Jake Shimabukuro is probably the first to realize the full potential of Hawaii's four-stringed "jumping flea."
The Honolulu native handles his ukulele with the same wizardry and bravura that his idols Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Miles Davis played their respective instruments.
Who: Jake Shimabukuro
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept 14
Where: Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville
Tickets: $29 for lawn seating and $21 for ages 12 and younger
Shimabukuro (shee-mah-boo-koo-row), who has been playing ukulele since the tender age of 4, gained widespread acclaim in 2006 after a video of him playing George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was posted on YouTube, garnering more than 12 million views.
Since then, he has been dubbed a musical "hero" by Rolling Stone, appeared on TV with Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien, played for the Queen of England and received praises from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Perez Hilton and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
More recently, Shimabukuro had the honor of working with producer Alan Parsons, who is remembered for his work on Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and The Beatles' "Abbey Road." Parsons heard Shimabukuro perform near his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., and later offered his services on the ukulele player's 10th album, "Grand Ukulele."
"His arrangements and the sound that we got in the recording studio was tremendous," Shimabukuro says during a telephone interview. "He's a wizard in the studio, and it was so inspiring to watch him work. The whole recording process was an education for me."
Parsons also organized an A-list of musicians to perform on the album, including a 30-piece orchestra with members of the Nashville Symphony and a rhythm section that included drummer Simon Phillips (The Who, Toto).
Like Shimabukuro's live shows, the album touches down in multiple genres and includes originals as well as new arrangements of covers such as Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow," Sting's "Fields of Gold" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."
Ampli-fication, Shimabukuro says, is the key to bringing power to his small instrument.
"When I was younger, I remember thinking to myself, 'Who would want to listen to a solo ukulele for two hours?' " he says. "You have to be a real music fan to appreciate that, but the casual listeners, like my friends, would never sit through a solo ukulele concert, so I never had the confidence to do that."
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Mac McAnally, who produced Shimabukuro's 2006 album "Gently Weeps," encouraged him to step out as a solo artist. Shimabukuro began experimenting with distortion pedals and other electric paraphernalia to give him the sound required to keep an audience interested.
"A lot of my heros were electric guitar players like Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck," he says. "Van Halen could go out on stage and play solo guitar for 20 minutes in a stadium with 30 to 40 thousand people, and everyone could hear it, and it sounded great. I always thought that was the coolest thing, and I loved how it was so loud and powerful but also nice to listen to. I remember thinking, I need to figure out how to make my ukulele as loud as that guitar but also make it easy to listen to."
At some point in his career, Shimabukuro figured it out.
The documentary, "Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings," directed by Tadashi Nakamura, was recently featured at the 2013 Ashland Independent Film Festival.
This weekend, Shimabukuro will close out the Britt season with a solo performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville.
Local guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Pevar will open the show at 7:30 with a set of guitar instrumentals, including material from his new album, "From the Core," as well as some R&B classics. Guitarist Jeff Kloetzel will perform at 6 p.m. on the Table Rock City Stage.
Tickets cost $29 for lawn seating and $21 for ages 12 and younger, and can be purchased online at www.brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 541-773-6077.