Even before warming their toes in Hawai‘i's sandy shores, visitors have most likely already warmed their hearts with the island's beautiful voices that ring so brilliantly throughout the world. From our archipelago in the Pacific, singers like Don Ho and Braddah IZ are just a few of the performing gems that have made a global impact on the music industry. Today, a new generation of up-and-coming musicians and singers are taking the stage and following in the footsteps of Hawai‘i's musical fore-founders.
Take Jason Poole, for instance. He calls himself "The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner" and has an inspirational story that we don't often hear.
Jason Poole shares his love for Hawai‘i at the "Pakele Live!" event in Honolulu.
Years ago, the Pittsburgh-born singer somehow found himself knee-deep in mud on the remote island of Moloka‘i – a complete 180 from his life prior, when he lived in the hustle-and-bustle of New York City.
I had the privilege of meeting Jason at the recent ‘Ohana Festival, where he performed – barefoot – his second of three acts under the hot Honolulu sun. We talked story backstage; he told me his life story, and I listened. But when he played the ukulele and sang "Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai" by Hawaiian culturalist and kumu hula (hula teacher) Aunty Edith Kanaka‘ole, I couldn't stop listening! Here's this guy, who just got through telling me he was born and raised on the "mainland," jamming to an old Hawaiian song that even I don't know the words to; and he was having so much fun doing it – bouncing on the balls of his toes, shifting his weight from one grassy patch to another. It amazed me at how accurately and effortlessly he pronounced each Hawaiian word in the song; the soft, raspy undertone in his voice told me why the latter half of his stage name was "Crooner."
VIDEO: Jason gives the Hawaii Vacation Blog a barefoot performance backstage.
After graduating with a vocal performance degree from Carnegie Mellon University, he worked for a corporate entertainment giant, training new hires, in NYC. He auditioned here and there, but he knew he needed something more in order to attain his childhood dream of being a singing "Super Star." Jason was just plain unhappy with his office job in the city. Then one night after another lousy day at work, he unexpectedly found himself tearing up with joy, as the lush voice of Braddah IZ rang through his Big Apple apartment. Little did he know, that commercial on his TV set would change his life forever.
"I was in a bad mood and felt betrayed by my body and the tears," he said. "But (the song) rocked me to my core. I wanted to, needed to, find out what this music was that had affected me so deeply."
But a few months after this epiphany, Jason actually ended up getting his "big break," literally. He was 28 years old when a "freak accident," as he put it, happened. It left him with a broken hip; hence the stage name – "The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner." (He also "accidentally" fell into Hawaiian music.) Doctors told him he wouldn't walk again without a limp. When he was a teen, they told him he wouldn't sing again, as Jason also battled an eating disorder that damaged his vocal cords.
(Left) Jason jamming the ukulele in NYC's Central Park. (Right) Dancing hula after recovering from the accident.
But through the power of Hawaiian music and dance, Jason pushed past those hiccups. Dancing hula got rid of his limp and brought him closer to the culture he'd soon be calling his own. That's when he decided to attend a legendary music camp on Moloka‘i, which brought a handful of Hawaiian musicians together to mentor aspiring performers from around the world.
Little did he know, he'd be returning to the concrete islands with even more inspiration; this time, from a Hawaiian kupuna (elder) named Pilipo "Pops" Solatorio. Pops wanted to teach Jason about the Hawaiian culture and its repertoire from Hawai‘iʻs golden age of song because he recognized Jason's passion for music. After numerous trips back to the islands, Jason slowly evolved as a person and as a performer. Pops not only started calling Jason Iakona (the Hawaiian name he gave him), but he called him his hānai (adopted) son as well. In the old Hawaiian ways, hānai didn't require legal documents or lawyer fees; it simply meant you'd take that person under your wing to be cared for and included as part of your ‘ohana.
Jason and Pops sharing smiles and shakas on Moloka‘i.
"I think the most important thing I've learned from Pops is that we stand on the shoulders of everyone that has come before us," Jason remarked. "I love the image of a chain with many, many links. I'm just one of those links. And there will be more after me. I'm honored to be a part of a tradition from Moloka‘i (and specifically Hālawa Valley) that goes back so many generations."
Today, he continues to visit the islands and shares what he has learned with others back home. In fact, he just rang in the new year with a traditional Polynesian practice – the blowing of a conch shell near the Hudson River. How awesome is that! When he's not on the road, he teaches NYC elementary students how to play the ukulele, an instrument they probably woud've never had the chance to hold or to hear otherwise.
Instead of having a big band or a full orchestra, Jason Poole jams to the music from Old Hawai‘i. Hawaiian grandmothers swoon at the sound of his voice, even crying with delight as soon as he plays Hawai‘i's most beloved songs. He may not be Hawaiian, but he definitely has proven himself to be a Hawaiian at heart.
Photo Credit: Jason Poole; Jon Yamasato (first photo)
JASON POOLE "THE ACCIDENTAL HAWAIIAN CROONER" / http://www.accidentalhawaiiancrooner.com
January 24th, 2012