We know Wyland as a renowned marine artist whose massive Whaling Wall murals enliven buildings around the globe. It's probably a surprise to hear he's long nurtured a talent as a blues musician.
"Nobody knows, but I've been a blues man my whole life," Wyland explains during a recent trip to Maui.
"Everybody thinks I'm a pure artist. People are shocked. But blues is a feeling and so is art."
Marine artist/blues musician Wyland (kneeling in foreground) is surrounded by collaborators on his environmentally-minded CD project.
It was shock and outrage over the 2010 devastating oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that inspired Wyland to compose a collection of blues "music for the planet."
"After my second visit to the Gulf oil spill, I wrote 60 blues songs," he reports. "I was there with the National Wildlife Federation and I was so angry about what we've been doing to our planet. It was the final straw."
He showed the lyrics to an old friend, blues legend Taj Mahal, who encouraged him to make an album.
"Taj was staying at my house in the Keys and he was reading through the songs and said, 'You kind of write like Muddy (Waters).' I go, 'No way!' He said, 'They're really good, I want to bring my blues band to New Orleans and join you.'"
Taj has known Wyland since the 1970s when the artist painted him with images of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison on a mural in Huntington Beach.
"I brought the Phantom Blues Band down to New Orleans and we cut some stuff with other bands and Willie K and Amy," Taj says. "The ocean is all of our lives, whether we live there or eat out of it. It's the mother, and some of us are concerned and want to talk about it."
The "Blues Planet" project ended up attracting a stellar lineup of around 40 musicians, including Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i, who sing lead vocals on a couple of tunes. Among the other musicians contributing are jazz great Delfeayo Marsalis, former SNL trombone player Steve Turre, Dirty Dozen Brass Band saxophonist Roger Lewis, pianist Jon Cleary, vocalist Nick Hernandez of the reggae band Common Sense, guitarist Rusty Zinn, The Mighty Flyers (harpist Rod Piazza, keyboardist Honey Piazza and drummer Dave Kida), former John Mayall bassist Hank VanSickle, pianist Mitch Woods and Phantom Blues Band trumpeter Darrell Leonard.
Wyland composed all the lyrics for the album and co-composed the music, while Leon Pendarvis, musical director for the "Saturday Night Live Band" and the original Blues Brothers band, created some of the arrangements.
"I assembled a band that probably nobody would put together," he continues. "I knew all of them and their talent and I felt that if I put the best group together to record these songs, this music would keep the message of conservation alive."
So how did he get Willie and Amy on board?
"It was easy, I just called them and said, 'Taj was on board and all these other players and we're going to record in New Orleans.' Amy sings the blues like you've never heard; she deserves a Grammy. I specifically wrote songs for her. And Willie kills, too. He plays guitar and ukulele and sings on four songs including 'Shark Fin Blues,' which is one of my favorites."
Performed by such a seasoned ensemble of musicians, "Blues Planet" impresses on all levels. Utilizing multiple lead vocalists - Taj, Nick Hernandez, Willie and Amy - the album runs the gamut from rocking Chicago blues and more traditional country-style, to New Orleans-flavored jazz and R&B, and even a taste of reggae on the closing "It's Gone Now."
This powerful collection of eco-message blues implores us all to work together to stop the destruction of our planet. Among the highlights, on the gritty "Dirty Oil," Taj affirms a resolve to "never forget" the disaster. Willie highlights the needless slaughter of sharks on "Shark Fin Blues," and Amy amazes on the soulful "A World of Beauty," praying to "stop the plunder."
The "Blues Planet" album is the first of a planned triple record set. "We recorded 48 songs in five days in New Orleans," he explains. "There are two more coming, with 16 songs on each record."
In tandem with the albums, he's producing a series of "Blues Planet" documentaries. "We'll premiere the first one on the second anniversary of the Gulf oil spill in April at the Newport Film Festival," he notes.
The first official music video from the Wyland Blues Planet Band, "Dirty Oil," features Taj Mahal, Steve Turre, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, and Willie K on ukulele. All profits from the digital download of the song benefit the National Wildlife Federal cleanup efforts in the Gulf.
"I love music and I like to compose and write, plus it's a great cause," Wyland concludes. "I don't have a job so I can do all this."
Keali'i Reichel presents his annual Kukahi fundraiser for Halau Ke'alaokamaile at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The celebrated Maui halau was the major winner at last year's Merrie Monarch Festival.
It's been a while since we heard a new album from Hawaii's most popular musician, but visitors to Disney's Aulani Resort on Oahu are now treated in the hotel's lobby with new music specially composed and recorded by Keali'i, collaborating with Grammy Award-winning composer Mark Mancina, who has scored films such as "The Lion King," "Tarzan," and "Brother Bear."
* Tickets are $12, $35, $45, $55 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Slack Key guitar master Ledward Ka'apana performs in the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater at 7:30 tonight. Ka'apana, who grew up in Kalapana on the Big Island, was honored last year with a National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship Award. He joins a list of Hawaiian greats that includes Genoa Keawe, George Na'ope and Eddie Kamae.
Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono paid tribute at the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., in September.
"For more than four decades, Led has brought great joy to so many lives with his musical talents and his fun-loving sense of humor," she said. "Through his teaching, he's shared the sounds of Hawaii with a new generation of people around the world."
Ka'apana's most recent album, "The Legend," received a 2011 Grammy Award nomination for Best Hawaiian Music Album.
* George Kahumoku, Jr. will open the show. Tickets are $25 for standard seating and $45 for VIP, which include an artist talk-story session at 6:30 p.m., plus applicable fees, available as above.
The acclaimed Szymanowski Quartet plays the Castle Theater at 7:30 tonight. Founded in Warsaw, Poland, in 1995, the Quartet has performed at prestigious festivals and concert halls in Europe, the United States, Asia, Australia and South America. The musicians have won numerous awards including first prizes at the Premio Vittorio Gui Competition in Florence, Italy, and the In Memoriam Dimitri Schostakowitsch in Hanover, Germany.
"The Szymanowski Quartet electrified the air with a sizzling performance of choice quartet repertory," praised the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Perhaps the day will come - sooner rather than later - that Szymanowski's name will be mentioned in the same breath as the Emerson, Tokyo and Juilliard Quartets."
"It was hard not to fall in love with the Szymanowski Quartet," noted a review in The New York Times. "All professionals perform with intensity, but playing from the heart is another matter."
Along with standard classical-romantic repertoire, the quartet also performs the contemporary music of composers such as Magnus Lindberg, Elena Kats-Chernin and Philip Cashian.
* Tickets are $12, $30 and $40, plus applicable fees, available as above.