Music

We Need Your Art. We Need Your Cowbells!

Whether you are staring at a painting, watching a modern dance, glancing at graffitti, listening to an opera, or sharing a Youtube video---you appreciate what is creative, artistic, and therefore relevant. But do you understand it? Behind all of the art is an artist. Knowing more about the person who made the art can make all the difference in the world in how you perceive, understand, and ultimately enjoy that art.

I got the chance to learn from and about Jake Shimabukuro, the "Elvis Presley of the Ukelele", in a live interview I attended a few days ago. Like all great interviews you gain insight into the person and what makes them tick. His life is a great profile in passion, persistence, and the assistance of others. I gained some extraordinary life lessons from him that I'd like to share with you. Jakeshimabukuro-com-uploads-album_art-161-430x0

Here's a guy who loves the ukelele (oooh-k00-lay-lay). Born and raised in Hawaii where the uke is a respected instrument and cultural icon. Not something shared by us mainlanders. We think of it as a toy or perhaps a tropical party prop. The ukelele is taught in Hawaiian schools, much like the recorder is in the lower 48. So he learned the ukelele as a young kid and fell in love with it. He literally could not put it down when he was young. He said, "My parents had to pry the ukelele out of my hands, so  I could do other things, like eat." The ukelele has only four strings and so its range is more limited than a guitar, but Jake never thought way. "Once I learned 4 chords I could play 3000 Hawaiian songs." Maybe he exaggerated, but most ukelele players accepted these limits. Not Jake. He experimented, he mastered, he re-invented this tiny instrument over many years. All the while he tried to make a living playing in bands playing covers. After many years, his music won awards in Hawaii. And after a decade or so he recorded a few songs that included George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". He played this song in 2004 on a local Hawaiian tv show. A couple years later, one of the first videos uploaded onto Youtube in 2006 was this tv show starring Jake. Jake still does not know who uploaded it or how they got the video.  People were astounded by what he could do with a ukelele. Long story short it went viral, perhaps one of the first multi-million view Youtubes! It" launched" his career at the age of 29.

I first heard about Jake from the 2010 Ted conference. Watch!


TED Talk: Jake Shimabukuro plays "Bohemian... by TED  

Despite his growing fame and success he is a humble guy who knows his roots. He still loves the ukelele and he has become its greatest evangelist and ambassador. In fact, there is evidence that more people are selling, buying and playing the ukelele because of him! He continues to learn about how he can express himself through it. It is clear he is still an artist driven by his art. Refreshing to see and hear this.

Since he writes all of his own music, he uses a process to get into the emotion and state of mind of the inspiration of the music--like method acting he assumes the role before he plays for each song.

And for all these reasons I appreciate his art, his expressions--his music even more.

Here are the life lessons I got from his interview:

  1. Find your passion and pursue it with all of your heart. He said he feels each strum, each note inside his body before he expresses it. His talent is wrapped in his emotions--that's passsion!
  2. Relish the role of the under dog---the challenger. Don't be daunted by the negativity and the voices of doubt that intend to derail your dreams. Can you imagine how many people told him the ukelele would not be a good career choice?!
  3. Not only become proficient but improvise, free-style and make your passion express the uniqueness of you. One of his heroes is Bruce Lee. He admires how Lee mixed methods, styles, and disciplines to blend a new form of martial art. 
  4. Persistence, practice and never giving up pays off. First you are true to yourself and others will follow. Find people who support you and push you. Success is being you!
  5. When the door of opportunity opens, walk through it. When the kindness of strangers and "lady luck" shines on you--take advantage of it. An unknown person who loved how Jake played uploaded that video and transformed Jake's life.
  6. Use your emotions and passions to guide your best work. To bring the best out of you. Engage your feelings into your work and your "art"--express yourself authentically!

One of his new songs is More Ukelele. Jake wants the world to know and love the ukelele. He said this song was inspired by the following SNL skit More Cowbell!

Never will listen to Jake's music the same way. The same goes for you, the artist in you. When people understand who you are, why you do what you do---they see you, understand you and your causes more clearly. They appreciate you. 

Bang your cowbell---we need more cowbell!

Thanks for reading. John


Life Lessons from NOLA

Had the great pleasure of spending the last week in New Orleans. It is a special place that continues to struggle post-Katrina and from the more recent damage from Isaac. Yet her spirit is strong. The people of New Orleans are resilient, even though many of the physical structures around them are vacant and abandoned. I was both disturbed and inspired by what I saw and experienced. Here are 4 of the lessons I got from this recovering grand dame:

1.Love Thy Neighbor: Especially during elections, we become more cynical about politics and politicians. The value of public service has steadily dropped and few people pursue it. But we know that we need strong, smart, and reality based leadership. We need people who lead with words and actions. I was fortunate to hear the mayor of NOLA, Matt Landrieu, speak about his city. He talked frankly about his top issues: crime. But specifically the homicide rate of young black men, which is 10x their % of the population. He told graphic stories of the unintended consequences of these deaths on the families, neighborhood, economy and community. His big message was, "Until we have as much empathy for the perpetrators of the crime as we do the victims, we will make no progress." Not exactly a political statement! He challenged the audience to think about how we as a society failed the criminal youth. How the family failed to nurture, the schools failed to teach, the churches failed to morally guide. How we all have to assume responsibility for that "criminal". In a world of "personal responsibility" gone mad, where we should  just be responsible for ourselves and our family. But we know in our hearts, that will never be enough. We have to pursue our humanistic instincts to help one another, to take responsibility for one another--only then can we advance our ideals for our community. We know our destinies are tied to one another. 

Preservation
Photo I took of Preservation Hall

 We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.  Thich Nhat Hanh

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another. Mother Teresa 

2. Music is the greatest soul food: A friend took me to the Preservation Hall to experience the birthplace of jazz. One of my top life experiences of all time! Crowded in this tiny storefront shop that serves as their theatre, we were treated to the gritty and beautiful sounds of Amazing Grace, What a Wonderful World, When the Saints Go Marching In, and other classics. The building just like the faces of the musicians expressed great history and great humility. Their music and their voices tattooed my soul with their passion. 

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. Plato

3.  Taxicab to Friendship:  Cab drivers are always a source of great knowledge and insight. Few people see as much as they do. I always talk to cab drivers. And if I listen carefully I learn things about them, the world and myself. My experience in NOLA may have been the most interesting to date. I took a couple of colleagues to go see Candy Chang's Before I Die exhibit. Candy installed a giant blackboard on an abandoned building to allow people to fill in the blank after "Before I Die______. These exhibits are now displayed around the world. Anyway, I wanted to see where it all started. Long story short we got lost (my fault) and then discovered that the abandoned building was refurbished and Candy's work was gone. Through this adventure we got to know Haten, a Tunisian cab driver/entrepreneur who has lived in NOLA for 16 years. We learned much about the city and about his story of struggle and joy. We learned about his family, his education and his career. Haten is an optimist and humanist. As an immigrant he is still pursuing the American dream despite many setbacks and his stint as a cab driver will be "temporary". In all of the commotion of our adventure , I left my iPad in the seat pocket of his taxi. Haten returned it to me! As I thanked him, he smiled and asked, "When do you leave for the airport? May I take you?" Always the entrepreneur! Haten picked me up at the hotel and noticed a couple of women waiting for a taxi and asked me if they could go with us. They jumped in his cab and off we went. Haten and I picked up our conversation where we left off. And when he dropped me off, he said, "Please call me next time you are in New Orleans and call me and let me know how you are doing." The two women, turned to me and said almost in unison, "How do you know that guy?!" I said, "Oh, we are friends."

Good things happen when you meet strangers. Yo Yo Ma

4. Mentors are everywhere: I got the chance to meet Leah Chase who has run the Dooky Chase restaurant for 66 years! Leah, the Queen of Creole, has fed every US President since the 60's, Martin Luther King and a host of other dignitaries. While she is a world reknown chef she is a philosopher, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and a truth teller too. She told us that "if you pay attention, everyone becomes your mentor." And in those precious moments with her, we paid attention and we were served up a delicious platter full of Chase mentoring! 

I look forward to my return to NOLA.

Thanks for reading. John