Jon Hall – Jon Hall brings Music from Hawaii [Mercury, 1950s]

Jon Hall - Jon Hall brings Music from HawaiiJon Hall, actor; appeared in prominent feature films such as Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), The Mysterious Avenger (1936), and The Hurricane (1937) directed by John Ford. Universal featured him in 1942 along with Maria Montez in Arabian Nights. Hall was very prominent in South Seas adventure films and even appeared with Martin Denny, who made a cameo appearance in 1959’s Forbidden Island. Eventually stardom faded for Jon Hall, and he pursued more television work in features such as Perry Mason, as well as directing The Beach Girls and the Monster in ’65; an on-going struggle with bladder cancer would cause such unforgiving pain that he ended his own life on December 13, 1979.

Jon Hall Brings Music from Hawaii is the second of two albums released on the budget “Wing” label through Mercury records. Hawaiian music is the natural choice for someone who was the leading star of so many tropical adventure films, capitalizing on his image as the strong “Jungle Man” that Mr. Hall would portray so often. Jon Hall Directs Music from Honolulu was the first to be released, featuring Quiet Village and Singing Bamboo among twelve arrangements. (Incredibly, the Honolulu album is available on a re-mastered Japanese CD!) “Hawaii” follows in the same exotic vein, claiming in the liner notes to have been recorded “the night before an important Hawaiian holiday”…..at a “Hawaiian village, which must remain unidentified.” Both Hawaii and Honolulu albums probably used the same recording sessions, and both feature images used from the same photo set on their covers. On both LP’s Jon Hall romances a winsome Caucasian brunette dressed in a red Hibiscus-print two-piece.

Music from Hawaii is actually very good, successfully capturing the feeling of a Hawaiian restaurant featuring live entertainment. Sound quality of the recordings is not great; bringing to mind a high-school recital presented by privileged members of the twelfth-grade jazz band, given the deep, cavernous sound of the instruments. Performers sound as though they are perched atop a huge wooden stage in a school auditorium.

A seven-minute extravaganza to Sweet Leilani starts side one. Piano, wood sticks and upright bass accompany a competent singer with a smooth velvety voice who approaches parody when hitting notes in quick succession, “Le-i-la-i-niiii.” Cowbell dings out a rumba beat, while the pianist is afforded a solo complete with sounds of bird call provided by other band members. Audience clapping and extraneous noise can be heard during this particular recording, adding a realistic “live” feel to certain cuts compared to others on the album where audience sound was obviously dubbed into the tracks during post production.

Next, Minoi Minoi E features two singers “mirror singing” lyrics in tandem. Music is provided by upright bass, piano, percussion, and electric guitar which leads most of the instrumental breaks. There is also another piano solo.

Fish and Poi and Hawaiian Hospitality finish out side one, both vocal numbers with ukulele and piano. All of the arrangements feature sparse instrumentation, but that doesn’t detract from the accomplished musicianship. Both of these tunes sound like a black-review of “hula night” somewhere in Harlem. Piano and upright bass solos again take center stage, along with electric guitar and a poor-man’s Satchmo singing along complete with “Yes honey-child” type exclamations.

This short LP starts side two with Little Grass Shack, again reminiscent of some strange burlesque “black face” routine as an exaggerated “Mammy” voice, ala Al Jolson (Oh yeah, Mammy look at me….yeaaaaah), provides the lyrics as the piano breaks into yet another solo followed by upright bass and brushes on snare drum. Again, the acoustics are reminiscent of a large wooden-floored stage because of the cavernous/deep recording quality.

Hula O Maki follows with our silky-tongued lounge singer “over-reaching” with piano and upright bass, as he sings in Polynesian with ukulele accompaniment.
Que Linda provides a nice jazzed-up/improv instrumental with conga drums, piano, electric guitar and upright bass. All the instruments take turns for a few bars, prominent conga drumming in the foreground, and a long drum solo with some cow-bell shenanigans and band members hooting and hollering in the background.

Tematangi rounds out the boisterous evening with bird noises by the musicians, deep drums, and piano leading in two singers who harmonize along with each other.
For a budget label release, these uncredited musicians provide a fun and very listenable “Hawaiian experience” suitable for the most distinguished backyard patio luau. Enjoy that Mai-Tai, and how do you like your steak?

Nathan Miner

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Jon Hall @ IMDb.com
Jon Hall @ Briansdriveintheater.com