Jazz Fest 2019, Day 1: Frank reviews Jake Shimabukuro, Scott Sharrard, and Downchild Blues Band with Dan Aykroyd


Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) joined the Downchild Blues Band for its opening night performance at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival on June 21. - PHOTO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN
  • Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) joined the Downchild Blues Band for its opening night performance at the 2019 CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival on June 21.

A human music box

Jake Shimabukuro is reality; he’s the truth. When I said that as I walked out of his early show at Geva Theatre Center, I felt like the people who left with me may have only latched onto the ukulele master’s hyperbolic slash-and-burn, and not more to his understated charm.

Don’t get me wrong, the crowd loved him and were brought to their feet more than once. My mom adores the fellow, and with stars in her eyes refers to him as “Jeff.”

When I last spoke with Shimabukuro some eight years ago, he told me he would probably never electrify his instrument. But like I said, that was eight years ago, and hell, an artist needs to grow. Right?

Well, the artist pulled off the stuff that made us fall in love with him in the first place, like Fab Four faves “Eleanor Rigby” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which degenerated gloriously into While My Guitar Not-So-Gently Wails Like a Banshee. Shimabukuro threatened to whittle his uke into kindling as he plugged in and pealed out.

His instrumental music (a bass player joined him onstage) is unabashedly introspective, but not self-conscious. In other words, Shimabukuro is humble. He positively brought the house down with an incredible rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and invited us to sing along, for better or for worse. Jake Shimabukuro is a human music box.

The electric baby

Some guys pick up the guitar, and you know it belongs in their arms. Scott Sharrard cradled his electric baby, before the little bastard started crying for its mama in the big tent. Best bathrooms in the whole jazz fest kingdom, by the way.

This New York City citizen and ex-Greg Allman Band director is a master of the muddy and bloody history of rock ‘n’ roll. With killer tone all-around, his band was able, although the well-played sax came off a touch kazoo-ish.

Because Sharrard and his band got a late start, I needed to agitate some gravel and split. I had a hot date with Toronto’s Downchild Blues Band on the City of Rochester stage.

Downchild was righteous, Downchild was mean. Downchild was one of the hottest things I’d ever seen. I mean, c’mon — a twin harp harp attack? It was as if the blues were shedding soul tears. Rock ‘n’ roll with a jump and a kick.

                                                                                                                                                                VIDEO BY MARTIN KAUFMAN

Speaking of kicks, Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) joined the band for a hefty set where he played the harmonica and sang enthusiastically, but kinda flat. His gutsy dance moves — sort of a soft-shoe boogaloo — are clearly what saved him in front of something like 6,000 fans, some dressed as “Ghostbusters” fans and others like “The Blues Brothers.” Do you see the light, Elwood? Do you see the light?

Shimabukuro plays again tomorrow night at Kilbourn Hall, at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. In the meantime, I’ll be diggin’ on some Southside Johnny and Patti LaBelle. Good night, Miss Cavendish, wherever you are.