Hawaii, the Other America

Don Gordon of KIPO FM between Noe Tanagawa of Hawaii Public Radio and Bill.

An Hawaiian love song?

I’ve always been, I  have wanted to convince myself, an adventurer. No one would ever confuse me with Richard Branson, but during my single days, I’ve skydived in North Carolina, gone to Brazil, Argentina, Bahrain and Turkey,  toured Japan, New Zealand and Thailand, studied Spanish in Mexico, backpacked across Europe, and, with people like Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra and on my own gigs, slept in hotel rooms in dozens of countries.

But now I have a wonderful girlfriend named Wanda, and her wishes now figure into my travel plans.

This last year was probably the busiest one of my life. I wrote probably a dozen big-band charts, and the orchestral trumpet concerto “fourth stream… La Banda” for my friend Terell Stafford; wrote a jazz keyboard book for Alfred Music; taught full time at Cal State Fullerton, and the most strenuous activity, got my house refinanced (no thanks to the evil Chase Bank, with whom I have never been late with a payment for ten years, who turned me down even though my house is worth four times what I owe on it, I have 800 credit scores, and I could have simply paid off the mortage with a check).

Oh yeah, did you hear I won my first-ever Grammy this year! What a year. So, I’m a pretty tired guy at the end of this. Hey, as great as Wanda is, having a girlfriend can be a bit of work, too!

So it just made sense to go to Hawaii, flip-and-flop on a beach with my girl, who looks great in a bikini. Wanda works even harder than I do, as a copy editor for the Los Angeles Times, a 40-hour job that turns out usually to be 50 or 55. We agreed, we were going to CHILL.

Performing at Hawaii Public Radio with bassist Bruce Hamada.

But I wanted to do something interesting. So the agreement was, eight days – four days doing, four days flopping. And my dear friend and Red Sox fan, Don Gordon, legendary jazz disc jockey (yeah, there are a few of those left!) at KIPO in Honolulu, got me a gig at Hawaii Public Radio in the Atherton, a great recital hall with a lovely seven-foot Bosendorfer with the extra keys in the low octave. An old friend lives there, Bruce Hamada, the best bass player in the islands, takes after the great Ray Brown stylistically, and is a wonderful singer.

So it was agreed  . . .  I’d do half the gig myself, and half with Bruce.

(Here’s a podcast interview I did with Hawaii Public Radio’s Noe Tanagawa. Just click here to listen)

Our first stop was the Sheraton Waikiki. The fabulous king room with ocean views promised by my travel agent, procured at a price akin to highway robbery, was, alas, too good to be true.

The helpful staff at the Sheraton informed us that the agent bought the room at Priceline, which, I know, doesn’t offer you any choice of room style or bedding. Hmm. I contacted our travel agent and she assured us she would try to help. We e-mailed her back the next day, after the hotel had said, not only did they not hear from her, but that the hotel was sold out for weeks. We sighed, and said, well, this is really great, and if you position your chair 180 degrees on the left hand side of the balcony, you can, indeed, catch a glimpse of the ocean. A periscope would have been even better.

So we counted our blessings, checked in,  and went for cocktails at a local hotel that had an outstanding Hawaiian group there . . . three singers playing, respectively, ukulele, guitar and bass. And a lovely Hawaiian folk dancer.

You know, I usually love lots of chord changes in my tunes, but when you’re sipping a mai tai and looking at the surfers mounting those amazing waves, Hawaiian music sounds just great.

A friend once asked me what is Hawaiian music? I said, take country music, and add a little Polynesian vocal stylings, and top off with that rhythm you hear in every Hawaiian word. HA-ne_A-ka-La. HO-no-LU-lu. That old big-band tune, “Hawaiian War Chant,” echoed in my ears. It stuck me that this must have been what musicians first feel when landing on a tropical island.

You’ve all seen this: The plane lands and the musician hears the rather loud rumble of what can only be described as jungle drums. He asks the flight attendant what it is, and she says, “Don’t ask, sir. If it stops, it’s going to be a lot worse!” So he gets his luggage and gets in a cab to his hotel. The drums are a lot louder now, and he says to the taxi driver, “What the hell IS that sound?” The driver, a huge Samoan, shrugs his shoulders and says, “Man, don’t complain. If it stops, it will be MUCH worse. Buy some earplugs at the ABC store!”

By the time he reaches his destination, the doors are rumbling and the glass is vibrating from the deafening sound. But then it stops. The Samoan moans, “Dude, we’re in BIG trouble now. This hasn’t happened in years!”

“What? What? What are you talking about!”

“Bro, it’s gonna be a BASS solo, now.”

Ba-DUM-bum.

Part II . . . later.

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2 Comments

Filed under Jazz Piano

2 responses to “Hawaii, the Other America

  1. A big fan

    Interesting blog! Looking forward to reading more and checking a gig out soon.

  2. MadamoiselleK

    Who knew you were blogging? This is so you: funny, enthusiastic, a tad worried and overworked. Love from NY.

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