been the best performances of the night.
“As My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the George Harrison song that launched the musician into YouTube viral stardom, was prefaced with a retelling of that pivotal moment of Shimabukuro’s career, highlighting his luck and the gratitude he still feels toward the fans who brought him out of anonymity. Years after his rise to fame, he refuses to take his success for granted.
The night came to a close, with Shimabukuro and the combo playing Benoit’s “Rejoyce,” on an auditorium of bobbing heads and tapping toes. Looking around the audience of delighted fans, Shimabukuro’s slogan seemed not so off-base: “If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.”
For those who didn’t get the chance to see Shimabukuro in concert on the 8th, he will be performing again at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19.