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Who: Jake Shimabukuro with bassist Nathan Verner

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18

Where: Uptown Theater, 1350 Third St., Napa

Tickets: $40-$75

Information: 707-295-0123, uptowntheatrenapa.com


“This is the underdog of all instruments,” said Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro as he opened his 2010 TED talk.

“I’ve always believed that it’s the instrument of peace because if everyone played the ukulele this world would be a much happier place.”

Then Shimabukuro, who can get sounds out of a ukulele that no one else can, covered Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with all the ferocity and tenderness that has made him a towering presence.

Shimabukuro has collaborated with legends from Bette Midler to Yo-Yo Ma, from Cyndi Lauper to Bela Fleck. And he’s been compared to guitar wizard Jimi Hendrix for his incendiary riffs.

Yet it was a gentler song that gave Shimabukuro his big break.

A fifth-generation Japanese-Hawaiian, the ukulele player didn’t even know what YouTube was when someone posted a video of him covering the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It now stands at more than 15 million views.

The song was perfect for showcasing his virtuosity and opened the door to global touring for Shimabukuro, who’d mostly played in Hawaii and Japan (where his agent is from).

Married to a Hawaiian physician with two young children, he plays about 140 gigs a year worldwide, and just about everyone who attends one of his shows is amazed at what they hear.

“When I’m on stage all I’m trying to do is just connect with people, and I want to be as sensitive as possible so that I can feel what they’re feeling,” he said in “Life on Four Strings” a 2012 documentary. “Music communicates the purest form of emotion.”

A relentless innovator, Shimabukuro’s most recent album, “Nashville Sessions,” was unrehearsed. He went into the studio with a longtime collaborator, the bassist Nathan Verner, and a drummer he’d never met, Evan Hutchings.

The new album, released last September, was “very spontaneous. The nice thing about this record was we didn’t have a deadline or really any plan, so there was no pressure,” Shimabukuro said in a phone interview in late January.

“We just wanted to approach it like a jam session. I wrote some basic melodies and we just would figure out a form and then play. In the middle we would improvise and just let whatever happened happen.”

He said he’s “really happy with what we came up with, because the ideas were so fresh and so new you can feel the inspiration behind it.”

Playing with an untested drummer was a leap of faith, but he said it worked out well.

“When you’re playing music with people it’s not just about your skill level, it’s the personality, too. You have to be able to read each other; you have to be able to respect each other, and you have to trust each other,” he said.

“I can venture out and know that the drummer and bassist are going to be right with me. And they have that kind of trust where they can feel something and just go for it and just know that I’m going to dig that and go with them,” he added.

“Usually that kind of thing takes years and years of playing together all the time.”

Who: Jake Shimabukuro with bassist Nathan Verner

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18

Where: Uptown Theater, 1350 Third St., Napa

Tickets: $40-$75

Information: 707-295-0123, uptowntheatrenapa.com

At age 40, Shimabukuro has retained a boyish sweetness and remains modest and humble. Audiences find him endearing and genuine, untainted by the indulgent temptations that celebrity can bring.

He’s been playing the ukulele since he was 4, growing up in Honolulu, when his mother gave him an old ukulele. “From that day on, you had to pry the instrument away from me in order to get me to do anything else.”

Now he’s trying to put ukes in the hands of lots of kids. In 2013, Shimabukuro founded the Four Strings Foundation to provide ukuleles and instruction to schoolchildren and also speaks to youth groups about getting their highs without drugs.

Ultimately what makes Shimabukuro so engaging is his committed relationship with his little four-stringed instrument.

“I love experimenting,” he said. “I love trying new things, and I feel like with this album I really go into some unchartered territory.”

He cited the final song in the collection, “Kilauea,” which is “definitely not what you’d expect from a ukulele record.” The song brings to mind what you’d imagine Jeff Beck would sound like on the uke, which is no accident.

“Jeff Beck was one of my heroes growing up, and I think on that particular track you can hear his influence,” Shimabukuro said. “It was completely improvised — one take — which made it more special.”

What makes the sounds that Shimabukuro gets out of the ukulele even more remarkable is that he now does it without the special effects and gizmos that most guitar heroes employ.

“I thought I was getting too dependent on my pedal board because when you have a lot of delay and echoes and all these different things, you rely less on your technique and more on the electronics to shape your sound,” he said.

“I wasn’t focusing so much on my fingers anymore. I was focusing more on the different sounds: This pedal does this and that pedal does that. I wanted to go back to the natural sound of the ukulele.”

Michael Shapiro is author of “A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration.” He writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.