Ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro doesn’t limit himself with what he can present with his instrument. Part of his repertoire is holiday music, which he presents with a special show meant to inspire and entertain.
Shimabukuro will bring his “Christmas in Hawai’i” show to Fox Tucson Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 26.
During his tour, Shimabukuro is joined by bassist Jackson Waldhoff, singer-songwriter Justin Kawika Young and ukulele player Herb Ohta Jr.
All of the musicians in the show, including Shimabukuro, hail from Hawaii.
Shimabukuro and Young grew up together in Hawaii, both starting in music around the same time. Ohta Jr. was Shimabukuro’s teacher growing up.
“It’s neat to all be together, playing and traveling together. It’s just a different kind of energy. I know it’s going to be fun. If we are having fun, the audience will be having fun,” Shimabukuro said.
Shimabukuro said audiences can expect stories from growing up in Hawaii.
“When the four of us get together, we can’t help it. It will be all spontaneous. Who knows what will happen?” Shimabukuro said.
“Definitely there will be a lot of banter. We’ll make fun of each other and tell embarrassing stories about one another.”
Last year, Shimabukuro staged a Christmas show, but it featured a different group of musicians. This included Thunderstorm Artis, a singer-songwriter from Hawaii who appeared on “The Voice.”
The show will feature holiday favorites such as “We Three Kings,” “O Holy Night,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as well as tunes from Shimabukuro’s new album “Jake & Friends.”
Young will be featured on songs from the album such as “All You Need Is Love,” “A Place in the Sun” and “Get Together.”
The group will also be performing traditional Hawaii songs, including Hawaiian versions of Christmas songs.
There is one version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that features six ukuleles, five big fat pigs, four flower leis, three dry squid, two coconuts and a Myna bird in a papaya tree.
“Hopefully, we can turn it into a sing-along where the audience can get involved,” Shimabukuro said.
Shimabukuro hopes that with the show, he can expand audiences’ knowledge of the capabilities of the ukulele.
“We try to mix it up with the songs and try to explore different genres and sounds. It takes you through an evolution of the instrument,” Shimabukuro said.
The musician has had the chance to work with musicians from different genres during his career.
In November 2021, Shimabukuro released “Jake & Friends,” which features guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Jack Johnson, Vince Gill, Jimmy Buffett, Lukas Nelson, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Warren Haynes, Ziggy Marley, Jesse Colin Young, Asleep at the Wheel, Ray Benson, Sonny Landreth and Amy Grant.
Many of the musicians featured on the album are Shimabukuro’s personal musical heroes and influences.
For the album, he recorded where he was touring, like North Carolina, Los Angeles and Austin.
Almost all the songs were recorded live. Shimabukuro said it was interesting to see the different artists’ processes.
“Collaborating with these other musicians now, it inspires me to try different things and to play in a different way,” Shimabukuro said.
The album features new songs as well as popular songs from different artists, including Willie Nelson’s “Stardust,” Midler’s “The Rose,” Buffett’s “Come Monday,” Lukas Nelson’s “Find Yourself” and Loggins’ “Why Not.”
“I let each artist choose the song they wanted to record with me. That way it was something they were comfortable with. I didn’t want them to have to learn anything new. There are two songs that we wrote specifically for the record, and that was the two instrumentals. One was with Billy Strings and the other was with Sonny Landreth,” Shimabukuro said.
The songs were rearranged to include the ukulele.
“I would arrange different parts so the ukulele would work with the guitar part or the vocal line. I tried to come up with some interesting, colorful voicings of chords just to give it a different character,” Shimabukuro said.
Shimabukuro has been a longtime fan of the Beatles. On the album, he covers three of the iconic band’s songs.
Shimabukuro is a virtuoso on the ukulele who delves into different genres, including jazz, rock, blues, funk, bluegrass, classical, flamenco and folk.
He said that learning different styles of music can take some time.
“I think every genre of music has its own set of challenges, whether it is just getting the right timbre or the right feel. Or the right techniques. Certain techniques have a characteristic of a certain style. There are so many subtle nuances that take years and years to understand and get under your fingers,” Shimabukuro said.
Throughout his two decades in music, the musician has expanded the possibilities of what can be accomplished on the four-stringed ukulele.
Shimabukuro started playing the ukulele at age 4.
His mom was his first teacher. He grew up in a musical household, where his brother also played ukulele, and his dad played the guitar.
Growing up, he admired ukulele player Ohta-San, the father of Ohta Jr. He really responded to how the artist played different genres on the ukulele.
“I grew up listening to his music, and as a kid, I wanted to be like him. He really inspired me to think outside of the box and try to do different styles of music,” Shimabukuro said.
Shimabukuro started out performing locally with a band called Pure Heart. He went solo around 2001, signing with Sony Music in Japan.
Shimabukuro went viral on YouTube in 2005.
Since then, he has been on the road with his music, performing throughout the world.
He has played at notable venues like the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and Sydney Opera House.
Recently, he was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as a member of the National Council on the Arts.
Shimabukuro said that playing music feels even more meaningful to him now following the pandemic.
“I just love it, especially now coming out of the pandemic and having the opportunity to play again. I’m just so grateful to connect with people and hopefully bring some joy to people through the music,” Shimabukuro said.
Recently, Shimabukuro has been back in the studio, working on another collaborative “Jake & Friends” record. The new record will be more centered around Hawaiian music and artists, including the vocalists and musicians with whom he is touring.
“I’m actually collaborating with a lot of musicians from Hawaii, people who really inspired me, the artists that I grew up listening to. That’s been pretty exciting. This one feels very personal. We are doing songs that I grew up listening to. So, I think this will be really special,” Shimabukuro said.
He is also involved with a George Harrison project, which has taken him to Abbey Road Studios.
He had recorded one of Harrison’s songs for a YouTube video that went viral, which led to him meeting Harrison’s family years ago.
The musician has been working closely with Harrison’s widow, Olivia, and his son, Dhani, on the project.
“They are picking a lot of George’s songs, ones that he wrote like ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ ‘Your Love is Forever,’ ‘All Things Must Pass,’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ We are taking all of these songs of George’s. George loved the ukulele. What I’m doing is arranging them for the ukulele, and then we are recording all of these tunes. That’s such an honor,” Shimabukuro said.
Jake Shimabukuro Christmas in Hawai’i
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27
WHERE: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress Street, Tucson
COST: Tickets start at $22
INFO: 520-547-3040, foxtucson.com