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A Double Whammy Week Coming Up!
Who’s Coming Up on Sunday, January 28?
In May 2004, Led Kaapana, artist extraordinaire, performed in GIAC-sponsored “Bluegrass Beat Meets Hawaiian Heat” along with two award-winning steel guitarists from Nashville, Tim Stafford and Rob Ickes.
I was blown away by Ledward. Since then, I’ve seen Ledward as a guest artist in many concerts, playing one or two songs. That is never enough for this Grammy-winning recipient of the 2011 National Heritage Fellowship Award. In celebration of EKK’s 35th anniversary, we asked Led to do a solo performance for the EKK audience. He graciously said “Yes!” so here he is. (see poster at the end of this article)
Who’s Coming Up on Monday, January 29?
Here is the link to EKK on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ekanikapilakakou.kauaistyle/
EKK Week #2 – Jeff Peterson is a Musical Phenom
You could not miss Jeff Peterson, walking slowly out of baggage claim, precariously balancing two huge guitar cases, an ‘ukulele case, a rolling cart full of CDs and another rolling cart which supported the weight of the heavy instruments. I rushed to help him, grabbing the old wooden guitar case which turned out to be so heavy. Is this how a musician travels? Not a simple task. Jeff handles it all with grace and ease.
Jeff first came to EKK in 2006 with his Dad, Bard Peterson, who as a kid would follow Sonny Chillingworth and Gabby Pahinui around because he loved playing music, but when he was about to go on stage at EKK, he told Jeff he was super nervous. Jeff also recalls fondly the time he came to EKK with a string quintet from New York on the same night that the late Anthony Natividad, nose flute artist, taught some Tibetan monks and the whole audience how to blow the nose flute; we have had some really memorable EKK Mondays!
Having performed many times at EKK, Jeff knew that this was not the usual noisy bar crowd, nursing their umbrella-topped “maitai” and trying to talk over the sound of bar blenders. He knew that he was going to play for a captive audience, well-steeped in Hawaiian music and culture. From his first strum until the last song, the audience held on to his every word as he elegantly shared the stories and songs that exemplified all the musical mentors with whom he had been fortunate enough to share the stage over his not-so-long career. Yes! He’s young!
One of the most articulate story-telling musicians, he explained the, at times, complicated constructs of the music that he was playing, sharing the anatomy of slack key guitar music and comparing them with examples of the sounds of music influenced by other cultures and genres — Spanish tunings of the Mexican vaquero, Portuguese folk songs, missionary songs, swing, jazz – and finally the traditional Hawaiian nahenahe style which is so smooth and soothing. To show us the mariachi influence in his version, he played Wai’alae from his Pure Slack Key CD.
With just changing a few strings, one can arrive at many variations of tunings. Thus, came the Open G or “taro patch” tuning of the cowboys of Hawai’i island. Tunings often carry the name of the musician who made it up, such as the Gabby C or Mauna Loa tuning, the Sonny Drop C tuning, the Keola C tuning or the Jerry Santos C tuning. The evolution of the instrument from cat gut strings to nylon strings to steel strings, too, affected the sounds of the guitar. He talked about an instrument used back in the 1890’s in which “the bigger your belly, the better you could play” because the guitar was supported in just the right place. The packed ballroom was hushed, hanging on to his every word, thrilling at the sounds that emitted from his guitar, and bursting into applause at the end of every song.
His performance is always quietly elegant but as he shared the stories of traipsing all over the rugged mountains and valleys of Maui with his ranch-boss cowboy father, Bard Peterson, his excitement over the sights and sounds that inspired his music would have him bursting out in exclamation points. Bard knew the name of every valley in Maui so they spent a lot of time camping and fishing with kayaks off the coast of Makena where giant whales silently swam by under the kayak. He described verdant Kipahulu with its waterfalls and lush forests right around the corner of the island from dry, windy Kaupo, a place locked in time with the Hawai’i Aloha Church still standing there. He wanted us to see in our mind’s eyes what he saw that brought this music out in him. As he started his playing, eyes closed to envision the countryside as he remembered it, the audience could follow along and listen to the sights he had just described. In his younger days Jeff would go by zodiac to Kaho’olawe to fish with his Dad and his friends. These were the days when the military was using the deserted island as target practice so there was plenty of fish and no other fishermen.
He built a slack key number right before our eyes starting with the bass line or heartbeat of the song, adding the melody, the bells, the chimes, the slides, the Spanish strums … and mixed them altogether into a whole song. It was wonderful!
Many of the songs and stories shared were based on his relationship with his mentors whose music greatly influenced his own style of playing. In the 1960’s Ray Kane and Leonard Kwan were two brilliant slack key musicians. His grandfather, who was friends with Leonard Kwan, gave him old albums from Kwan which Jeff listened to over and over so he could teach himself to play slack key. Although there were many guitar-playing cowboys on the ranch, they just liked to play music but not teach or share their knowledge. Wahine Holo Lio on Jeff’s Maui on My Mind & Slack Key Jazz CD captures the unmistakable paniolo sound. This is based on an old song played in minor tuning just by slacking one string.
With the Hawaiian Renaissance Revival of Hawaiian music and culture, artists who led the charge included Peter Moon, the Beamer Brothers, Olomana, Cazimero Brothers, Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai’i.
During this time, Jerry Santos of the Olomana group, who had just learned a tuning from his sister, came up with the now famous song Ku’u Home o Kahalu’u which describes the laid back side of the island that Jeff now calls home. Jeff said we should visit and see for ourselves the island setting from Kailua to Waimanalo to help us visualize the place that the song describes. Because it is such a well-known vocal, it’s rare to hear this song as an instrumental, but when you close your eyes and listen to the music, you are there. This is on his O’ahu CD.
Before moving to Waimanalo and Kailua side, Jeff lived in Manoa valley, a place where his Great Grandmother, Caroline “Wabi” Peterson, had a taro patch. She used to bring tropicals from her garden and create massive floral arrangements at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, now called the Honolulu Museum of Art. To this day, her style of floral arrangement is still displayed at the entrance. The Japanese Tea House at the Academy is dedicated to his Great Grandmother.
He talked about Fred Punahoa of Kalapana, one of the most influential slack key artists of all time, whose music style has influenced Ledward Kaapana, Sonny Lim and many of the Hawaiian musicians we know so well today. Fred played for the love of playing so there are no recordings of his music except for the one of him playing Mauna Loa Slack Key and the Punahoa Special, his name song, at the 1964 Waimea Festival. Jeff plays this song on his Pure Slack Key CD and we got to hear it. Uihaaaa!
Punahoa used to play with a bag over his hand so you could not steal his licks and a blue crown royal bag over his keys to hide his tunings. Ledward, also of the Kalapana ohana, has an amazing memory and remembered every note that Fred played, thus the Punahoa legacy lives on. Jeff says, “Ledward is my favorite musician in any genre.” “Ledheads” the world over and many others share that sentiment. We have the great fortune of having Led give a solo concert this coming Sunday at EKK.
2018 is the Centennial of the passing of Queen Liliu’okalani as well as the 125th year of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy so events commemorating these dates are being staged all year in Hawai’i.
In the days of the Monarchy, Jeff’s great great great grandfather was the postmaster at the old Honolulu Post Office which is directly across the I’olani Palace. One of the woodworkers in Jeff’s ohana was responsible for building the grand old koa staircase inside the I’olani Palace, largest koa structure in the world. With these connections, Jeff was thrilled and honored to play the songs of Na Lani Eha with Dennis Kamakahi as part of the televised Na Mele program. He said they had to wear blue booties over their shoes to protect the carpet inside the living room. To hear Jeff describe how he felt to be playing in that series made me more appreciative of that program which I have seen several times on Hawai’i Public Televison.
On his Haleakala CD is one of the Queen Liliu’okalani’s most exquisite compositions, Sanoe, in which she discreetly and metaphorically alludes to a secret romance in her royal court. Ku’u Pua I Paoakalani, talks about the bouquet of flowers from her garden brought to her each morning by the young boy who wrapped the flowers in daily newspapers; the papers helped the Queen to secretly keep informed on what was happening outside the palace where she was imprisoned.
Jeff recently played music sitting on top of a haystack in a float parade in Makawao, close to his childhood home. He talked about upcountry Makawao which was paniolo country where one will find names such as Freitas Place and Moniz Avenue. This is where visitors will stop at Komoda Store very early before the baked goods were sold out. On his Maui On My Mind CD, he plays Chamarita which reflects the portuguese influence in Makawao.
When I first announced that Jeff would be in our 2018 EKK line up, one of our most devoted EKK supporters asked if Jeff might be playing his Concerto for Slack Key which he had composed to play with the Symphony Orchestra. Jeff was happy to include that in his EKK performance. He had worked so hard on that composition, he wanted to play it as much as possible. As part of the move to protect the National Parks of this country, including volcanos like Haleakala on Maui, Kilauea and Maunaloa on Hawai’i Island, Jeff wrote a concerto to play with the full orchestra. He took out his vintage guitar to play one movement about Haleakala. OMG! Unbelievable the sounds that came out of that guitar. It was indescribable and can only be experienced. I would love to one day hear him play that backed up by a whole orchestra. It was fantastic! He included it on his Wahi Pana CD.
When watching Jeff during the ‘ukulele hour teaching the class and singing Ulupalakua, Walter Levison asked me, “Why doesn’t Jeff sing? He sings great!” I told him, “When someone is good in everything, they generally try to share what they are best in, so I guess that is why Jeff plays his guitar,” but he decided to sing along with the ‘ukulele this time; a whole different side of Jeff surfaces while singing as he moves his body to the music almost like a noho hula (sit-down hula).
Each week Kamoa ‘ukulele donates an instrument to EKK. To demonstrate the ‘ukulele that was to be given away, Jeff played and sang a song titled Anapu’u Pipa Alanui. The song is about riding along with his Uncle Edwin W. Rawlings, a retired four-star general, who suffered from narcolepsy and therefore sometimes fell asleep as he careened along the funky dirt roads of the back country. He later became the President and Board Chairman of General Mills.
Who was the lucky winner of that ‘ukulele? Ann Kaplan of Mill Valley, California, who was jumping up and down in the front row when her name was called.
During intermission, old and new fans flocked to his CD table so they could take with them a piece of music to remember this unforgettable evening of music with one of Hawaii’s outstanding artists.
After intermission, to continue sharing the different styles of slack key, Jeff played the Hawaiian version of swing music to Andy Cumming’s Waikiki; it’s on his O’ahu CD. Uncle Mel Peterson, a beach boy at Waikiki and composer of the hula song E Naughty Naughty Mai Nei, used to play with Andy Cummings. The song is very laid back and dreamy and everyone who has ever strolled along Waikiki beach would have been transported back to an early time when life was easy going, the pace was relaxed and you could actually see the sandy beach at Waikiki. Today it’s covered with sun-tanners from water’s edge to the hotel fences.
The Slack Key Travels CD is filled with songs that were influenced by his time on the road with Keola Beamer, one of Hawaii’s greatest slack key artist and Hawaiian songwriter, who Jeff regards as a mentor and second father. Song for Keola is a prayer . . . so appropriate as Keola exudes spirituality in the way he lives his life. Jeff looks forward to working on a duo album with Keola.
Keola created a series for the US State Department called American Music Abroad which gave an entourage of musicians from many countries the chance to perform their music in places like Zimbabwe, which might be the farthest away from Hawai’i so that if you kept going, you were on your way back to Hawai’i. Jeff recalls with great excitement the thrill of kayaking down the crocodile and hippo inhabited river with Keola. He remembers fondly playing Hi’ilawe on the Great Wall of China with the late Chino Montero.
A very different kind of song on his Slack Key Travels CD was about Hotel Street in Chinatown Honolulu. He brings out the dark side in his music embellished with light bright sounds that capture the little sparkly things that one can experience while on Hotel Street. To do this he has two different keys going on at the same time. This song was in a tuning just a few strings away from Gabby’s C Mauna Loa tuning which Gabby, a fantastic steel guitar player, adapted from the 11-string steel guitar. He described the Wahine tunings which sound elegant compared to the other tunings because of something called the Major 7. In this tuning he played Pu’uanahulu.
The times he spent with the late Dennis Kamakahi are among his favorite experiences. While on tour, after a long day when the musicians would kick back and relax, Dennis would walk in with his guitar and play two hours of an amazing repertoire of music by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan in his very personal and unique Kamakahi style; unfortunately none of this was ever recorded. Jeff shared a lesser known song of Dennis titled Hilo Rag, which was adapted from Gabby’s Mauna Loa tuning. It’s on his Pua’ena CD by Dancing Cat Records. I wore out two copies of Pua’ena, definitely my favorite CD ever.
Jeff brought this fascinating musical journey to a close with two songs written by the Queen as she rode her carriage daily from her home in Pao’akalani to Maunawili, Aloha ‘Oe and Aloha O Kahaku. All week long as I am out and about Lihu’e town, folks are flashing their thumbs up at me and I know they are referring to Jeff’s performance. So wonderful that he asked to be invited back to EKK. For sure!
E Kanikapila Kakou 2018 Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, supported by the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, the Kaua’i Beach Resort, and the GIAC/EKK supporters. Garden Island Arts Council programs are supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Hawai’i State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.