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When Davell met Willie: A collaborative home run

By
September 14th, 2016



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                                                      When New Orleans and New York favorite Davell Crawford teamed up with Hawaii native Willie K Monday night (Sept. 12) at the Blue Note Hawaii club, expectation and uncertainty were common denominators.

Crawford and Willie were willing participants in a theoretical match — what happens when each dude, highly popular and versatile in his respective domestic marketplace. They met only hours before taking the stage together, so much of what happened was impromptu — trying to find a common bound, attempting to mine each other’s strengths, searching for unity in the union.

Wow, what a collaboration! It worked? Perhaps the result was partly due to the unknown factor: how can two souls become one?

willdavIn the end, the combo deal was a certification of how music can yield commonality and define and link two diverse and creative spirits. It was a collective home run!

Both Davell and Willie are singers who are aware and imaginative entertainers; both include jazz as part of their impressive landscape; both work the house with and resourceful eyes and ears; both are equals in the art of improvisation, yet they make it all feel and unreel like a planned scenario.

All the while, they projected spirituality and energy of seismic proportions, which resonated with an audience that may have included first-timers at the opening gates, who become instant fans by the end of the final bow.

And so it was — on a memorable Monday chock-full of unforgettable footnotes:

  • Davell, 41, a designated Steinway artist, manipulated the keyboards with flash and fury, his nimble fingers dancing across the ivories with controlled frenzy. It’s blues, it’s rock, it’s jazz and more — and his added powerful vocals provided fireworks and sizzle. No wonder he’s known as the Piano Prince of New Orleans in The Big Easy.
  • Willie, 55, is equal parts guitarist and ukulele strummer, with a pliable and potent voice that never disappoints and always astonishes. While he came equipped to dazzle mostly with his electric guitar, he didn’t have an ukulele handy, so moments before showtime, he ventured into the uke shop on the first floor of the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel and purchased a spanky newbie, breaking it in like he had previous communion. He rocked, he rolled, he threw in some localisms for good measure, receiving hurrahs and hoots of approval from his retinue of local fans. Assuredly, he’s everyone’s Uncle Willie with breezy theatrics.
  • Obviously, the gig largely was a test of will and desire, of chance and experimentation, of sharing and comparing. If you think of the showroom as a blank canvas, Davell and Willie added the tone, the textures and the hues with idiosyncratic maneuvers that resulted in a visual and aural portrait of their inner musical souls.

While there were more tunes not commonly on people’s playlists, like Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways,” which might have been attributable to geography. There was evidence upon evidence — while Davell resides in New Orleans but regularly works in New York, and he travels extensively to European ports. Hence, his scope may be international, so repertoire may not be a common denominator. But there were classics that were iconic when Davell uncorked George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” classic, “Summertime,” rendering a bluesy and soulful piece with undeniable insinuation of its Southern and operatic roots; Willie chimed in with guitar riffs, adding punctuation and framework to enhance the percolating mood. And — here’s where this became an expression of two jazz giants — there was an extended, expanded impromptu jam that went on seemingly forever, with scat singing in-between the alternating piano and guitar solos. This brand of enabling musicians to build upon a tune with style and imagination is characteristic of greatness in jazzdom; you don’t necessarily need lyrics to progress a storyline.

Frequently, Davell bellowed to his listeners: “Somebody say yeah!,” kind of a cue to make the musical ball roll and bounce. It felt almost like being in a Nawlins speakeasy rather than a Waikiki club, but no matter: the performance loved it all.

When Willie unpacked the obvious “Over the Rainbow,” with his trademark vocal dynamics, he put broad blue strokes in delivery. Midway into the song, when he realized he didn’t have his trusty instrument, he quipped: “I feel naked without my guitar.”

As a result of the Davell-Willie experiment, there will be more camaraderie and connections in the weeks and months ahead, pending scheduling issues. Willie wants to invite Crawford to sit in on one of his Maui gigs; Crawford is committing to confirm Willie for one a New Orleans bluesfest next year. The bottom line: they’ve found common ground and want to cultivate and grow the ties that will expand both appeal and adoration in each other’s home base.

Imua Garza, a local musician, had a late-in-the-show cameo, singing and strumming with spirited joy. It was a smooth debut for him, and perhaps he might earn his own Blue Note slot down the line. Imua, bro!

Not everything was perfection, however. The first of two shows had irritating moments: an errant microphone, with screeching and jolting feedback; and off-cue spotlight miscues that left Davell or Willie in temporary darkness or with shadows on their faces.

Shari Lynn’s Sunset Jazz: A triumph on all levels

By
September 14th, 2016



 

 

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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.”

Free Hawaiian mini-pageant at International Market Place attracting throngs

By
September 12th, 2016



 

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Looks like seating is not the issue at the International Market Place, where a nightly half-hour Hawaiian show, produced and performed by the folks at Tihati Productions. Locals and visitors alike have been swarming the Queen’s Court stage, to watch and applaud the historical mini-pageant relating to the shopping/dining site, which once was the home for Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV. We earlier raised the question about the scarcity of benches and seats; well, spectators have been plopping on the lawn to enjoy the hula, mele, oli and more. — Photos courtesy Tihati Productions.

DeLima goes presidential with 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly" take-off

By
September 9th, 2016



 

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Not surprisingly, comedian Frank DeLima has gone presidential in his latest musical parody, “Wouldn’t That Be Hillary?”

DeLima will likely debut it in person, when he headlines his “Grandparents Day” luncheon show this Sunday (Sept. 11) at the Pagoda Restaurant.

The timely and political take-off is sung to “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” a tune from “My Fair Lady.”  DeLima takes a neutral stand, weaving in words and thoughts on both Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, and Donald Trump, her Republican rival.

As usual, you may download the ditty with a nominal donation to DeLima’s ongoing educational fund (he tours local schools each year), at his website, frankdelima.com.

There are expected references and pokes to both candidates.

On Clinton >>

“All she like is a stretch mobile

“With one presidential seal

“And Bill behind da wheel

“O wouldn’t that be Hillary?”

 

On Trump >>

“China get one great big wall

“His goin’ be more thick, more tall

“And they goin’ pay um all

“O wouldn’t it be Trumperly?”

 

There are some  expected  mentionables, too.

“She could get her own email

“He could put da White House for sale.”

It’s all innocent and seasonal fun, what with the heated race between the Hillary and Donald underway, each seeking votes heading toward the Nov. 8 general elelction.

Notes to DeLima >>

  • In the Trumpian wall tidbit, you neglect to mention Mexico.
  • In the balloting item, an X is not going to get either candidate elected. Votes count onlyh if the circular box is totally blacked out.

In a spoken prelude to his vocals, DeLima rants: “Dis election driving me nuts ... all I know is gotta go vote. Why they like be president anyway?”

Regaling and remembering the new and old Marketplace

By
August 30th, 2016



 

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The newly opened and reimagined International Market Place, in the heart of Waikiki, surely will be equally ballyhooed and booed. It’s grand, it’s gorgeous, it’s about time. Yet its relevance and reception will be determined as folks discover what it offers in the weeks and months ahead.

On the plus side, it boasts 75 shops (50 or so already operating) brightly positioned in a three-level open-air mini-mall that takes advantage of our summery Hawaii weather. In other words, no AC, unless you’re in a shop or eatery. Restaurants are situated on the third level, but they are largely pricey yet precious additions; the jury’s still out on whether locals will be open to tasting and embracing their riches. Luxury costs.

Happily, the shops are meticulously placed around the historic 160-year old banyan tree, with an updated tree house, removing the dark, gangly creepiness of the aging beauty with a savvy reno. The tree stands tall, but altered, in the pristine new neighborhood and it simply magnifies the glory of the IMP, which is how marketers refer to the destination. Not the best of acronym for a mighty grand lady.

On the negative side, there’s apparently no regular showcase for a budding or a proven musical act, to share his/her artistry to patrons in the shopping/dining destination. In days of old, there was the iconic Duke Kahanamoku’s, the launching pad for then-newbie Don Ho, who evolved and became a national and international ambassador and treasure of Hawaiian-style music and partying. Remember “I’ll Remember You,” “Suck ‘em Up,” “One Paddle, Two Paddle,” “Lahainaluna,” and “Ain’t No Big Thing”? It all started here. Remember Cock’s Roost, Canton Puka and Don the Beachcomber? Each had resident acts, to complement the shopping and the and enhance noshing and drinking.

Happily, Hawaiian music is not passé in the International Market Place, which has enlisted Tihati Productions, the state’s premier creator of things Hawaiian and Polynesian, to provide a nightly serenade and performance at dusk, coincidentally in the piko (Hawaiian for center, and also bellybutton) of the IMP: the Queen’s Court, one of three pivotal zones in the center’s history (one other being the Banyan Court, on the Kalakaua side of entry, and the third, the Mauka Court, on the Kuhio Avenue side). For now, the 30-minute show, with photo ops and all, begins at 6:30 p.m. but times will change with the seasons.

The show, a snapshot with narrative, vocals and dancers of the history of the site and the royals (Queen Emma and King Kamehamea IV, who lived here), is in a curious position. It is the lone regular entertainment element, in the heart of the IMP; it attempts to explain the little-known facts about the location, via oli and hula between snippets of shared historical knowledge. It’s the kind of a show that requires a sit-down, soak-it-all-in audience, what with its sometimes wordy academics, so a lot is lost, or not found, for folks who are either traipsing by or sipping beverages from koa rocking chairs on both second decks overlooking the Queen’s Court. Simply put, the handfuls of oval stools (which look like dinosaur eggs from afar) or the benches on the corridors, aren’t engaging enough to sustain a listening, involved crowd. Too far away, for one thing. Sure, the grassy space mighjt work for families with refreshments to nibble, set against that precious water element behind. This is clearly a work in progress; how to capture a crowd with an ensemble (a cast that will alternate over time, not a “name” attraction) of a host who sings and dancers providing precisely the kind of aloha and artistry under the radar in Waikiki.

There is one literal walk-on worthy of mention: Leilani Kahoano makes a brief entrance decked out in a flowing Queen Emma-replica gown, but she neither sings or dances. It’s a happening that will build with time, but its existence, combined with the passionate historical relevance, needs to be nurtured and tweaked to attract viewers and listeners stay for the pageantry, the way a Disneyland/Disneyworld mini-show draws throngs at the precise appointed time.

I attended a preview opening, when Hawaii stars like Jake Shimabukuro, Willie K and Raiatea Helm took turns in the limelight — each a worthy ambassador of the changing spectrum of island music, each playing for a manini crowd. There were hundreds of invitees this particular night, but the action focused on tastings menus at the third-level restaurant zone. When food competes with music, food often wins. Attention to and appreciation of these local luminaries were sorrowfully lacking.

If there is a star headliner of the IMP, it’s gotta be the first Saks Fifth Avenue on the Kuhio end of the property. It’s a clear indication and a beacon of hope that a high-end anchor might generate buzz from some first-time local visitors, along with national and global customers who know the brand. But bargain hunters will have to look elsewhere for trinkets once hawked from shabby carts and, shamelessly, manufactured not in Hawaii but in ports producing ‘em on the cheap.

I remember the time when a Woolworth’s adjacent to the IMP also sold affordable tikis and key chains and curios and aloha attire; stuff that became omiyage when visitors returned home. After it shut down, the carts proliferated, creating a tacky new culture that some folks now miss. Cheap has a following.

New is nice, yes, but some old IMP traditions live only in memory: those overhead lauhala fans, see-sawing over the audience, at Duke’s, where you’d watch Don Ho and order Mai Tais served in Suck ‘em Up glasses you would take home (I still have a few in my kitchen nook); the Crazy Shirts booth that launched a popular T-shirt label, that happily, is reborn in the center’s return; the food court for cheap-eats lunches or dinners, like beef stew and rice and chow mein with walnut shrimp; entertainment by the Surfers group, singing Hawaiian and pop, at Canton Puka; the Elvis Presley “museum” shop on the second level, with mementos linked to the King of Rock, competing with a plethora of Coke-related collectibles; and yes, even the earliest glimpse of Bruno Mars (who then was the Littlest Elvis), performing with his dad’s do-wop group, the Love Notes, at the adjacent Imperial Hawaii Hotel.

Remember? How can you forget. ...

 

 

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