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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 8:05 a.m., Thursday, March 3, 2005

Musician Martin Denny dies at age 93

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Musician Martin Denny, the father of the influential genre of pop called "exotica," died yesterday at home in Hawai'i Kai. He was 93.

Martin Denny, of Hawai'i Kai, plays the piano at his apartment on a Saturday afternoon.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

He was born April 5, 1911 in New York City.

Although in fragile health for some time — his doctors told him in 2003 that he had only a year to live — Denny was active and performing until shortly before his death.

Denny created a hypnotic international sound that blended exotic elements — bird calls, croaking frogs, jazz rhythms, chimes and gongs. He once described it as a fusion of Asian, South Pacific, American jazz, Latin American and classical styles.

Trained in classical music, he first studied piano at age 10 and was a child prodigy of Lester Spitz and Eleanor Gorn. As a youth, he toured South America with a six-piece band and frequent visits left an impression — Latin elements infiltrated his exotic sounds.

A favorite in Waikiki in the 1950s and '60s, Denny first played the old Shell Bar at the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel, then moved to clubs such as Don the Beachcomber's, which later became Duke Kahanamoku's, in the International Market Place. Over the years, he performed at the Kahala Hilton, the Hawaiian Regent, Canlis' Restaurant and the Blue Dolphin Club.

In 1959, he was named by Billboard, the music industry bible, as "most promising group of the year," and nominated for "pianist of the year" alongside such giants as George Shearing and Ahmad Jamal. In 1990, the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts honored Denny with a Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award.

In a 2003 interview on the eve of a tribute concert at the Hawai'i Theater, Denny mused on the renewed recognition his music was getting.

"You know, I'm happy the music's back, because I'm frankly tired of hearing the same old thing. Rap music. High-voltage rock 'n' roll," he scoffed. "What will kids today remember 20 years from now? There's hardly anything romantic or melodic. I think a whole lot of good music has been lost."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.