Tom Conway's latest recording project, "El Tigre," captures this extremely gifted guitarist pursuing his passion for the style of exuberant gypsy jazz pioneered by legendary Belgian musician Django Reinhardt.
Primarily a collection of original instrumentals, the album opens with an inspired Gypsy Pacific version of Willie Nelson's peace anthem "A Peaceful Solution."
"I arranged the song and asked Willie if I could put it on the album, and he said, 'Sure,' " Tom explains. "We did the basic tracks on Maui and he flew me to his ranch in Austin and that's when he did his vocals."
SHANE TEAGARDEN photo
The country legend has admired Tom's playing ever since he heard Tom play some time back with Gypsy Pacific. "One of the first bands to grab my attention on Maui was Gypsy Pacific," Willie reported. "Tom Conway and his band play Django's music right alongside the other great Django bands."
While the acoustic string quartet specialized in hot, upbeat gypsy jazz, Tom wanted to expand the palette by adding other instruments for his solo album.
"It's definitely gypsy jazz inferences, but with more instruments," he continues. "Typically gypsy jazz doesn't have organ or saxophone; it's usually string-based, and I wanted to do my own way with it."
Tom Conway plays the Kahului Ale House from 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; Stella Blues from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays; and South Shore Tiki Lounge from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, check out his website at tomconwayguitar.com.
Helping him cook up this intoxicating stew are Marcus Johnson on bass, David Choy on saxophone, Mark Johnstone on organ, WillieWainwright on violin, Greg Marsh on drums and percussion, and Phil Benoit onrhythm guitar.Besides Nelson, guests include Pat Simmons on guitar and Gail Swanson on flute.
On one track, "The Blue Max," which features the Doobie Brothers' guitarist, Tom pays tribute to the club that dominated Front Street's music scene back in the late '70s and early '80s. "It's definitely an homage," he says. "I used to like to go to the Blue Max and see all entertainers who came through."
Anyone familiar with Django's recordings, or who has seen Tom master this demanding style, can only be awed the virtuosity displayed on "El Tigre."
"It's a very challenging style to play, every note is deliberate. The articulation and the intention has to be there," he explains. "You can't be tentative playing that stuff. It's about as well as I can play on an acoustic guitar with a pick."
While we can enjoy his joyful gypsy jazz style on record, live it's another story.
"I'm not really playing this style out in public anymore," he reports. "Django is one of my passions, but now I'm returning to my other passion, which is Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. I'm doing all solo gigs now where I'm singing and playing. So I'm re-learning all these song I learned as a kid. I'm completely back to my rock roots. I was just working on (Cream's) 'White Room.' I'm reinventing myself, going back to rock."
It was the late Ray Ennis, founder of Stella Blues, who sparked Tom's return to his rock roots.
"It all happened because of Ray Ennis," he says. "He called one day and said, 'Can you play solo?' He talked me into doing it, and I ran out and bought a PA from Bounty Music the same day. I've been there for over a year now, and it's been great. I have about three hours of material memorized now. It feels fantastic, I just love it. I've never felt more connected to the music."
But we may have one more chance to hear Tom's jazz chops again on record. When he flew to join Willie Nelson in Austin, the country legend recorded a bunch of guitar solos for a as-yet-unreleased album with the Gypsy Pacific musicians.
"Willie tells me he still intends to put it out," Tom reports. "It's really good. It's kind of like him singing standards with a gypsy jazz underpinning."
Ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro continues his solo concert series in the McCoy Theater at 7:30 tonight.
Jake's among the artists featured in a new documentary "The Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog," with the director Tony Coleman describing our acclaimed virtuoso's technique as, "ukulele shock and awe" in a NPR interview. And a Toronto Sun review includes: "We see the incredible Jake Shimabukuro in concert, squeezing the kind of notes out of his ukulele that (flamenco master) Paco de Lucia does from the guitar."
Speaking of accolades, after Jake stunned an audience of tech and entertainment moguls at the annual TED conference in California, drawing a roaring standing ovation, Bill Gates was inspired to "tweet" his amazement.
Earlier in the year Jake debuted a new instrumental, "Go For Broke," which he played at the Na Hoku ceremonies. A tribute to World War II Japanese-American veterans, the song is available as a free download on his website.
And in other Jake news, he's currently featured in a Hawaiian Airlines in-flight video where he talks about his Music Is Good Medicine program.
Tickets are $25 and $45 for VIP, plus applicable fees, which includes premium seating, early access to the theater for a sound check and a meet-and-greet with Jake. Tickets are available from the MACC box office, 242-7469, or www.mauiarts.org.
Two of the greatest vocal groups in American history, the Temptations and the Four Tops, will stir the Motown memories on Aug. 15 at the MACC. Among their combined hits we'll hear gems like "Baby I Need Your Loving," "It's the Same Old Song," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "The Way You Do The Things You Do," "Ain't Too Proud To Beg, "Just My Imagination," and the psychedelic/soul classic "Papa Was A Rolling Stone."
Reviewing a recent show, The Kansas City Star praised: "After opening with a cover of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," the Temps plowed through their classic catalog for nearly 30 minutes without taking a break. Every song had everyone on their feet, singing along."
Tickets are $35, $50 and $65, plus applicable fees, with a limited number of $85 premium table and $125 golden circle table seating, available as above.
Ebb & Flow Arts' summer concert series concludes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Seabury Hall with a change in programming. Previously announced as featuring "Progressive Jazz from Germany," the illness of guest artist Cecile Verny led to great Maui jazz vocalist Kelly Covington substituting. Kelly will be supported by Paul Marchetti on percussion, Shiro Mori on piano and Lenny Castellanos on bass in a "Classical Jazz and American Moderns" program.
The evening will open with violinist Sarn Oliver and pianist Jerry Kuderna playing Ravel's "Second Sonata," and will also feature the "Third Piano Sonata" by Roger Sessions.
In addition to the concert, this morning from 9 to noon, Kuderna and Oliver host a master class for music students at the Maui Music Conservatory in the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.
Murray Thorne will celebrate the release of his new album, "Tin Can Telephone," with a show at Mulligan's On the Blue on Friday.
"I want to give Maui a great rock concert, a technically and visually entertaining experience they won't ever forget," says Murray.
The Canadian-born artist is known for his work with the Irish music band the Celtic Tigers and for his "Tin Can Tuesdays" solo shows at Mulligan's.
Erin Smith and Mary Jane Babashoff will open the evening.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door, $10 pre-sale, available at Mulligan's, 808 Deli, Requests Music, Anthony's Coffee and the Ku'au Mart.
Folks on the Friendly Isle can enjoy the free Seventh Annual Molokai Film Festival at Hotel Molokai coming up on Aug. 13 and 14. Artists performing will include Brother Noland, Bradda Francis, Lono and Calvin Hoe. Among the new docs screening are "Kaho'olawe - An Island Healing" and "Journey to Kalaupapa."