UCSB Arts & Lectures presented Jake Shimabukuro: Christmas in Hawai'i at the Granada on Dec. 1 | Credit: David Bazemore Photo

Christmas arrived early for everyone who attended Jake Shimabukuro’s show last week at the Granada. While most people in the audience were familiar with the virtuoso, there were a few uninitiated who had no idea what a treat they were in for. It was fun hearing their surprised excitement. The unconventional Christmas in Hawai’i show started off with Shimabukuro’s interpretation of “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert, an arrangement filled with gorgeous harmonics. The fluidity and speed of his fingers mimicked other instruments, such as the harp and mandolin, giving the feeling that there was an entire orchestra played by two hands. 

UCSB Arts & Lectures presented Jake Shimabukuro: Christmas in Hawai’i at the Granada on Dec. 1 | Credit: David Bazemore

From single harmonic notes on “Silent Night” to the dizzying trance of his frenetic strums on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he mesmerized the audience with a sweeping cornucopia of songs, reimagining hits such as George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to Christmas favorites such as “What Child Is This” and the more contemporary “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway.

Shimabukuro’s sets included his favorite songs from unexpected genres such as rock, jazz, flamenco, and bluegrass, hitting heavy on The Beatles and Queen and offering a little help from his friends to play songs from his latest album, including Jackson Waldhoff, on electric bass, guitarist and singer-songwriter Justin Kawika Young, who shared some of his originals, as well as traditional Hawaiian songs. Herb Ohta, Jr. rounded out the friends who played songs from Jake & Friends, a collaborative album with his musical heroes, including Santa Barbara’s own Kenny Loggins.

That the show featured the ukulele was expected. What was extra was Shimabukuro’s off-the-charts performance. He transformed a small four-stringed instrument that in Hawaiian means “jumping flea,” to a level that flies to places unknown. 

Shimabukuro’s mother taught him his first chords and he went on to study with Hawaiian legends. While he maintains a humble sense of respect for his musical roots, he shines when he spins his own take on classic songs. Sometimes he draws inspiration from non-musical sources, such as his original composition, “Dragon,” a tribute to Bruce Lee.

The show ended with “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. After the roaring applause, Shimabukuro generously extended his aloha during the meet and greet after the show. He was just as charismatic off stage and made everyone feel like a cousin on a first name basis. A show by Jake Shimabukuro is what Christmas in Hawai’i sounds like.

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