Arthur Lyman


Arthur Lyman (February 2, 1932 – February 24, 2002) was a prolific American jazz vibraphone and marimba player. His group popularized a style of faux-Polynesian music during the 1950s and 1960s which later became known as Exotica. His albums became favorite stereo-effect demonstration discs during the early days of the stereophonic LP album for their elaborate and colorful percussion, deep bass and 3-dimensional recording soundstage. Lyman was known as "the King of Lounge music."

Arthur Lyman was born on the island of Oahu in the U.S. territory of Hawaii, the youngest of eight children of a Hawaiian mother and a father of Hawaiian, French, Belgian and Chinese extraction. When Arthur's father, a land surveyor, lost his eyesight in an accident on Kauai, the family moved to the island of Oahu and settled in Makiki, a section of Honolulu. Arthur's father was very strict with him, each day after school locking him in a room with orders to play along to a stack of Benny Goodman records "to learn what good music is." "I had a little toy marimba," Lyman later recalled, "a sort of bass xylophone, and from those old 78 rpm disks I learned every note Lionel Hampton recorded with the Goodman group." He became adept at the 4-mallet style of playing which produces a fuller sound. He became good enough to turn professional at age 14 when he 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 in 1954 that he met pianist Martin Denny, who, after hearing him play, offered the 21-year old 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. Denny had been brought to Hawaii in January on contract by Don the Beachcomber, and stayed in Hawaii to play nightly in the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village. Other members of his band were Augie Colon on percussion and John Kramer on string bass. Denny, who had traveled widely, had collected numerous exotic instruments from all over the world and liked to use them to spice up his jazz arrangements of popular songs. The stage of the Shell Bar was very exotic, with a little pool of water right outside the bandstand, and rocks and palm trees growing around. One night Lyman had had "a little to drink," and when they began playing the theme from Vera Cruz, Lyman tried a few bird calls. "The next thing you know, the audience started to answer me back with all kinds of weird cries. It was great." These bird calls became a trademark of Lyman's sound.

When Denny's "Quiet Village" was released on record in 1957 it became an instant smash hit, igniting a national mania for all things Hawaiian, including tiki idols, exotic drinks, aloha shirts, luaus, straw hats and Polynesian-themed restaurants like Trader Vic's.

That same year, Lyman split off from Denny to form his own group, continuing in much the same style but even more flamboyant. For the rest of their careers they remained friendly rivals, even appearing together (with many of their former bandmates) on Denny's 1990 CD Exotica '90. Although the Polynesian craze faded as music trends changed, Lyman's combo continued to play to tourists nearly every Friday and Saturday night at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in Honolulu throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He also performed for years at Don the Beachcomber's Polynesian Village, The Shell Bar, the Waialae Country Club and the Canoe House at the Ilikai Hotel at Waikiki, the Bali Hai in Southern California and at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. During the peak of his popularity Lyman recorded more than 30 albums and almost 400 singles, earning three gold albums. Taboo peaked at number 6 on Billboard magazine's album chart and stayed on the chart for over a year, eventually selling more than 2 million copies. The title song peaked at number 55 on Billboard's Hot 100 in July 1959. Lyman's biggest pop single was "Yellow Bird," originally a Haitian song, which peaked at #4 in July of 1961. His last charting single was Love For Sale (reaching number 43 in March 1963), but his music enjoyed a new burst of popularity in the 1990s with the lounge music revival and CD reissues.

Lyman died from thoracic cancer in February 2002. He is survived by his fourth wife JoAnn Z. Lyman, three children: Arthur "Ditto" Lyman Jr. (son with Patsy Cummings, his first wife), Kapiolani Lyman (daughter with Marie Stratton, his second wife) and Aaron Lyman (son with Andra Andrade, his third wife), as well as his stepdaughter Jan Manago and stepson Michael Manago, sister Emily (Tweedie) Rabe, brother William Lyman and seven grandchildren.

Most of Lyman's albums were recorded in the aluminum Kaiser geodesic dome auditorium on the grounds of the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki in Honolulu. This space provided unparalleled acoustics and a natural 3-second reverberation. His recordings also benefited from being recorded on a one-of-kind Ampex 3-track 1/2" tape recorder designed and built by engineer Richard Vaughn. All of Lyman's albums were recorded live, without overdubbing. He recorded after midnight, to avoid the sounds of traffic and tourists, and occasionally you can hear the aluminum dome creaking as it settles in the cool night air. The quality of these recordings became even more evident with the advent of CD reissues, when the digital mastering engineer found he didn't have to do anything to them but transfer the original 3-track stereo masters to digital. The recordings remain state-of-the-art nearly 50 years later.

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Arthur Lyman links


Buy Arthur Lyman CDs at Amazon.com
Arthur Lyman @ Spaceagepop.com
Illustrated Arthur Lyman Discography
Profile: Arthur Lyman
Arthur Lyman Obit @ Startribune.com
Arthur Lyman @ Jazzhouse.org
Arthur Lyman @ Hall of Records

Bookmark

Arthur Lyman - Polynesia

Arthur Lyman - Cotton Fields

Arthur Lyman - Leis of Jazz

Arthur Lyman - Ilikai

Arthur Lyman - Paradise

Arthur Lyman - The Colourful Percussions Of Arthur Lyman

Arthur Lyman - The Very Best Of