Shari Lynn, center, at Sunset Jazz, renders tribute to Jimmy Borges, flanked by Rocky Brown, left, and Kip Wilborn.
Shari Lynn’s “Sunset Jazz,” staged at dusk Sunday night (Sept. 11) at the grand lawn at La Pietra on the slopes of Diamond Head, embraced all the elements in the singer-actor-educator’s expansive performing arts platform.
Yes, jazz was foremost, the foundation of the fund-raiser for 17 years, with Shari fronting a contingent of local luminaries. Participants included singers-actors Kip Wilborn (“Les Miserables”) and Rocky Brown (“Miss Saigon”), jazz ensembles like the Mike Lewis Band (15 members strong) and John Kolivas’ Honolulu Jazz Quartet, and Shari’s stable of backup buddies like Jim Howard, Kolivas and Daryl Pelligrini, who comprise the Sunset Jazz All Stars.
But jazz was only one wheel on her hybrid music-mobile. With the event coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the terroristic attack now chiseled in all our members as 9/11, there was a salute to New York and first responders as well as a wave of patriotism to honor the fallen and thank the men and women who gave up their lives and continue to serve the country so we can revel in what is our beloved democracy. An appropriate moment of silence had everyone standing.
Since Shari has been a foundation and supporter of the Great American Songbook, this year’s celebration continued that strategy of performing old standards from the wellspring of classic songs from composers like George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein and more. This particular element was smartly included in both reflection of the jazz era as well as the popularity of the Broadway riches that have been associated with theatrical favorites from seasons then and now.
And this season, the Broadway wave spilled over to the education aspect of Shari’s soul. To salute the triumphs of the Great White Way and to capitalize on her ongoing advocacy to embrace musical theater among her La Pietra students, Sunset Jazz also had a compelling featurette involving two groups of Shari’s music pupils.
Seniors Daisy Daniels and Charlotte Harris, junior Holly Berwick and sophomore Catherine Middleton charmed and surprised the crowd with their live delivery, with pre-recorded music, the hip-hop lyrics, complete with proper pauses and rhythms and representing a myriad of characters: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, Eliza Hamilton and more.
Sixth graders — accompanied by senior Mari Harwit — shared “My Favorite Things,
from “The Sound of Music,” with wistful imagination. The kids — Erika Akashi Grimes, Katerina Araki, Zaffron Castagnaro, Tia Ho and Ann Tobin — provided some measure of assurance of a next-generation surge of interest in the Broadway songbook.
Further, Shari tapped her co-stars in Manoa Valley Theatre’s “It Shoulda Been You,” to share her joy in doing live theater periodically. So cast colleagues Howard Bishop, Virginia Jones, David Heulitt, David Herman (with Sean Choo as piano accompanist) rendered the musical’s title song. And this was yet another validation of Shari’s roots in island entertainment.
Finally: The late Jimmy Borges had been a regular headliner at Sunset Jazz and a frequent jazz partner of Shari over the decades. Shari, inspired by Borges, unveiled a sweet and intimate, yet pertinent and eloquent, musical parody/salute to Borges, to the tune of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Rocky Brown and Kip Wilburn participated in delivery; the ditty brought tears (of joy) to Borges’ widow, Vicki, who was sitting across from me, at Sunset Jazz.
And if you’ve known and followed Borges career, you’ll agree — the lyrics were revelatory:
(Shari) “His groovy two-tone shoes
“The way he held the mike
“They way he sang the blues
“They can’t take that away from me...”
(Brown) “He liked to tap his feet
“During a solo break
“And licks he won’t repeat
“His talent’s something you can’t fake.”
(Wilborn) “Whether singing jazz or blues
“Or swing with symphony or trio
“He’s the coolest cat
“From Waikiki to Rio.”
(All) “Whenever Jimmy sang, it was the place to be
“Might be the Concert Hall
“Or underneath the banyan tree
“And they can’t take that away from me.”
(Brown) “At Keone’s he’d swing with Betty Loo for fans from near and far
(Wilborn) “And they used to play till 3 at Trapper’s bar
(Shari) “The message that he leaves
“Good music never dies
“With kindness you achieve
“Great work that lifts us to the skies”
(All) “And they can’t take that away from me.”