Last Friday was a hectic day for world-renowned ukulele musician Jake Shimabukuro. Not only was he performing his holiday show at the Kahilu Theatre, but he also did a mini livestream concert for Hawaii Tourism Japan two hours before the event. It was also day 34 on his 40-city fall/winter tour of the U.S.
Our “jolly ambassador of aloha” was kind enough to spare a few minutes with me to talk about his new compilation album “Jake and Friends” and upcoming projects.
Jake & Friends is a 16-track album in which Shimabukuro performs duets with a who’s who of music royalty, including Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Ziggy Marley, Michael McDonald, and Jimmy Buffett. The concept came up four years ago when Shimabukuro’s manager suggested top artists for a possible duets record, but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the release date.
What was the process of putting together an album like this?
When the idea was presented, I was like, ‘Uh, OK.’ And then we started tossing some names around and I was like, ‘Oh that sounds amazing!’ But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘This is never going to happen, right?’ And then we were in the studio recording “Stardust” with Willie Nelson two months later.
How did you assign the song selections for each artist?
I left it up to the artists to choose, and a lot of them were songs that were iconic songs of theirs like Bette Midler and “The Rose,” Jesse Colin Young’s “Get Together.” Ziggy Marley wanted to do “All You Need is Love” because he was singing it during his tour. When I talked with Vince Gill, he mentioned George Harrison and how he just loved the ukulele. So, we did “Something.”
The cover art is a bit psychedelic! What’s going on there?
My manager, Van Fletcher, wanted this retro look, and I love the way it turned out. I think it fits the record’s vibe. It’s really about people coming together and, you know, coming back together and supporting each other, especially after all we’ve gone through during the last couple of years.
How does it feel to be touring again?
I’m just so grateful to be playing in front of a live audience again. It’s something I’ll never take for granted. I remember our first show back this year was in Clearwater, Florida, and I remember walking out on stage, and everyone just started cheering and screaming. I got choked up! And then, after the first song, to hear the applause and that excitement, I started crying and got emotional on stage.
We need this! And for me, too, I’ve been able to go to a few shows and be in the audience and experience that impact, sitting in the audience and listening to live music. Oh man, there’s just no substitute for that.
Do you have any plans to get back in the studio, or tour in the coming year?
Both. I’ll continue touring and am working on another collaborations record. It’ll be a little bit different. I think collaboration is so important during these days of the pandemic. You start to realize how short life is, and if have you the opportunity to work, collaborate, or do any kind of project with someone, you should take advantage of that now, while we’re all still here.
Jake & Friends is available on CD, vinyl records and all streaming platforms.
Connect with Jake Shimabukuro.
Steve Roby is the editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Featured image: Steve Roby