Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 25, 1999

Halekulani Hotel
Bruce Hamada, left, and Jim Howard, longtime backup
musicians, move to the foreground, playing
jazz at the Halekulani.

Two guys and
a bass

... and a piano, too ... play
acoustic jazz throughthe night
in the lounges of the
Halekulani Hotel

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Bruce Hamada has played bass in the Lewers Lounge at the Halekulani Hotel for 10 years, but for most of that time he was known to pop music fans as "Loretta Ables' bass player." That's all changed in the last few months.

Ables' show became another casualty of the stagnant economy late last year, but Hamada and his musical partner, pianist Jim Howard, were retained and have proven themselves well worth seeing as an acoustic jazz duo.

"I think the hardest part, speaking for me and probably for Jim, is we're not 'personalities,' we're musicians," Hamada said between sets in the lounge recently.

"We have to talk a little more, but working as jazz musicians we can be a little more spontaneous. We don't come in every night and play the same thing. The challenge is trying to mix it up because not everyone likes Cole Porter. Some people might like James Taylor."

Standards by Porter and other classic pop songwriters remain an important part of the duo's repertoire. Hamada and Howard also draw songs by artists and writers as diverse as Art Tatum, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and Kui Lee.

"The hard part is playing consistently well every night on acoustic instruments -- no sequencers, no start button -- but that's also what makes good music. It's hard to do it acoustically, but it's fun."

Howard, who plays flute as well as piano, echoes Hamada's sentiments. They enjoyed working with Ables. They also enjoy working together and expanding their capabilities.

With Hamada and Howard at Orchids, the Halekulani has live music from 5 p.m. to midnight or later. Hapa-haole trios, with either Kanoe Miller or Debbie Nakanelua dancing hula, keep Hawaiian traditions alive during sunset cocktails at the House Without A Key. Hamada and Howard can be heard on the lawn while they're playing at Orchids, so something of the beachfront music format continues until they move over to Lewers Lounge later in the evening.

Inside the lounge, the lights are set comfortably low, the ambience is discretely romantic, and the clientele is an eclectic mix of hotel guests and residents.

The presence of guest artists is a tradition the duo is continuing. In addition to masters like Gabe Baltazar and David Choy, the room has seen impromptu performances by Skitch Henderson, trombonist Bill Watrous, jazz guitarist Phil Upchurch, Maureen McGovern and Honolulu Symphony pops conductor Matt Catingub.

Hamada says matching the music to the clientele is the thing.

"Jim and I see ourselves as part of the whole experience, and we're trying to maintain that. We're here if you want to listen to us, we're here if there's something you want to hear, but if you want to sit in the back and talk, we're not going to get in your face.

"I think a lot of people come here because of the room, and it's great to have a place where an acoustic jazz duo fits. I like to play electric bass once in a while, but I really enjoy playing acoustic."


Bruce Hamada & Jim Howard

Bullet On stage: Tuesday-Saturday, Halekulani Hotel
Bullet Times: 8:30 p.m., Orchids; 10:15 p.m., Lewers Lounge
Bullet Cost: No cover or minimum. Validated valet parking
Bullet Call: 923-2311

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