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Isle musician formed orchestra, fused Asian and Western styles


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POSTED: Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paul Yan Ming Mark, a musician known for fusing Western and Asian styles, died Oct. 17 at St. Francis Hospice in Ewa. He was 85.

Mark was born in China to missionary parents who came to Hawaii in the 1930s. He and his brother, John, worked mowing lawns and gardening to earn money for music lessons. Mark later attended the University of Hawaii music program in the late 1940s.

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Mark began as a trombonist but later turned to keyboard and then orchestration, a skill that became particularly helpful to local musicians. In that era, mainland bands did not publish their arrangements, but Mark would buy records, listen to them and transcribe the arrangements. He then sold the sheet music to other bands.

Mark performed aboard cruise ships to Asia and the West Coast and played trombone in a band called Claire Lane and Her Hi-Tones. In the late 1950s, he formed his own orchestra, consisting of members of the Honolulu Symphony, the Royal Hawaiian Band, and other musicians.

The orchestra produced three albums featuring his arrangements of Japanese tunes set to Western instrumentation and performing in jazz and pop styles.

He later formed smaller groups and played in many local clubs, including the Shell Bar at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the Moana Surfrider. His most recent group was the Ebbtides.

Mark is survived by brother John of Oakland, Calif., sister Julia Wong of Pearl City, several nephews and a niece. A private service will be held.