Shimabukuro reunites with former bands
BY STEVEN MARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
Jake Shimabukuro has just returned from the last leg of his 142-venue Uke Nations Tour, luring sellout crowds despite the freezing temperatures of the recent Midwestern cold snap.
JAKE SHIMABUKURO AND FRIENDS
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
“Maybe it’s like the colder weather, but they just love the ukulele there,” he said.
Hawaii will now get its chance to show that love when Shimabukuro plays the Blaisdell for his third annual Jake Shimabukuro and Friends Concert on Friday.
This time around, the concert is notable for bringing Shimabukuro back together with his original band, Pure Heart, including guitarist/vocalist Jon Yamasoto and percussionist Lopaka Colon.
He’ll also be playing with his former Side Order Band, joining 12-string guitar player Asa Young, Bryan Tolentino on ukulele, upright bass player Chris Kamaka and six-string guitar player Del Beazley.
Bass player Dean Taba and drummer Noel Okimoto will again join Shimabukuro onstage.
“I am extremely excited about this concert because for me it truly is a friends’ concert,” he said. “It will be very special to me.”
THE CONCERT is an opportunity to pay respects to the many local musicians Shimabukuro has played with and learned from over the years, he said.
Okimoto, he remembers, was a “legend” within the drum corps that Shimabukuro played for in high school.
“I remember hearing all these stories of, like, when he was a teenager,” Shimabukuro said. “He would play to the metronome, and he would make the click disappear. That’s how good he was; rhythmically, you couldn’t hear the click.”
Okimoto gave him advice on musical matters, including how to practice, which Shimabukuro says he took to heart in developing his astounding technique.
“You always have different goals when you practice,” he said. “Sometimes I sit with my instrument to practice chord voicings or to practice a new technique, and all I do is focus on that one technique, just practice that technique for a few hours.”
He’s especially eager to rejoin his colleagues from Pure Heart, a band started by Shimabukuro and his college-age buddies, who would perform in coffee shops and at parties.
PURE HEART gathered in the late ’90s to record a CD for Tracey Terada, the ukulele teacher who Shimabukuro credits for “helping me to find my tone and my sound.” It was supposed to be a demo for Terada’s ukulele studio, but he kept asking the trio to do more songs.
“Next thing you know, we’re hearing our stuff on the radio, and we were like, ‘What?'” Shimabukuro said.
The album took Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for Island Contemporary Album of the Year, Most Promising Artist(s), Album of the Year and Favorite Entertainer of the Year.
Over the years, Shimabukuro would run into Yamasoto and Colon and “joke around, like, ‘Hey, you still know all the songs?'”
A few months ago they finally got together at Shimabukuro’s place. After shooting the breeze for a while, they played “Bring Me Your Cup,” a hit from their 1998 debut album.
“At the end of the song, we looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Wow, it feels like we just played last week,'” he said. “It was pretty cool because I hadn’t played that piece in 14 years, but it was so amazing. … It was such a part, I think, of who we were musically. That was our first band, kind of like your first love.”
SHIMABUKURO is also happy to rejoin the Side Order Band and to help the band itself reunite. The band rarely gets to perform together these days, he said, since Young lives in North Carolina and other members now play with other groups.
The Side Order Band gave Shimabukuro international exposure, inviting him to tour Japan shortly after Pure Heart broke up in late 1999.
“That was a special trip for me because at the time I was getting into all kinds of rock music,” he said. “It was that trip that made me almost fall in love with my roots again, because their arrangements of all these traditional Hawaiian pieces are so beautiful.”
Shimabukuro would hardly become known for Hawaiian music. His jazz, rock, even classical interpretations have propelled him to world fame, but he treasures traditional Hawaiian tunes, remembering a moment when he welled up with tears hearing the Side Order Band play the traditional tune “Waialae.”
Those feelings were revived at a music seminar a few years ago in which he got to play with uke master Eddie Kamae.
Kamae told him, “Hey! Keep playing the Hawaiian music,” to which he replied, “I will, Uncle, I will.”
“That’s why on my latest album (‘Grand Ukulele’) I recorded ‘Akaka Falls,’ and on this tour I’ve been doing ‘Hi’ilawe’ on the baritone,” Shimabukuro said.
WHAT’S DAT? Jake, known for making his tenor do everything from gently weep to scream like a dragon, on a baritone ukulele?
Shimabukuro added a few tunes on the baritone for his tour, and will be debuting them in Hawaii for this show. He said he loves the “deep, resonant feel,” and has happily reworked some of his arrangements to suit its lowered tuning while also moderating his attack on the instrument.
“The thing about the baritone is that you don’t want to overplay it,” said Shimabukuro, who has amazed fans (and worn out a uke or two) with his aggressive fingerwork. “You don’t want to really bash on it to really bring out the beauty of the instrument. It’s really in the more delicate touch.”
Last year he came across a baritone at Dan’s Guitars in McCully, played a chord on it and immediately asked to buy it. “It was something about that particular instrument; it really struck a chord in me,” he said.
The approximately 50-year-old instrument has been rehabilitated by the original maker, Kamaka Ukulele, who has also been Shimabukuro’s luthier throughout his career.
With Chris Kamaka onstage and other Kamaka family members expected in the audience, he is “kind of nervous but excited” to play it for them for the first time.
“They might say, ‘Jake! Stick to the tenor!'” he said with a laugh.