Day's Entry: The Master of The 'Ukulele - Ohta-San
This afternoon, DH/Pila
drove us to downtown Los Angeles, his third trip in 36 hours
to see Ohta San. Not
having been to Little
Tokyo for over a year, we were delighted that the concert hall
was across the street from the small Japanese village set in the middle of a
metropolis, as we were looking forward to dinner afterward at Oomasa.
arrival at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre,
we ran into our Hawaiian music-loving, long-time friends, Keith and Sharon
and Cindy, from Suburbia on the border of Orange and Los
Angeles Counties, along with their friends from Simi Valley.
Upon entering the lobby,
I spotted Keoki Kahumoku
and Herb Ohta, Jr. signing CDs. Sales of their CDs were
brisk. These guys are hot!
Hawaiian from the Heart, Keoki & Herb Jr. with
Wahine U'i and Puamana clips - mele.com:clips
'Ukulele Dream, Herb Ohta, Jr. with audio clips of If We Hold on
Together, Ku`u Ipo I Ka Hee Pu`e One & G Minor Fleas
promptly at 4pm, the concert began with a warm welcome from Roy
Sakuma, who got his start in 'ukulele as Ohta San's student and
protégé. One of the nicest guys in the business, Roy is a most dedicated and diversified proponent of
As Hawaii's foremost
authority on 'ukulele instruction with over 35 years of experience, Roy furthers and expands Hawaii's music tradition
through his 'ukulele studios, recording label, the
KoAloha 'ukulele, and the
Annual 'Ukulele Festival.
As it turns out, Roy
fell in love with Kathy, who became his wife. Unbeknownst to
Roy, Kathy is Ohta San's cousin, a fact she did not reveal
until much later in their courtship.
A degree or less of
separation, I'd say, or as author Kurt
Vonnegut would describe it: they are part of a karass.
Ohta San's opening act was
Keoki and Herb Jr. (yes, Ohta San's son). Keoki is the son of the famed George
that their sons are following in their footsteps, both fathers must be proud of their
As creative artists, they must be prouder still that their
sons are also blazing new trails across the Hawaiian musical
article on Keoki and Herb Jr.
Keoki is descended from
four generations of Hawaiian slack key guitarists. His great-great-grandmother,
in her heyday in Kona, rode
a horse while playing her slack key guitar, singing hymns. Keoki
has not only inherited his family's slack-key prowess, but like his
father, has a powerful singing style as well. Keoki is never at a
loss for words and his storytelling ability, another Kahumoku trait, comes naturally.
Meanwhile, taciturn Herb Jr. plays the
perfect straight man to Keoki's wala`au (loose banter).
He lets his nahenahe -- "soft, sweet, melodious" -- music do the talking with
its beautiful harmonies, breaks
and intricate fingerwork on the 'ukulele in a style that is
reminiscent of his father's, but distinctly his own.
After performing at nine venues in nine days in the Northern California
area, they were grateful to be in Little
Tokyo. They'll be eating real rice tonight, instead of the
mushy "macaroni-rice" they were served at one of the
Often, on their singing
tour, they are asked if
they are brothers. To us locals, it is obvious they are
not. To some, we locals must "all look
alike." To this question, spokesperson Keoki
politely replies, "Yes. We just have different fathers...and
Their song list included:
Wahine U'i; the classic Hi`ilawe, Dennis Kamakahi's Pua
'Ama'ama, a song about baby mullet fish that is so 'ono
(delicious) prepared "with salt, ginger and chili pepa watah";
Led Ka`apana's Glass Ball with its farm animal sounds; and Kui Lee's I'll Remember You.
It was truly heartening
to see the next generation pick up the music reins with such
confidence, ease and agility. These two are absolutely
wonderful and represent their generation well.
During intermission we "talked story" with our friend Keith out in the lobby.
Earlier, upon arrival, we'd purchased
our raffle tickets, but at intermission Keith was still debating
aloud whether he
should or should not buy one too.
I'm glad he did, as minutes later, his
ticket was announced as the winner!
originally from Hilo, and Sharon, originally from Waipahu, won
the G-String 'Ukulele crafted by Derek Shimizu with a retail value
of $525.00, courtesy of Roy Sakuma Productions
Sharon is one of the
most thoughtful, kind, and organized people I know. She has
remembered us while on trips abroad with
postcards! And Keith is easygoing, congenial and always with a smile.
Mahalo e ke Akua for
picking the perfect winners. This past year, Keith lost his father,
a former Hilo High School social studies teacher; Sharon, both
parents within a month of each other.
This win could not have
been more timely. The music that will come
from this 'ukulele will be sweet balm for their healing hearts.
Derek Shimizu, are you
reading this? Your 'ukulele could not have gone to a nicer
couple. Keith and Sharon have two grown children, Kyle and
Paige, so you may have started a family 'ukulele tradition.
One day, Kyle or Paige will pick up the family 'ukulele and play it
for Keith's and
Sharon's future grandkids.
That is, if Keith or Sharon
doesn't beat them to it.
And then it was Ohta San,
center stage, in the perfect venue for his celebrated talent,
alongside acoustic bassist, Richard
Simon, who was Grammy-nominated in 2001 and has performed all over the
world, even jamming with the King of Thailand in 2000.
Ohta San's repertoire is
unlimited and diverse, as his
discography and music
catalog will attest. Literally, a smorgasbord of musical
styles. He is a living, talking juke
Out of this gargantuan body of work,
this evening's song list was exquisitely choice, befitting a
Song for Anna; Girl from Ipanema; Where is My
Love Tonight?; Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue,
Wave; Malagueña -- the song he played on the Ed
Sullivan show in 1955; Sukiyaki; Sayonara;
and as his encore number, Summertime.
After 60 years, Ohta San
has retained the sensitivity to express emotions and convey strong
images with his music. His ability to
grab his audience and elevate them remains undiminished.
The purity to his music is beyond expression in words. You have to hear it for
yourself. And you have lots to choose from: Ohta San has
recorded close to 60 albums of Hawaiian, jazz, rock, pop,
Latin, Broadway tunes,and Japanese 'ukulele music.
Yep, Bach. I didn't know that! Be still my heart...
may be the
grand master of his art and a mentor of masters, yet he still
connects with the least sophisticated of his audience. His self-effacing
manner, soft-spoken ways and gentle warmth proved endearing and
disarming, providing a rare intimacy between artist and audience.
crosses and losses
humbler and wiser."
~ Benjamin Franklin
Celebrity and fame have not gone to his
head. In fact, warm, sensitive, loving and sharing, Ohta San comes across as
one who, like the rest of us, has been humbled by
life's vagaries. He's had his share of world weariness and physical
With a charming,
light-hearted Sad Sack demeanor, he told us about his salivary gland tumor (the largest one on record in Hawai`i)
and sinus, teeth and back problems. Getting makule can
be a bitch, yeah! I've since learned that he also had surgery on his hand
and arm; no small surgery for someone whose artistry depends on
This night, he was fighting off a sore throat, likely from the cold
blasts he experienced in Moscow, Idaho to perform at the Lionel
Hampton Jazz Festival.
show must go on, and a
true professional, he gave us the best of himself. His music was
not the worse for all that wear. Ohta San is proof positive of the
ethos: you reach your destination as best you can, and a little
stumbling along the way is just part of the show.
And so it is with
life, isn't it? The show must go on.
wish him only good health from here on out: Ki o tsukete kudasai, Ohta San!
E mâlama pono! Take care!
was touched by Ohta San's closing words, words that speak volumes about
the profound humility of the man. They will linger with me for a long while.
his humble -- and humbling -- words, I will savor:
for putting up with me."
fullest and best ears of corn
hang lowest toward the ground."
~ Bishop Reynolds
Thanks to his innovation and creativity with the 'ukulele, with the
educational leadership of his student, Roy Sakuma, as well as
his son, Herb Jr. and other young 'ukulele artists, the art of
'ukulele performance will thrive for generations to
you know what, this is something you'd never know from just
listening to his CDS: Ohta San is also very funny. He told us some
jokes. He cracked us up.
Did you hear
about the tour guide who gave his tourists a free day....
Next month, I will be taking my first 'ukulele
lessons with Da
Hawai`i Club. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to strum along
with the 'ukulele group at the Christmas
Better late than
Realistically, I may not go much beyond
"My dog has
fleas." I am supremely right-side dominant, and
'ukulele playing requires ambidexterity.
But ohh, inspired by Ohta San this weekend, I will overcome my
'ukulele-phobia, as I have
musical destinations to go, at least in my imagination. Who
knows, I may be the premier air 'ukulele-ist.
music in our lives, what else is there left?
Story" with Ohta San at His 'Ukulele Workshop
on Ohta San
info on Ohta San
"Ohta San" Ohta from HAWAIIAN MUSIC AND MUSICIANS, edited by
George S. Kanahele
When not performing
internationally or on Da Mainlan', Ohta San performs twice a
week at the Pacific
Beach Hotel, oceanfront on Waikîkî Beach.
If you want Ohta San back,
let Gail Matsui, General Manager and Program Manager of the Aratani
/ Japan America Theater know!
Central Ticket Office: (310) 825-2101
Theatre Programs- US Bryan
Theatre Services Ginger Holguin email@example.com
Ohta San & Herb Ohta, Jr.
Featuring Ohta San
Featuring Herb Ohta, Jr & Keoki Kahumoku
San's Audio Clips:
Lo Prinzi: The Duke of Uke:
with Ohta San's clip: Wind Beneath My Wings
Holiday for Strings with Holiday for Strings, Pavane for A Dead
Princess & Rhapsody in Blue clips
A Night of 'Ukulele Jazz with Lulu's Back in Town, A Song for Anna,
& Fly Me to the Moon clips
Little Grass Shack clip
Intl: Little Grass Shack, Honolulu, Sophisticated Hula, Where
is My Love Tonight cips
Girl from Ipanema clip
Holiday for Strings clips
The Wonderful World of 'Ukulele clips
The tempura - teriyaki chicken - sushi combo is wonderful!
Mahalo e JC.
"Life is a Gift."
only gift is a portion of thyself..."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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