Arizona is a special place to Hawaiian ukulele aficionado Jake Shimabukuro. He donated instruments to the Musical Instrument Museum before it opened, and he loves the acoustics at Mesa Arts Center, where he will perform Tuesday, March 6.
The night before, March 5, he hits the stage at Tucson’s Rialto Theater, another of his favorite venues.
“It’s so beautiful in Arizona and there are amazing venues,” Shimabukuro says via telephone from Hawaii as his young son yearns to get his attention.
“I’ll perform with a trio – me, a bassist and a guitarist – on this tour. They’re both stellar musicians. We’ll have new arrangements and new songs. It’s going to be fun. I’ll still be doing a good mix of original music, as well as some of my favorite cover tunes.”
Picking up a ukulele at age 4, Shimabukuro has put a new spin on songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Time of the Season.”
The last two tracks will appear on a new album set for release early this year. The collection’s name has yet to be announced, but the showpiece is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
“My last record (2016’s ‘Nashville Sessions’) was all originals,” he explains. “It was my first album of all originals. This one is a combination of covers and original music. It’s exactly 50-50. Hopefully people will enjoy it. Besides ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Time of the Season,’ I did New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle,’ Jimi Hendrix’s ‘If 6 Was 9,’ with elements of ‘Little Wing’ in there, and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ with an island reggae type of arrangement.”
Shimabukuro has been keeping busy. He recently finished the music score for “Go for Broke,” a film about Japanese-American veterans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He’s working on a collaboration album, too, with the likes of Willie Nelson.
“I’m hoping to record more tracks with people I’ve worked with over the years; people who I’ve collaborated with or those who have supported me – basically anybody who would want to record with me,” Shimabukuro says with a laugh.
“In the past, I’ve worked with some really incredible musicians like Bette Midler, Michael McDonald and Bela Fleck. These musicians were always so inspiring. I hope to do more with them. I’m really excited about this project. So far, 2018 is off to a great start.”