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Enter the dragon

Joe Nguyen, staff writer
Aug. 15, 2006
Page 1 | 2

Holdrege, Neb., a town with a population of just more than 9,000, is home to a gorgeous performing arts center called The Tassel.

Inside, a predominantly older crowd of 200 waits for the night’s performer, an instrumentalist from Hawaii.

Jake Shimabukuro backstage at The Tassel in Holdrege, Neb. on March 3, 2006.
Photo by Joe Nguyen
Jake Shimabukuro backstage at The Tassel in Holdrege, Neb. on March 3, 2006.

A young, slender Asian man steps onto the stage carrying a ukulele. Wearing jeans, black Chuck Taylor shoes, a black short-sleeved collared shirt and a slim red tie, he plugs a cord into the petite, stringed instrument.

With lightning-fast fingers he masterfully manipulates it, creating a plethora of aesthetically pleasing sounds that fill the room. The crowd sits in awe of his amazing skills. The sound that’s produced is an amalgam of genres that spans from jazz to bluegrass to rock, all with a slight Hawaiian flare.

Instantly, everyone learns the name of Jake Shimabukuro.


Backstage before the show, the 29-year-old sat back and relaxes while enjoying some of the local Chinese cuisine. He was laid-back and upbeat, much like his homeland of Hawaii. He was willing to talk about anything whether it was his bashful encounter with Heidi Klum on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” the time he played with the legendary Les Paul, or his current relationship, or lack thereof.

“No, [I’m] totally single,” he said with a laugh, “so if you know anybody, you should hook me up.”

The fifth-generation Japanese American, or “gosei,” was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the age of four, his mother taught him to play the ukulele.

“I would always ask her to teach me,” he said. “And she would teach me just basic chords and we would always play traditional Hawaiian songs.”

Jake Shimabukuro performs at The Tassel in Holdrege, Neb. on March 3, 2006.
Photo by Joe Nguyen
Jake Shimabukuro performs at The Tassel in Holdrege, Neb. on March 3, 2006.

As he grew older, he said his ear for music diversified. As such, he tried playing blues pieces and rock pieces on his instrument.

“I would just try to find those notes on the ukulele because it was the only instrument I had,” he said.

By the time he was in college, he became enamored with music theory and the science behind music.

“I would always wonder, with chords like C7, what is that ‘7’ for?” he said. “It helped me get more freedom because I understood what my fingers were doing.”

He left college to turn his ukulele passion into a professional career. Though he said he wants to go back and pursue a degree one day.

“I started playing at little coffee shops and got asked to do weddings and birthday parties, things like that,” he said. “It just kind of grew from there.” continue >>


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