The largest crowd at the Garden Stage during the Monterey Jazz Festival was there to see virtuoso ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro. The crowd filled every seat, crowded the aisles, stood and sat in the empty grassy areas to either side of the seats, stood behind the bleachers and peeked between members of the audience, even climbed trees in order to get a look at the Hawaiian sensation. Volunteers and staff members stood at the side of the stage and peeked through viewing holes in the backdrop (see below) to catch a glimpse. Shimabukuro may not play straight-ahead jazz, but the crowd clearly didn't care; every song he played was met with wild applause.
Shimakuburo covered rock songs and added his own flair to them. His epic version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was touching and deeply contemplative, pulling in both elements of Freddy Mercury's unique vocal style and Brian May's trademark guitar work while clearly making them his own. His version of "My Guitar Gently Weeps" similarly took a well-known, guitar-centric work and made it fresh, new and profoundly emotional.
What is most amazing about Shimabukuro is the rich, fully rounded nature of the sounds he pulls from the ukulele. The ukulele has no bass strings; frequently, rock songs transposed to the ukulele seem ethereal but also missing something. Despite his lack of bass strings, however, Shimabukuro made every piece of music rich, moving and in the case of the cover songs, wholly his own.
For more information on the Monterey Jazz Festival, see our Monterey Jazz Festival page. For coverage of the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival, see all our Monterey Jazz Festival posts. For more photos from this and other performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival, see our 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival set on Flickr.