Martin Denny, left, Art Todd and Augie Colon sat in for the finale of a Don Tiki show at the Hawaii Theatre in October.

Musician known
for innovative use
of ‘jungle noises’

Augie Colon lived by the show-business credo "The show must go on" and expected his son, percussionist Lopaka Colon, to do the same.

Lopaka wanted to pull out of Friday night's concert with Cecilio & Kapono and stay by his ailing father's bedside. Augie insisted that he play the show.

Augie Colon died while Lopaka was playing percussion in a Beach Boys parody with C&K.

Colon, a percussionist whose ability to mimic tropical birds and "jungle animals" made him an international recording star with Martin Denny in the 1950s, was 74.

"I did not want to be at the concert last night, but one of my dad's last wishes was that I keep on playing," Lopaka Colon said early yesterday morning.

"I didn't really say anything last night. I just tried to keep it in there," he said.

"It's a great loss, and I'm saddened by his departure," Denny said, describing Colon as "a very humble person, very loyal (and) a great friend."

Colon was playing percussion for fun and working as a messenger delivering blueprints until the night he stopped in at Don the Beachcombers in 1955 and sat in on bongos with Denny.

Colon joined Denny after the group opened at the Shell Bar in Henry Kaiser's Hawaiian Village (now the Hilton Hawaiian Village) in January 1956.

It was during the engagement at the Shell Bar that Denny began experimenting with exotic (non-Western) musical instruments, and where the croaking of frogs in a nearby ornamental pond led to the use of improvised "jungle noises" in the quartet's arrangement of "Quiet Village."

"His innovations with the bird calls were very important to my success," Denny said, adding that Colon also added tremendously to the visual impact of the group.

"He had a natural ability to perform, outstanding charisma, and a wonderful ability to project it," he said. "He was very masculine, and the women really dug him. I owe him so much, and he always said that I helped him and changed his life."

The popularity of Denny's arrangement of "Quiet Village" led to a recording contract with Liberty Records. The original monaural recording of "Quiet Village" was one of 12 songs in Denny's debut album, "Exotica," in December 1956.

The record deal precipitated an unpleasant break with Henry J. Kaiser, and Kaiser eventually cut a deal with two members of Denny's group after the quartet recorded a second album for Liberty in 1957.

Colon remained loyal, and it was the reorganized quartet of Denny, Colon, Julius Wechter (vibes) and Roy Harte (drums) that re-recorded "Quiet Village" in stereo in 1958 and rode the "exotica" boom to the top of the American pop charts.

Colon also recorded for Liberty as a solo artist. Denny oversaw the studio sessions that resulted in Colon's debut album, "Sophisticated Savage," in 1959.

The rediscovery of "exotica" as "lounge music" in the 1990s brought Colon renewed fame and the respect of a new generation, even as his son, Lopaka, was stepping forward as his musical heir as a percussionist with a knack for "jungle noises."

Lopaka Colon was enlisted as a member of Don Tiki, a local lounge music tribute band formed by Kit Ebersbach and Lloyd Kandell. The father and son thrilled lounge music fans when they shared the stage backing Denny at the 7th Annual Hawaiian International Jazz Festival in 2000.

Honolulu fans saw them play together again last October when Augie Colon and Denny sat in for the finale of a Don Tiki show at the Hawaii Theatre.

Services for Colon are pending.


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