Arthur Lyman was born in Honolulu on February 2, 1932, and graduated from McKinley High School. He formed
his band in 1957 and Alfred Apaka was instrumental in booking them into the
Hawaiian Village Hotel.
Lyman's music has found a new following today thanks to the tiki bar/lounge music craze. While listening to an
Arthur Lyman recording is wonderful, it is far better to see him and his band in action, and fortunately, they
are preserved on a number of episodes of the first TV show set in Hawaii, Hawaiian Eye, which is currently
airing on the American Life cable channel (just added to Oceanic cable in Hawaii--Mahalo, Oceanic!).
In the series, he is shown performing at a replica of the Hawaiian Village's Shell Bar, which was one of his
regular homes in the islands. He also performed at the Canoe House at the Ilikai Hotel and at nearly every
Polynesian-themed venue on the Mainland.
From the Honolulu Star Bulletin:
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
ARTHUR LYMAN/ 1932-2002
exotic tunes into national hits
World-renowned mood musician Arthur Lyman died Sunday night at St. Francis Medical Center-West's hospice,
after a battle with throat cancer. He was 70.
Known for his vibraphone stylings, bird songs and bells, Lyman helped turn exotic music into a national trend
in the 1950s and 1960s, producing more than 30 albums and almost 400 singles and earning three gold
In 1957, Lyman recorded "Yellow Bird," a Haitian folk song. The song made the Billboard charts, peaking at #4 in
Longtime friend, colleague and sometimes rival Martin Denny said Lyman was "probably one of the best on the
Lyman was a member of Denny's original orchestra, joining when he was about 21, "a handsome young man
and very athletic," Denny said.
This original group performed on "Exotica" and "Exotica 2." The single "Quiet Village," which became a gold
record, was on the first album.
"He played a very essential part in the formation of the exotic sounds," Denny said.
Denny said their careers paralleled and throughout the years there was a bit of rivalry because of the
similarities between their music, "but actually he played a very vital part in the styling of this, so when he
formed his own orchestra it was only natural that he would lean toward that."
Lyman's break came when his band played a party in Pebble Beach, Calif., during the Bing Crosby Pro-am Golf
Tournament. From there it was on to Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Tokyo.
Most recently he played at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in Waikiki.
Lyman is survived by his wife, JoAnn, three sons, a daughter and grandchildren.
Monday, March 4, 2002
Carrying a tiki torch for band
leader Arthur Lyman
By Nate Chinen
Special to the Star-Bulletin
He stands with his back to the ocean. Wraparound sunglasses obscure his eyes. He bends ever so slightly at
the waist, hands fanning out over the grid of a vibraphone. Felt-covered mallets brush against the bars gently,
almost tenderly. And amid the quiet bustle of bellhops, a dozen listeners seem transported. At their applause,
he nods appreciatively and reaches for his drink. Then it's on to the next tune.
This was the Arthur Lyman I knew. Affable and ageless, he played every Friday afternoon in the open-air lobby
of the New Otani Hotel, then rolled his vibes down the sidewalk for storage at the Elks Club. His audience was
small but loyal, mostly transplanted mainlanders who remembered the Lyman of yore. Perhaps appropriately,
I had joined their ranks only after leaving Honolulu for college on the East Coast. I'd come home for the holidays
and invariably spend a lazy afternoon listening to Lyman before a sunset swim at Kaimana Beach.
Of course, I was late in coming to this music and caught the Lyman of later years. The vibraphonist had his
incredible heyday in the late 1950s and early '60s -- before I was born -- and his contributions were nearly
forgotten by subsequent generations. The '90s did see a significant resurgence, with the CD reissue of Lyman's
best albums and a thirst for all things exotically hip. But the deeper cultural resonance of his music often goes
unnoted. To Americans of a certain age and disposition, it was -- and still is -- the sound of Hawaii.
TALKING STORY after a gig in January 2000, Lyman reminisced about "the old, old days" of his childhood,
first on Kauai and then in Honolulu. "I wanted to be a fireman," he recalled. "I used to hang around the fire
station in Makiki."
But his father, who was blind, insisted that young Arthur pursue a life in music. At age 8, he made his public
debut playing marimba on KGMB radio's Listerine Amateur Hour. This was around the time that he joined
his father and brother in playing USO shows on the bases at Kaneohe and Pearl Harbor.
"In fact," he said, "we played on the aircraft carrier (USS) Hornet when it came into Pearl Harbor. We used to do
things like 'Rose Room,' 'Honeysuckle Rose' -- you know, the old songs."
In his teens, Lyman joined a group called the Gadabouts, playing vibes in the cool-jazz style then in vogue.
"I was working at Leroy's, a little nightclub down by Kakaako. I was making about $60 a week, working Monday
to Saturday, from 9 to 2 in the morning, and then I'd go to school. So it was kind of tough."
After graduating from McKinley High School in 1951, he put music on hold to work as a desk clerk at the
Halekulani Hotel. It was there that he met pianist Martin Denny, who offered him a spot in his band. Initially wary,
Lyman was persuaded by the numbers: He was making $280 a month as a clerk, and Denny promised more
than $100 a week.
LYMAN PLAYED an integral part in the Martin Denny sound, a sort of instrumental pop seasoned with ethnic
instruments and jungle noises (birdcalls were a Lyman specialty). The group won quick renown in the
"We started at Don the Beachcomber," Lyman said. "Then when Henry Kaiser built the (Hilton) Hawaiian Village,
we played at the Shell Bar." That same year, 1957, saw the smash success of Denny's album "Exotica" --
and Lyman's resignation from the band. He was striking out on his own.
Otto von Stroheim, co-editor of Tiki News, has observed: "If Martin Denny was the haole link to Hawaiian
exotica, Arthur Lyman was the Hawaiian link between Pacific Rim exotica and American jazz."
Although an oversimplification, the statement does explain a fundamental difference between the two
musicians. Lyman's group -- featuring bassist John Kramer, pianist Alan Soares and percussionist Harold
Chang -- heeded a jazz impulse more intently, aspiring to create music that transcended merely exotic
appeal. And they received almost immediate attention for it; mere months after the group's inception,
producer-engineer Richard Vaughn heard about Lyman's eclectic sound and flew to Honolulu to make an
album, using his revolutionary new high-fidelity ("Hi-fi") recording technique.
Vaughn recorded Lyman's group onstage in the Henry J. Kaiser Aluminum Dome, the space-age auditorium
near the Hilton's entrance. Hi-fi, a crude precursor to stereo sound, required the musicians to run across the
stage midsong to switch microphones for a stereo effect. This made for some frantic moments. And Lyman
described another hassle: having to record in the early morning hours, when traffic outside was light.
"Alan had a solo on 'Miserlou,'" he recalled. "Oh, man! We did 20 takes, and on one he played it perfect. But
at the end, this milk truck went going by: Brrrrrrraaaaugggh! Richard Vaughn said, 'We've got to cut that out.'
I said, 'Leave it in.' So if you listen carefully, you can hear one milk truck in the background."
"TABOO," LYMAN'S debut, was released on Vaughn's HiFi label early in 1958 and immediately became an
international hit, spending 62 weeks on the Billboard charts and peaking at No. 4. The album's innovative
pseudo-stereo sound was a contributing factor to its early success, as was its provocative cover art. I'll never
forget seeing it at age 12, during my first drum lesson with Harold Chang at Harry's Music in Kaimuki. Harold
had decorated the soundproofed walls of his practice studio with posters and magazine articles, and I learned
my first bossa nova with my eyes glued to the "Taboo" album cover: lava flowing in fluorescent rivulets.
But the most important thing was the music, as Lyman and company proved repeatedly during many
subsequent tours, television appearances and albums. While the group's core repertoire consisted of
songs associated with the islands -- "Sweet Leilani," "Mapuana," "Akaka Falls" -- it also encompassed ethnic
material from around the Pacific Rim (a highlight of "Taboo" is the Filipino folk song "Dahil Sayo"). In this regard
the group could be considered a precursor to what we now call world music. And Lyman's jazz sensibilities
were no joke; listen to a lightly swinging "Song of the Islands," from the "Hawaiian Sunset" album, and it's
hard not to think of the George Shearing Quintet.
"Taboo" and "Hawaiian Sunset" are two of a handful of albums originally recorded on HiFi and reissued on the
Rykodisc label, and many younger listeners have rediscovered Lyman on CD. This is great news, but it
doesn't mitigate the fact that the Arthur Lyman experience was really something to behold in person.
"It all had to be done live," said Chang, who bore the brunt of the percussive busywork. "The stage looked like
part of Harry's Music Store: We had huge chimes, we had huge gongs; everything was on stage."
And the fast pace of the show was musically and physically demanding. "My right hand was doing one thing,
and my left was doing another," Chang said. "Each of us played about six instruments, and in the course of a
tune, we would change instruments every two or three beats -- that's why I couldn't ever sit down."
Add to this hectic pace the demands of a frequently changing repertoire; the show never stayed the same for
very long. Lyman recalled how they would occasionally augment the Hawaiian songs with "heavy" pieces,
such as Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," interpreted in their unmistakable
LYMAN'S PERFORMANCE schedule in recent years had been purposely light. He received occasional offers
for big reunion tours, especially in Japan, but chose to stay close to home, playing his weekly gigs at the New
Otani and the Oahu Country Club. I worried last July when I called the New Otani and was told that he hadn't
played in a while.
His passing last Sunday -- he died at St. Francis' Hospice after a long struggle with throat cancer -- comes as
no surprise but leaves a hole in the heart nonetheless. Lyman was one of the few remaining windows to
another era, just before and after statehood: the golden age of tourism, when Hawaii was just finding a
place in a larger world. Much has disappeared from that era, and Lyman now joins that list. There's no
question that I'll miss his good humor and friendly smile the next time I come home. Fortunately, he left us
some remarkable music to remember him by.
PHOTO COURTESY HOWARD CHANG
Arthur Lyman with daughter Kapiolani, left, and another dancer in the 1970s.
A fond aloha to a local music legend
Hundreds of Arthur Lyman's friends, family members and fans crowded the Honolulu Elks Lodge
yesterday morning to pay their respects to the musician, who died Feb. 24, 2002 at the age of 70.
Lyman's music was used in last year's remake of "Ocean's Eleven." The soundtrack includes his quartet's
swinging jazz-lounge version of Duke Ellington's "Caravan."
Lloyd Kandell of the lounge collective Don Tiki said the group plans to honor Lyman during its shows at 9 and
11 p.m. March 15 and 16 at the Hawaiian Hut. Tickets are $20 and will be available starting tomorrow at all
Borders Books and Music, Tower Records, and Cheapo Books and Music stores, and at the University of
Hawaii-Manoa Campus Center. They will also be sold at the door.
Nate Chinen, who grew up in Honolulu, is a music writer for the Philadelphia City Paper. His features have
also appeared in Down Beat, JazzTimes and the Pennsylvania Gazette. He lives in New York City.
Biographical material from Tony Todaro, The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment (Tony Todaro Pub., 1974).