BY J. ARTHUR RATH II – Hearing “The Sound of Music” being performed on a solo soprano sax and trumpet harmony, floating on the trade winds, I walked slowly toward a banyan tree in Kapiolani Park. There a middle-aged female soprano saxophone player and elderly male trumpeter sat on a bench, each having a stand holding sheet music in front of them.
I listened to more Rogers and Hammerstein compositions–from “South Pacific, Oklahoma”and “Carousel.” Then they played Lerner and Lowe songs from the Forties into the Sixties: “My Fair Lady, Camelot, and “Brigadoon.”
Coconut Willee walked up, joining me in listenong. The duo took an intermission and I spoke to the saxophonist.
“We met here in the park,” she said. “I was playing this instrument, he spoke to me, just as you are, and the next day brought his trumpet. Do you play the xylophone? It would add a nice dimension.”
Smiling, I shook my head.
Neighboring zoo animals listened quietly to the duo: they’re accustomed to hearing The Royal Hawaiian Band’s Sunday afternoon concerts at the park’s Band Shell–a tradition enjoyed for generations by humans, too.
Willee and I walked toward the Shell. Dusk was falling when we finished listening to a talented band visiting from Eldorado High School in California.
Willee and I’ve been coming to the Band Shell Wednesdays for the 6 p.m. Ukulele Festival. This continues until mid-August.
Kamaka ukuleles are given away each week. Willee and I have singing ties with Sam Kamaka, who graduated from Saint Louis College, as it was known then. Sam carried on his father’s dream of making “the perfect ukulele” and was joined by other family members who’ve made that dream come true.
Willee and I wandered to the Kalakaua Avenue. Live music from Lulu’s, one floor above, drifted down. The band played “Hotel California,” the singer’s voice made it sound like the spooky place as The Eagles did in the late Seventies.
“That haole stuff’s okay, but can be heard elsewhere in the world. Let’s go to Tiki’s,” Willee urges. “It’s Open Mike night and locals perform island music.”
Huge men with sweet, high voices sang songs of the islands,mostly music that was popular in Hawaii when their grandparentswere young.
“They’re singing “Music of the Thirties, Willee,” I comment. “Composers of that era idealized hope, promise, a gentle style of life. Hawaiian music also written then stands the test of time: within their hearts most people are sentimental.
“An example is Izzy’s redo of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen. It was sung by Judy Garland in 1938 in “The Wizard of Oz.” Izzy’s high and pure voice and his gentle ukulele plucking has made it, possibly, the most popular recording in the
world today. It was done simply and in one take in a studio not far from here.
“Hawaii’s favorite music is from the 1930s.”
“Let’s go hear the boys,” Willee urges. We stroll to park benches facing the ocean that are under a hau tree. Young men strum and sing another old-time song: “Waikiki” (Andy Cummings 1938). It begins: “Waikiki, at night when the shadows are falling…”
“Remember when we were their age? Plucking an ukulele was a new thing then,” Willee says. “Jesse Kalima, one of the tons of song known as ‘The Kalima Brothers’ was using the technique, You saw at the Ukulele Festival how it’a evolved: plucking, melody playing, is popular and no longer done by just Hawaiians.
Ukulele are used as concert solo instruments: local boy Jake may be the best in the world and he’s Asian.”
My pal displays his “Right On” hand gesture and continues.
“Hawaii produces good musicians, some become famous. Remember Roosevelt High School’s Yvonne Elliman knocking Americans’ socks off with “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” written for the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar?” And Radford High School’s Bette Midler sang “The Rose,” explaining what love really is so no one would ever have any doubts.”
I respond, “Living here attunes senses to gentle melodies. Just listen to what’s below where we are standing: There are no better sounds at the close of the day than gentle surf that’s crested on the sea now sighs on the sand. Mother Nature uses her music to tell our ears that Waikiki is a touch of heaven.
…A reminder: ‘Lucky you come Hawaii.'”