Hemingway Jasmin, second from the right, with the group Tino & the Rhythm Klub, will be performing at "Disco Fever" tonight.

Boogie night

You can once again shake your
groove thang at 'Disco Fever'

'Disco Fever'

Starring Yvonne Elliman and the J. Michael Band

Where: Sheraton-Waikiki Hawaii Ballroom

When: 8 p.m. today

Tickets: $20 to $45 advance (available at all TicketMaster outlets), $30 to $55 at the door

Charge by phone: 877-750-4600

Back around the time Audy Kimura was winning all those Hoku awards, he always got a laugh when he recalled that he received barely-passing grades in one of his intermediate school music classes. Hemingway Jasmin, who's been a professional musician for "around 30 years," can relate.

"I wanted to play music (in high school), but all the seats in band were taken, so I ended up not playing," Jasmin recalled while chilling out on Memorial Day. Iced out at school, Jasmin turned to his brother, who taught him three chords on guitar. That was enough to get him into a band with some friends. From that point on, he quickly taught himself to keep up.

Jasmin will be playing with two groups tonight when "Disco Fever" kicks into high gear at the Sheraton-Waikiki -- as a member of Tino & the Rhythm Klub and as one of the two original members of Phase VII (along with Eric Kutson) in a pickup band that will be using that name.

The Mendoza family -- who performed as the Nomads throughout the disco era and became Aura in the early '80s -- will be performing intact. Musicians representing two other old-time groups, Asian Blend and Power Point, will be joined by other younger "oldies" acts.

Yvonne Elliman, whose biggest hit during that time was "If I Can't Have You," will headline tonight's show with backing from the J. Michael Band.

The disco era makes a one-night comeback with Yvonne Elliman, pictured during her disco years.

(There's been no word if any of Hawaii's old-time disco deejays -- T.J. "Da DJ" Johnson, Travis "Chocolate Chicken" Davis, Gary "VHP" Callicott, Mike "LD" Suber, Ryan "Freak Night" Nevis, "Waltzing Rick" Wyatt or Rollo "Mahalo" Mickle, to name a few -- will be adding their magic to this event.)

JASMIN'S history in the local music scene has been a long one. He was a member of the MoppTopps, one of the biggest local top-40 bands of the '60s, and the first band he was in "that had a name." Jasmin was one of the band's later members -- he describes joining "the third generation" of MoppTopps that had originally included Jesse Morgan on lead vocals, Mike Payton on drums and Ron Payton on bass. Guitarist Bernard DeSeo, an early legend in local rock circles, "came later" and was still there along with Kata Maduli and Bert De Jesus when Jasmin joined. That "third generation" lineup would evolve into the Sunshine Express with John Ogen on vocals (Ogen would become the original lead vocalist of the Fabulous Krush).

Jasmin, Maduli and De Jesus were also in another band, Exotic Sounds, and Jasmin was still playing guitar when the keyboard player joined the Air Force and left his equipment with the band. Jasmin volunteered to change instruments, taught himself how to play and has been on keyboards ever since. Perhaps the best proof of his competence is the fact that he spent almost a decade working with Al Harrington and then worked a shorter stint backing Don Ho.

By that time he'd honed his skills playing with an impressive list of cover bands -- names from the past like Beowulf, Breaking Point, Phase VII, the Newtown Band and 808 (the original one, with Ginai on vocals).

The early '70s were the heyday of the local cover bands that worked full-time gigs in clubs like the Tiki, Mike's Barefoot Bar, the Hula Hut, the Blue Goose, the Point After, Captain Nemo's, the Hawaiian Hut, the Foxy Lady Too and Duke Kahanamoku's. Younger bands paid their dues and got experience working the headliners' infrequent off nights until a full-time slot opened up.

The advent of the disco deejay in the mid-'70s meant the end of regular work for the cover bands. The Nomads and a few other bands survived. The Krush, struggling as an off-night band, became the Fabulous Krush and made a successful transition into becoming Hawaii's best young show band. As for the rest of the bands, most of them just faded away.

JASMIN was one of the survivors. Yemun Chung, then-manager of the Fabulous Krush, recruited Jasmin to play keyboards for a would-be show band he dubbed Phase VII, and although Phase VII never succeeded in joining the Krush, the Society of Seven and the Aliis as top Waikiki show bands, the group had a good run before disbanding.

Jasmin left long before the band burned out.

"Disco was real big and live music was ending, and I had to do something to survive," Jasmin says. He was Al Harrington's musical director for a while but says he gladly relinquished the spot to showroom veteran Johnny Todd and thereafter enjoyed the less stressful position of just being one of the guys in the band. Harrington eventually retired, and Jasmin accepted an invitation to be part of a Krush reunion band. He worked with the Krush, backing Don Ho at the Polynesian Palace, and became part of Ho's new band when the local icon moved to the Waikiki Beachcomber.

Considering all this, it's not been bad for a guy who couldn't even get a spot in the high school band.

Jasmin, in the future, hopes to write and record original Christian music with some similarly minded friends. But in the meantime he cautiously describes himself as "lucky" thus far.

"I survived disco (by) going into shows, and now (karaoke). I've gotten a little bit of (music) theory, but most of it comes from experience. I learned to read chord charts working with Al Harrington and Don, and I've learned from my peers. Whatever I'm playing, I want to learn (more about it)," he said.

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