Show and Tell Hawai'i
May 1st, 2016

Willie K is Mr. Everythig at the Blue Note

Willie K is Mr. Everythig at the Blue Note

 

Willie K does just about everything — a little jazz, a bit of blues, a serving of Hawaiian, a dash of country, and even drops names — at the Blue Note Hawaii, Outrigger Waikiki Hotel.

He is the lone island headliner, who made his first appearance April 19, who has been signed once a month through the end of this year (see schedule).

Yet Uncle Willie laments, “I hate Waikiki.” The comment comes off as a gag, but he prefers his comfy and modest, Mulligan’s on the Blue, at Wailea Blue Course on Maui, even though he fits into the hip-and-now ambiance of what used to be the Main Showroom of the Outrigger, the decades-long base of the Society of Seven.

The Hawaiian showman is a society of one, backed by two haole musicians — Jerry Buyers on bass and Chris Thomas on drums — and he packs a solid sound and delivers a sizzling show, despite the disliking tone.

He takes on an introductory role, just in case. “First time you see a real Hawaiian,” he chortles, armed with his trusty ukulele. “You thought only a young slim Asian guy would be playing the uke?” he says, alluding of course to Jake Shimabukuro.

His conversational patter is raw, spontaneous, very local, but he works at warming up the house, mentioning that his musician dad “played ukulele on the Ed Sullivan Show.”

Initially, he’s deliberately the Hawaiian Willie, jazzercising a slow-tempoed “Beyond the Reef,” with ukulele riffs signaling the proper logistics of time and place. It's probably a smart choice — a composition by a Canadian, Jack Pitman, which doesn't ever mention Hawaii but has become one of the signatures of the hapa-haole genre — because the tune is a classic among locals and visitors alike I digress, but Napua Stevens was the first to record the tune in 1949, with Bing Crosby covering it in 1950, spreading the aloha internationally for his generation of fans. In 1966, Elvis Presley recorded it, too — proof of its cross-generational appeal.

Then the  Traditional Willie dusts off “Red Sails in the Sunset,” evoking a warm summertime afterglow, making it an unexpected medley with a refrain from “Over the Rainbow.” Then, a quip: “Not all of us sing ‘Over the Rainbow,’” which, of course, is a reference to the global sensation of the late Israel Kamakawiwoole the past two decades, with its repetitive oooh-ooohing. This is a mashup of Hawaiian Willie and Traditional Willie, like enjoying fish with poi.

How about the Spanish Willie? There’s a framework of the fiery and flirtatious … along with what might be dubbed his “flamenco uke.”

More morsels follow. A Yiddish Willie stance, a la Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,”  with body language. Then a non-musical Korean Willie, with a bit of raspy, throaty sounds that Mainlanders might not understand.

The Italian Willie pumps up “O Solo Mio,” with all the histrionics and flavors that demonstrate how well-oiled his pipes are.

And then a turn-around, for the Maui (and Wowie) Willie, with a frisky and fun “For You and I,” begging for a bit of hula (but there’s none) and then a salute to Bill Dana (“My name Jose Jiminez”), who used to be a Maui resident, with that inevitable and durable (but sometimes forgotten) novelty, “I’m Going to Maui Tomorrow, to Marry Tamara Malone.”

There’s a brief hana hou of sorts, with another stab at “Over the Rainbow,” the Judy Garland version, complete with a whistling bird and a mention of Aunt Em.

By now, it’s time for the Jazz Willie, with a measure of funky blues for good measure, via “Too Bad,” a signature from Willie whenever he  assembles his Blues Band. The phraseology, the arrangement, the soul-shaking  measures suit that husky Willie voice.

Old Willie, aka Hawaiian-Style Willie, takes centerstage via signatures  like “You Kuuipo” and “Katchi Katchi Makawao” and “My Molokai Woman,”  from the initial time frame of Willie's shining and ascending and shimmering his bright light  in the Hawaiian constellation. Oh, yes, there’s also chatter about Harley Davidsons.

The standing ovation and elation from the audience are indicative of his power and prowess, of his passion and performance, and his venerability and his versatility.

So herewith is the Compleat Willie, the One-and-Only-Willie, and he’s often called Uncle Willie, who ultimately is Mr. Everything. Support and rally around him  at an upcoming Tuesday at the Blue Note and be among the first to applaud this Waikiki treasure. Even if he doesn’t particularly like Waikiki.

 

WILLIE K

When: 6:30 and 9 p.m. May 3, repeating June 21, July 5, Aug. 2, Sept. 6, Oct. 4, Nov. 8, Dec. 13

Where: Blue Note Hawaii, Outrigger Waikiki Hotel

Reservations: 518-6240

 

 

 

 

 

 


April 28th, 2016

Shari Lynn hits all the right notes at the Blue Note.

Shari Lynn hits all the right notes at the Blue Note.

 

Shari Lynn is an entertainment hyphenate —a singer, an actress, an educator, a writer of theatrical tributes to iconic composers, and a producer.

Her first Blue Note Hawaii performance this month surely won’t be her last. She tapped her multi-pronged roots — scoping the All American songbook, her background as a club singer and a theater performer— to produce a well-rounded package of everything she is.

Oldies, movie tunes, stage tidbits, personal favorites — her vision and versatility are bountiful and broad. And Shari hits all the right notes, figuratively and literally; with her insights derived from her meticulous research, she mines songs that tell a story or hit a personal emotion. And she had all throttles rolling, with rich and robust rewards.

With pianist Jim Howard, bassist Bruce Hamada and drummer Darryl Pelligrini,  Shari becomes an instrument of communication, opening her heart and her songbook, with a jazz thrust to suit the Blue Note environs.

It all works. She does, too.

She opened her set with “It’s Today,” from “Mame,” and quickly put her imprint on it. And when she delivered this line, “I know that this very minute has history in it, we’re here,” it’s seemed that her hidden secret of gigging at the Blue Note was an unforgettable personal milestone.

Thus, the rollout of such familiar titles — “The Best Is Yet to come,” “Control Yourself,” “I’ve Got Rhythm”— seemed to be a personal shout-out of her imminent future, her style, and her soul.

When she was not chirping, she was declaring her posture as an active figure in music and stage: “My mission is to keep them (the old standards) alive.

She routinely mentioned names like Johnny Mercer and George and Ira Gershwin, crediting the sources of “Something’s Gotta Give” and “An American Paris,” delivering fresh renderings of these classics. And when she shared “Little Jazz Bird,” a George Gershwin novelty, she did a bit of scat singing to create the sounds of a chirping bird.

Shari had fun with snippets from “The Wizard of Oz,” singing a segment of “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead,” which included a warm and earnest surprise: bassist Hamada vocalized on “If I Only Had a Brain,” earning roaring applause from the audience.

One of her sensuous signatures, Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music,” enabled her to subtly and delicately showcase her vocal control and delivery, with stellar keyboard support from Howard. But she preceded the vocal by honestly recalling a little bright memory; early on, she innocently mispronounced the composer’s surname. Score points here for her transparency.

Clearly, Shari’s show was somewhat of a textbook primer — entertaining, educational, enlightening, endearing. As a daytime classroom teacher, she doesn’t preach; in her role as a club singer, she engages and takes her listeners along on her musical journey.

There was an instance of sentiment and tears, when she dedicated her performance to her very-often singing partner, Jimmy Borges; she said “the universe had other plans” for him at the moment (he’s battling lung cancer), with a footnote that he should rightfully been tapped to launch the Blue Note.

Teary-eyed, she sang one of his favorite tunes, Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary's “Here’s to Life,” which spoke volumes with these take-away words:

“Here's to life, here's to love, here's to you.
“May all your storms be weathered
“And all that's good get better
“Here's to life, here's to love, here's to you.” 

That said it all.

 

 

 

 


April 27th, 2016

Robert Cazimero: Three showcase gigs in Waikiki

Robert Cazimero: Three showcase gigs in Waikiki

Robert Cazimero is on a roll, with three showcase appearances coming up in Waikiki this week and next.

Cazimero, award-winning kumu hula of Halau Na Kamalei O Lillilehua and a member of The Brothers Cazimero, will serenade guests and fans in two venues a stone’s throw apart along Kalakaua Avenue. He’s also part of an awardsfest.

Here’s when and where:

>> Mele at the Moana, performing two 45-minute sets, between 7 and 9 p.m. Friday (April 29), at the open-air stage of the Westin Moana Surfrider Hotel. Preferred seating may be reserved by calling Mason Waugh at 923-2811 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or by email at Mason.Waugh@westin.com. Diners at the hotel’s Beachhouse or patrons of the wine bar Vintage 1901 may take in the performance from nearby tables.

>> Blue Note Hawaii, at 6:30 and 9 p.m. May 6, at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel. Doors open at 5 and 8:30 p.m. He will front a trio also featuring Halehaku Seabury on guitar and Nich Lum on bass. Reservations: 518-6240.

>> Na Hoku Hanohano Awards Lifetime Achievement luncheon, from 10 a.m. Saturday (April 30), at the Ala Moana Hotel’s Hibiscus Ballroom. Cazimero will serenade, along with Hawaiian music and dance by Kimo Alama Keaulana and Lei Hulu; vocalists Aaron J. Sala and Les Ceballos; ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro, with new talent Nick Acosta, vocalist Elaine Ako Spencer, and steel guitar master Hiram Olsen. Tickets: $75. Visit www.nahokuhanohano.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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March 23rd, 2016

 

Melveen1Melveen2

Melveen Leed often has proclaimed that jazz has been a passion in her career.

Last Monday night (March 21), she demonstrated this passion with a powerful first-time showing at the Blue Note Hawaii club at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel.

For someone who has been teetering over the decades, between a Hawaiian Tita and a Local Diva, Leed finally proved she also can be a chanteuse, given the opportunity. Surely, her first Blue Note appearance won’t be her last.

With an all-star combo of four backing her up, Leed put all doubts aside that she is, when she wants to be, a a jazz singer. And lord, she really wanted this one.

While she had teetered from a Hawaii soulstress to a patron of paniolo country over the decades, the jazz thing had been overshadowed by what otherwise perhaps came too easily. Sure, her fans love her comedics, her tita-isms that suited her impromptu performances that often lacked discipline, but jazz requires focus and form and and dedication and delivery.

She scored on all fronts. She was red hot, with all her vocal cylinders shining and chiming. She was confident; she had style; she delivered.

Dedicating her first of two sets to two ailing performers, jazz singer Jimmy Borges and Hawaiian icon Cyril Pahinui, Leed opened her gig with an easy-going “The More I See You.” Her excursion included some standards that were stamped with jazz phraseology and intonation, such as “One Note Samba,” “The Nearness of You,” “Just in Time,” even “My Funny Valentine.” In the jazz realm, delivery is the thing, with tempo and mood defining the genre. It's not what you sing, but how you sing it.

She was playful and interactive with her band, comprised of keyboarder Dan Del Negro, drummer Peter Factora, bassist Byron Yasui, and ukulele strummer Benny Chong; while piano and drums and stand-up bass are common jazz instruments, a jazz ukulele is surely rare, and Chong, the former member of The Aliis, Don Ho’s sidekicks, added a measure of unique plucking  akin to a special language during the evening.

With her intense desire to please, Leed at one point sighed out loudly: “I never work this hard for a long time,” meaning that the commitment to sit in the jazz saddle was no easy trot. “But I love it.”

Much to the delight of her diehard fans, Leed did leave the jazz trail for a couple of her idiosyncratic hits, like “E Kuu Morning Dew,” which she delivered with fond and gentle departure of her familiar Hawaiian version, though she tossed in a one-hand-hula moment or two to indicate her roots.

There were two other Hawaiian gems: “O Kalena Kai,” which showed off her upper registers beautifully, and “Hi’ilawe,” the Gabby Pahinui signature, which she began while tickling the ivories (because Del Negro didn't know the song) then proceeded to render it with island-style respect and resourcefulness. You can get off the jazz trail, after all, and for a few brief moments, the Blue Note observed its first Aloha Monday (vs. Friday) celebration.

“I’ve always wanted to play the Blue Note in New York,” Leed said after her performance. Perhaps with this maiden voyage in Honolulu, she’ll get her ticket to the Big Apple in the months ahead. Or, if nothing else, a hana hou at the Hawaii destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 18th, 2016

 

Makana

Makana

Nina Kealiiwahamana

Nina Kealiiwahamana

Palani Vaughan

Palani Vaughan

Taimane Gardner

Taimane Gardner

Kaummakaiwa Kanakaole

Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole

Pomaikai Lyman

Pomaikai Lyman

The Westin Moana Surfrider’s 115th anniversary gala, held in the historic Banyan Court ‘neath the vintage landmark banyan tree, was a time for Hawaiian souvenirs — with reflections of the past and expectations of the future.

The event, coordinated by entertainer Makana and staged on the actual 115th birthday (March 11) of the first lady of Waikiki — the iconic Moana Hotel — was a curious mixture of old times and manners and current styles and maneuvers.

Makana delivered a program that intended to recreate the golden days of radio, specifically the historic “Hawaii Calls” program originated by the late Webley Edwards, which beamed melodies and memories of the tropical Hawaii “live” (though actually in delayed radiocasts) in the heyday of radio. It was an era when imagination was a requirement for transportation to the idyll that was Hawaii. Via words and music, no visuals of hula or singing.

Because of licensing restrictions, the event had to reimagine the memories and delivery to “Radio Waikiki,” a last-minute name change. This mattered mostly to purists who recalled the original “Hawaii Calls,” before the era of television, when radio was a prime source of at-home entertainment, and the show was an audio beacon to lure travelers to Hawaii.

The format and execution assembled a bevy of performers initially adhering to the original Hawaiian format of the old radio show, but digressed into other rhythms and styles, which provided mixed results.

The take-away:

  • Makana is a versatile singer, composer, slack key guitarist, and researcher, with ambition to spare, but he is no Edwards. He has a gift of gab, but radio is not his medium, yet he rallied with tireless energy and desire to please, enacting Webley as the fictional deejay with the fun-and-pun handle, Sunny Shores. The musical program strayed from its original course and started to include Latin rhythms and titles that within the scope of the era. And the show ran far too long, 2 ½ hours, with occasional dead spots. Still, Makana’s narrative and effort were impressive.
  • The sole original “Hawaii Calls” cast member, the venerable Nina Keali‘iwahamana, remained regal in voice and delivery, still a champion of community endeavors that benefit from her presence and sheer good cheer. This, despite her recent battle with breast cancer. She brought authenticity and knowledge to the proceedings, via her stance on ancient Hawaiiana and notable on her “Makee ‘Ailana” selection, the romantic tune about the island once a popular destination within Kapiolani Park. Lamentably, she couid not deliver the vocal in her key, since Makana made it a duet at times, performing in his key.
  • The guest roster also included Pomaikai Lyman, granddaughter of the late Genoa Keawe, whose “Hawaiian Souvenirs” and “Alika” offerings enchanted the audience, notably with her ability to hold that lasting “Alika” note; Palani Vaughan, the specialist in King Kalakaua-era music, was a pleasant surprise since he no longer is active on the show circuit, but his three-tune Hawaiian medley of monarchial steamships did not connect with the crowd, but he found redemption with his memorable Maui locomotive hit, “Kaa Ahi Kahului,” the “chuka chuka” sing-along charmer; Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, the transgender son of Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias and the grandchild of Pualani Kanaka‘ole of the famed Big Island hula ‘ohana tracing roots to kumu Edith Kanaka‘ole, was riveting and resourceful in her foray into modern-generation Hawaiiana, complete with contemporary rhythmic flourishes, making her now and wow and clearly a representative of a generation past with her own   force of the imminent future; Taimane Gardner, garnering and building her legacy as a ukulele soloist to reckon with, with strumming skills combined with choreographic turns; and while Lopaka Colon, the expressive and effervescent percussionist-son of the late great Augie Colon was masterful in solo and back-up performances, his island-pop posture was splendid, but out of synch with the celebratory Hawaiian tone; Buck Giles, who collaborated with Makana in producing the concert for the Moana milestone, distinguished himself as a steel guitar artist, too.

Clearly, the radiocast format required descriptive poetry of the Hawaii that many dreamed of visiting, at a moment in history when ship voyages were more common (and expensive) than air travel. Makana’s script included this rhapsodic vision: “They built a castle by the sea, and pictures of it called to me. I dreamt of it on winter days, of sand beneath the sun’s warm rays. But none so true did sing my tune nor beckon me with lullaby croon, than that fine voice lilting on waves of sound and sea — it fed my craves to board the Lurline for her shores and leave the cold forever more.” Such was his spoken valentine to Moana, the gracious first lady of Waikiki hotels.

For atmosphere, a vintage stage mike and an “On Air” lighted sign added to the radio feel, and a “commercial” for the hotel mentioned a room with telephone and private bath, plus an elevator, for $1.50 per night. And with tongue in cheek, Sunny Shores shored up a weather report, mentioning Guy Yagi for impact, of “50 per cent chance of sunrise tomorrow.”

The anniversary celebration earmarked proceeds for the Bishop Museum, the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the Waikiki Aquarium, demonstrating the hotel’s commitment to become a valuable contributing member of the community with the goal to retain and reclaim the importance of things and themes Hawaiian.

For this, hotel manager Lawrence Hanson and his staff deserve hurrahs and applause. Waikiki has become overbuilt, overpopulated and divisive — know any locals who yearn to pay regular visits anymore?

Still, Hanson revealed that some longtime guests make regular pilgrimages to the Moana, to savor the hospitality and ambiance of the bygone days — and no, a stay isn’t $1.50 a night anymore. In this respect, the Moana still holds a special spot in the hearts of a declining population.

But inventive special events, like the anniversary party and the earlier February fund-raiser for ailing singing legend Jimmy Borges, attracted locals. Mount it, and they will convene.

On this note, perhaps Hanson and the Moana (still, the Westin Moana Surfrider in the current billing, including the old Surfrider wing) should possibly revive monthly or periodic shows at the Banyan Court as part of an ongoing program to perpetuate and preserve that culture of entertainment that seems to be static along Kalakaua Avenue. The grand days of showrooms in every hotel are gone, but some of the venues surely could resurrect reignite and reestablish a new generation of celebrants. Surely, Hawaiian entertainment could jump-start a cycle of locals returning to Waikiki and simultaneously encourage a new breed of a future Don Ho, Hilo Hattie, Alfred Apaka, Ohta-san and Haunani Kahalewai?

It’s got to start with the hoteliers. There’s a whole bunch of talent, but only few spots to developing acts to perform for a future generation of Hawaii visitors.

 

 

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