Easter Sunday with Ohta San
Sunday, March 31, 2002
Suburbia, California 


Previous 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.

Upon arrival at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre, we ran into our Hawaiian music-loving, long-time friends, Keith and Sharon and Ken 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!

>> RSP:  Hawaiian from the Heart, Keoki & Herb Jr. with Wahine U'i and Puamana clips - mele.com:clips - SB: clips

>> RSP:  '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

Starting 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 'ukulele music.  

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 Kahumoku. Gratified that their sons are following in their footsteps, both fathers must be proud of their progeny. As creative artists, they must be prouder still that their sons are also blazing new trails across the Hawaiian musical landscape. 

>> Rambles 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 northern venues. 

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 mothers."

Their song list included:  Wahine U'i; the classic Hi`ilawe, Dennis Kamakahi's Pua Hone; '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! 

Keith, 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 box.   

Out of this gargantuan body of work, this evening's song list was exquisitely choice, befitting a virtuoso:  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.  

Even classical.  Yep, Bach. I didn't know that!  Be still my heart...


Ohta San 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. 

"After crosses and losses
 men grow 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 maladies, too. 

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 manual dexterity. 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.

The 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.

We wish him only good health from here on out: Ki o tsukete kudasai, Ohta San!  E mâlama pono!  Take care!

I 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.

These, his humble -- and humbling -- words, I will savor:

"Thanks for putting up with me."


"The 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 come.  

And 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 uproariously funny 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 Party

Better late than never.  

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. 

Besides, without music in our lives, what else is there left?


More Info

>> "Talking Story" with Ohta San at His 'Ukulele Workshop
>> More on Ohta San
>> Biographical info on Ohta San
Excerpts on Herb "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.

Southern Californians:
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 
or via:

Theatre Programs- US
Bryan Yamami yamami@jaccc.org
Theatre Services Ginger Holguin holguin@jaccc.org

>> hawaiianlanguage.com:  Ohta San & Herb Ohta, Jr.

>> hawaiianlanguage.com:  Keoki Kahumoku

>> hawaiianlanguage.com:  Roy Sakuma

>> Roy Sakuma Productions: Store, 
Featuring Ohta San

>> Roy Sakuma Productions: Store, 
Featuring Herb Ohta, Jr & Keoki Kahumoku


Ota San's Audio Clips:

>> SPT:  Lo Prinzi: The Duke of Uke:
with Ohta San's clip: Wind Beneath My Wings

>> SB:  Holiday for Strings with Holiday for Strings, Pavane for A Dead Princess & Rhapsody in Blue clips 

>> SB:  A Night of 'Ukulele Jazz with Lulu's Back in Town, A Song for Anna, & Fly Me to the Moon clips 

>> Rhino:  Little Grass Shack clip

>> Cord Intl:  Little Grass Shack, Honolulu, Sophisticated Hula, Where is My Love Tonight cips

>> hmc: Sushi clip

>> hmc: Girl from Ipanema clip

>> mele.com: Holiday for Strings clips

>> mele.com: The Wonderful World of 'Ukulele clips


Little Tokyo Restaurant Recommendation

>> Oomasa
The tempura - teriyaki chicken - sushi combo is wonderful!
'Ono loa!


Mahalo e JC.

"Life is a Gift."

Me ke Aloha, 
Author Unknown

 "The only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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This web journal was created on a September Morn, 
September 29, 2001
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