Music is the Bassist/Vocalist’s Passion
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
“The very thought of you, makes my heart sing, like an April breeze on the wings of spring . . .”
It is dinner hour at “53 by the Sea,” the upscale bistro overlooking Waikïkï, and Bruce Hamada’s voice is floating ethereally across the dining room as elegant, well-heeled customers hover over their meals.
“I give myself in sweet surrender, my one and only love . . .”
Hamada’s palette is the great American songbook and he sings of heartbreak, loss, the unforgettable optimism of youth and the gentle knowing of growing older. Tucked away in the corner of the restaurant, Hamada and his longtime musical collaborator, pianist Jim Howard, weave together the melodies of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern while his audience savors the last fading glimpses of Diamond Head at sunset.
“It’s hard when nobody is listening or when only a few people are in the room, but I have a passion for what I do and it’s the best part of me,” says the bassist/vocalist.
The son of a professional jazz musician who made ends meet by playing with the Royal Hawaiian Band, Hamada was raised on the furious bebop improvisations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as the timeless music of Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Nat King Cole.
“My dad was a drummer who played with jazz acts who passed through Hawai‘i and he would take me along to gigs.”
Through his father, Hamada met local jazz greats like Buddy Rich and Rene Paulo, who changed his life forever by allowing him to imagine a possible future if he dreamed big enough.
“The music business was not tied to any corporate roots back then, so it was vibrant and alive,” remembers Hamada. “All the big shows required bands, so all the musicians were working.”
As a teenager, Hamada studied under Wayne DeMello, a progressive jazz mentor who had been trained at Northwestern University. “He entered our high school band in the Reno International Jazz Festival and introduced us to a much bigger world: That was when the fire was really lit for me.”
Hamada, who began as a trombonist, taught himself the electric bass and entered the University of Hawai‘i, where he at first aspired to study medicine. In no time, however, he found himself drawn to jazz-flavored rock bands such as Chicago and Tower of Power, who were dominating the record charts with a heady blend of music that featured powerful horn sections and unforgettable melodies.
Alan Suemori teaches Asian American history at ‘Iolani School. He is a former Hawai’i Herald staff writer.
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