Talking Story With Jake Shimabukuro

With a brand new CD hitting store shelves, a national concert tour with Jimmy Buffett, a William Morris Agency contract in his back pocket and a scheduled appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien (December 13, 2005), ukulele genius Jake Shimabukuro is on the fast track to mega-stardom.

But da Two Japanee Bruddahs wen catch bruddah Jake, during a short layover at San Francisco International Airport, fo’ talk story.

We spoke about Jake’s fourth solo CD, “Dragon,” which was released in the U.S. last week. We were interested in his decision to record the CD in analog format, on tape, rather than the current digital standard. He said he wanted to try it because he had always heard about how analog recordings have a warmth that cannot be duplicated in the digital format. And the verdict? “I was blown away by the sound,” Jake exclaimed.

He couldn’t quite explain why, but Jake said that something about the analog sound of LPs “really moves me, internally.” He surmised that maybe it’s because the sound is so familiar, taking him back to his childhood, when there were records constantly playing in his parents’ living room.

Okay, we no can hea da difference between analog an’ digital, but da Two Japanee Bruddahs do know dat bruddah Jake’s new CD is hot! Check ‘em out!

We then asked Jake, whose diverse musical influences range from Beethoven to Eddie Van Halen to Frank Sinatra to Carlos Santana, if he could spend an afternoon jamming with any musician, living or not, who would it be? Jake agonized over the question for several moments, then finally answered, “Jimi Hendrix.” Jake, whose playing is often compared to that of Hendrix, said that he would have been thrilled, simply to be in the presence of Jimi Hendrix, perhaps the most important electric guitarist of all time.

Den, we wen ask Jake, if you wuz on top one deserted island (jus’ like Rabbit Island), an’ could have only five CDs, which ones you goin’ pick?

“I don’t know which album it would be, but the first would have to be one of the classic Beatles albums.” His second choice, not surprisingly, was “Friday Night in San Francisco,” the historic acoustic guitar summit of John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia and Al DiMeola, recorded live at the Warfield Theater in December 1980. Jake’s next choice, was “So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter,” by Ani DiFranco, the feminist folk/rock minstrel, who has been compared, at times, to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.

His fourth choice was “Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Live at the Quick.” This selection is quite fitting, as the eclectic, genre-defying Bela Fleck is to the banjo, what Jake has become to the ukulele. His fifth and final album would be a Jimmy Buffett album, as Jake says, “because it’s a deserted island.”

We then shifted gears and asked Jake about his favorite restaurants in Hawai’i. Jake, who is nearly as passionate about food as he is about music, said that he especially loves Japanese cuisine. And, his two favorites are Momomo and Tokkuri Tei. Jake enjoys the wide range of traditional, as well as contemporary, inventive appetizer-like dishes, that the two izakaya-style restaurants specialize in.

As for local food, Jake, without hesitation named Side Street Inn and Ono’s Hawaiian Foods as his favorites. He said whenever he’s away from Hawai’i for awhile, he develops a craving for Ono’s salt meat watercress soup. As the name implies, it’s salted meat in a savory broth, with a lot of fresh watercress. According to Jake, “throw some rice inside, mix ‘em up, an’ ho, da ono.”
With his flight starting to board, we had one final question for Jake, a question that had puzzled us for some time. Noticing that each of his four CDs included a tune about the mysterious “Toastman” (Toastmaker’s Revenge, Toastman’s Dilemma, Toastman’s Wave, Toastmanland), we had to ask, “who or wot is da Toastman?”

With a hearty laugh, Jake said that, as a young child, he loved to make toast. Not eat toast, mind you, but make toast. He said he would leap out of bed every morning, dash to kitchen, and start making toast. Admitting that he was a somewhat strange kid, Jake said he was fascinated by the toaster, and would just sit in front of the shiny chrome appliance, waiting anxiously for the warm toast to jump out, often trying to predict when it would pop, counting down, 5-4-3-2-1. He’d butter, then sprinkle each slice with sugar and cinnamon, making stacks of toast for his entire family.

With that, Jake repeatedly thanked us, then had to run off to catch his flight.

You can pick up Jake Shimabukuro’s CD, “Dragon,” at Tiki Tiki (21 Masonic Avenue, San Francisco), Aloha Warehouse (in the Buchanan Mall in San Francisco’s Japantown) or at Nikkei Traditions San Jose (219 Jackson Street, in San Jose’s Japantown).

Jake will be performing live on Saturday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m., at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St. (at Presidio) in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights area. Tickets are $18 for members, $20 for the public. For more information, visit the http://www.jccsf.org/, call (415) 292-1233 or e-mail arts@jccsf.org.

Keith Kamisugi and Kyle Tatsumoto are da Two Japanee Bruddahs. Visit them on the Web at http://www.twojapaneebruddahs.com/. Or e-mail them at wot@twojapaneebruddahs.com.

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