Sunday, March 13, 2005

Christina Denny wept during memorial services for her father, Martin Denny, yesterday morning at the Waikiki Elks Club.

Friends play encore
for ‘high priest
of exotica’

Hundreds gather to honor
the musical icon who gave
birth to a unique tropical sound

The morning rainfall was seen as a blessing as an overflow crowd of several hundred friends, neighbors and fellow entertainers paid tribute to Hawaii bandleader Martin Denny at the Waikiki Elks Club yesterday morning.

Denny, 93, who died in his Hawaii Kai residence on March 2, was remembered not only as a musical icon and the "high priest of exotica," but also as a beloved brother, father, musician, mentor and friend.

From the opening notes of his hit song "Quiet Village," played by some of Denny's favorite musicians, to Manu Bentley's graceful hula to "Beyond The Reef," the service was a fond aloha to one of Hawaii's most successful musicians.

Christina Denny, his daughter, and many close friends wore red, Denny's favorite color.

Denny, 93, died at his Hawaii Kai home on March 2. He is seen here in an April 2003 photo.

A video montage produced by longtime friend and acolyte Lloyd Kandell included two vintage performance segments. He was seen playing with Augie Colon, Arthur Lyman and the other musicians who had assisted him with the birth of "Exotica," the unique cross-cultural musical genre punctuated with unusual percussion and jungle calls that brought a tropical sound to pop music in the mid-1950s.

Kandell and Musicians' Union president Michael Largarticha also helped Christina set up the extensive memorabilia exhibits.

Kandell spoke briefly of Denny's impact as a recording artist, and of his own awe at meeting Denny, gradually becoming a friend and advocate and eventually founding a tribute band called Don Tiki in Denny's honor.

Del Courtney and Art Todd, two of Denny's closest friends in recent years, were seated down in the front with Christina. John Kramer, Denny's original bassist, was acknowledged but didn't address the crowd.

Don Ho and Haumea Habenstreit slipped in unobtrusively and observed from the back of the room.

Beckley Pang, a former dancer with Martin Denny's band, greeted John Kramer, longtime friend and bass player for Denny, during memorial services yesterday at the Elks Lodge.

Music was provided by Gabe Baltazar (clarinet and sax), Harold Chang (drums), Steve Jones (bass) and Kit Ebersbach (keyboards), with special guest Lopaka Colon, son and protˇgˇ of the late Augie Colon, on percussion, bird calls and jungle noises.

An Army bugler played "Taps" as part of the flag ceremony honoring Denny's service in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Lopaka Colon described Denny as "not only an uncle (to me) but also a grandfather." Buddy Fo reminded the crowd that Denny had gotten his own group, the Invitations, their big break and a national record deal.

Tears fell as well. Christina, bright and cheerful for most of the morning, had a few tough moments as she was explaining to the crowd that although he was an icon to others, "he's always just been Daddy to me." She described her father as "a joiner (of groups), who has (now) joined heaven," and shared his last messages of thanks and love to his friends and fans.

Shari Lynn cheered things up with a stirring a capella rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" and then carried on with "Denny's From Heaven," a parody of "Pennies From Heaven" that had been a big hit at one of his recent birthday parties.

The ceremony was blessed again when the rain faded away just as the time came for Christina and three paddlers to launch a canoe to scatter Denny's ashes just beyond the reef.

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