Jay Larrin, absent from the concert scene for nearly three years, broke the drought with a rare appearance Saturday night (May 28) at the Hawaii Convention Center.
He may be a bit rusty, but he’s still trustworthy to put on a show, mixing ingredients that have made him an island legend, hauling in a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts earlier this year.
Yes, he’s best known as a singer-composer for a fistful of hit tunes. “The Koolaus Are Sleeping,” and lots more. He’s also a dedicated pianist, capable of hitting those ivories with unashamed power.
He’s truly a conversationalist, turning moments into personal share-a-story sequences that reflect his glorious global vision of a world without hate, an environment linked to the ‘aina, a posture of perpetuating the soul of the islands.
And clearly, he is a poet at the keyboard, whether he’s reciting a poem that throbs in his heart, or singing out – no, shooting out – the grandeur of “The Snows of Mauna Kea,” his awesome signature that brings out the best of his melodic brand.
Nature. Kupuna. Traditions.
These are at the heart of his artistry. And at this one-nighter, dubbed Na Kupuna Nights, he ended his years of “retirement” freedom, as he uncorked the bottled wine of his wisdom, and purred out the glory that is Hawaii, and in the end, demonstrated that he’s not lost his touch and his brand.
OK, he’s silver-haired now; FYI, he had a haircut prior to this engagement, letting the white hair flow like the snowcaps of his fave mountain. Yep, he’s got a bit of a paunch; like the rest of his aging generation, he moves slowly and cautiously. But he doesn’t disappoint. His memory and manner are sharp. And lord, he’s got a lot on his mind.
He remembers when and how he penned a prologue and an epilogue, to Eddie and Myrna Kamae’s “E Kuu Morning Dew,” and shares the beginning and ending few know about. That’s the poet at work.
He recalls how he was mentored by Pilahi Paki, the resourceful Hawaiian spirit who wrote “Aloha Is,” and worried that she didn’t respond to some minor tweaking he did with her creation, until the late Moe Keale ventured to record the mele that has evolved into a mantra about what aloha stands for.
He confesses he’s long been a fan of Kui Lee and his songwriting skills, and particularly lives by the message of “The Days of My Youth,” which prompted him to honor Lee with a poem.
He reflects on how he wrote “Molokai Lullaby,” as a tribute to Melveen Leed’s birthplace, and one of the most atmospheric “place song” embracing the virtues of the Friendly Isle.
And clearly, his adoration of the islands has fueled his songs. “I Wish You Forever Hawaii”
comes to mind. Emphatically.
Larrin used to run his shows like a piano bar, with his fans and friends listening and watching him at the piano. Over the decades, he’s been serenading in a range of locations, from Castagnola’s to Canlis, from Horatio’s to the Gangplank Lounge of the Moana Surfrider Hotel, and his compositions and camaraderie were always the primary staples.
In the distant past, he concertized in a cozy lounge as well as the main ballroom of the Hawaii Prince Hotel, where he delivered his Christmas melodies and memories, but when the pandemic hit, everything shut down everywhere. A fan at the Convention Center reminded him that he didn’t deliver “Silver Bells” for a couple of Christmases, so he did the tune and invited the audience to chime in, shaking keychains or tingling water glasses with silverware, to briefly celebrate the holidays, belatedly.
He fondly remembers a young Warren Marley, a fellow haole singer-composer-pianist from Idaho, and how they’d hang out, comparing notes, until his buddy’s too-early passing.
He’s haole, too, from Tennessee; he still has somewhat of a Southern drawl, but happily Hawaiian theories and traditions bubble in his heart and soul, and he likely knows more about the islands that have become his home for perhaps four decades.
The event also showcased the energy and enlightenment of NUE – Na ‘Ukulele ‘Ekolu, featuring Bryan Tolentino (tenor ukulele), Halehaku Seabury (baritone ukulele) and Kama Hopkins (bass ukulele). The three (ekolu) have a splendid repertoire of classic and current Hawaiian, with the trio of different ukes setting off melodic magic.
Kuuipo Kamakahi also was part of the bill, serenading outside the dining room, sharing her Hawaiiana with casual charm. …
And that’s Show Biz. …