May 10th, 2016
Robert Cazimero demonstrated trusty new layers of artistry in his terrific and textured Blue Note Hawaii debut last Friday (May 6).
Sing-alongs! Nostalgia! Crib notes!
He seemed a tad queasy initially, about working what truly is a nightclub/showroom venue, at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel. You know the space — the shoe-box site formerly known as the Main Showroom.
Cazimero pranced through 90 minutes of pure fun, occasionally becoming a piano bar trouper (he played keyboards, instead of his stand-up bass) but also an upfront soloist to test his pipes.
He was a genuine chameleon. With two young sidemen — Halehaku Seabury on guitar and Nicholas Lum on bass — he essentially appeared as singer fronting a trio.
From his keyboards, he occasionally led piano-bar type sing-alongs. Folks didn’t need much prompting to join the serenades
He hauled up two of his trusty hula halau dudes, Keola Makaiau and Alaka‘i Lastimado, to bring motion and mobility during a medley Hawaiian swing tunes, including “Hawaiian War Chant” as traditionally rendered. After all, it wouldn’t have been a Cazimero fest and feast if there wasn’t hula!
He talked story frequently with a charming tidbit involving beloved actress Betty White, who apparently frequents his Whittier College (California) shows where she sends requests/notes “to play ‘Misty’ for me,” referring to the ol’ Johnny Mathis classic that ripples through all kinds of musical genres, including jazz, which is a perfect fit for the club.
For “Misty,” however, dancer Sky Perkins was tapped from the audience to render a sit-down hula, the way White adores his“Misty.”
It was a revelation. And a realization of how precise and expert Cazimero can be when it matters.
With somewhat of a planned script, duly noted on slips of paper he consulted periodically (an iPad could work, too!) Cazimero played it loose with impromptu plan switches along the way. The uncertainty worked, as viewer anticipation mounted.
An award-winning singer, composer, musician, kumu hula and legend in the annals of Hawaiian music, Cazimero also is a huge fan of Broadway music and American standards. And this expedition included these resources that punctuated his artistry.
This Blue Moon outing was a new experience for him — and his fans.
It began with a zip, or should I say “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” behind the keyboards, which was a sprightly starting point. Cazimero then glided into a verse or two of “On a Wonderful Day Like Today,” formulating and expressing his joy of the moment. “Our Love Is Here to Stay” was also uncorked, and then a reprise of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” (from Disney’s “Song of the South” film) with that memorable line, “Wonderful feeling, wonderful day.” More wonderfulness followed with “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” as if he were shaping his own review, with bountiful wonderful feeling and loverly thoughts.
He relied on his notes — well, a rundown list of songs — as well as lyrics to some rarely-performed tunes. Thus, he hopscotched a skosh, rustling through papers and sighed: “My ass is on the line.” Laughter abounded.
It was a lament he wouldn’t commonly utter, but reflected the tension; knew the importance of making good, not making A.
He turned the somewhat show space into his personal living room, as if he were the focus of a casual jam in his apartment.
“I hated playing piano,” he said about his grade school era, when he took lessons. In retrospect, he said, it paid off because of some his later-in-life-mentors, like Mahi Beamer and Loyal Garner, both pianists.
Cazimero certainly is an ace communicating with an audience, which he said he learned from Jimmy Borges, who embraces lyrics to forward a story. “Jimmy could read the telephone book and it would be amazing,” he said in homage to the jazz great.
Then he cruised into “Tenderly,” with a nod to one of his fave singers, Rosemary Clooney.
In retrospect, the show alternately had the intimacy of a cozy piano bar, the pulse of a main showroom, and the informality of a free-wheeling karaoke bar.
“When I was growing up, I thought Chubby Checker was the bomb,” he exclaimed. I expected a morsel of “The Twist,” but this was Cazimero goin’ round and round with chime-alongs, inviting his audience to channel Paul Anka’s “Diana” and Lenny Welch’s “Since I Feel for You” hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The preacher had the churchgoers wailing!
The spotlight momentarily focused on bassist Lum on “On the Street Where You Live” (he had a charming presence and an equally appealing manner and voice), prefaced with a footnote from the kumu that Lum didn’t know (because of his youth) the ditty from “My Fair Lady.” Lum also sang lead on “The Nearness of You,” with Cazimero in the harmony slot. Lots to learn, if you're young and working with a vet.
Before exiting the stage, Cazimero further referred to his notes for the not-commonly-rendered introduction to “Over the Rainbow.” Then he followed with that timeless classic, his sweet voice working its magic, radiating imaginary hues from "The Wizard of Oz."
Since his first gig, The Blue Note has offered Cazimero playdates at least once a month, through December, but he has yet to finalize his calendar. So there’s hope the club will get this blues bird chirping again.