Harry K. Koizumi, Jr.
Since he was a teen, Harry wanted to be a musician, but he never imagined falling in love with traditional Hawaiian music and becoming a purveyor of its sound. His association with Raymond Kane, the renowned slack-key master, however, changed all that.
Raymond was getting on in years when Harry first requested lessons. Ray wasn’t anxious to take on another student, but when he learned that Harry was a guitar teacher as well as performer, he agreed. That was the beginning of a three-year association that led to a 1993 apprenticeship award from the Hawaii State Foundation of Culture and the Arts to perpetuate the Hawaiian arts.
Ray recognized Harry as someone who could pass down the knowledge and tradition of slack-key to yet another generation. Though Harry took a circuitous route to Raymond’s door – he started out in rock and roll bands, studied classical guitar in college, and then toured the mainland for three years with the band Bad Boys – he became an apt student. Harry is a traditionalist; he tries to keep the music as close to the original as possible out of respect and admiration for its creator. Harry channels his own innovation into his original compositions.
Though Harry was born and raised on Oahu, there was much for him to learn about the Hawaiian language and music. He found out the steel guitar began in Hawaii, for example, though it is more commonly thought of as a Nashville or Country music phenomenon, and that the Beatles grew up playing their parents’ ukuleles. Like so many Hawaii residents, he had never known Hawaiian music was so influential and interwoven into the national music scene.
After studying with Ray, Harry became a student of Jerry Byrd, one of the islands’ premiere steel guitar players. From 1996 to 1999, Harry worked to master the intricacies of that style. His latest album, He Mana`o Ko`u Ia `Oe, which means “I think of you” is a tribute to his two respected teachers.
Prior to He Mana`o Ko`u Ia `Oe, in November, 1994, Harry released two compact discs: Still Green and Merry Christmas from Uncle Harry. He released his third CD, Celebrating Life through Friends and Music, in November 1997. He has also been featured on several other artists’ recordings: Teresa Bright, Ellsworth Simeona, William “Baba” Alimoot, and Made in Hawaii – The Hawaiian Steel Guitar, Vol. 1.
Harry continues to carry on the slack-key tradition. In fact, he even traveled to Memphis as the first person to record Hawaiian Slack-key guitar at the famous Sun Studio. Harry recalls, “After touring Graceland and finding out that Elvis donated the money to build the Arizona Memorial, I was inspired to record the Elvis song ‘Ku`uipo’ on slack-key ukulele, one of my favorite childhood songs of Elvis’. It was awesome being in that same studio!”
Harry also enjoyed the opportunity to take slack-key music and his image onto the international scene. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sigrid Faltin came to Hawaii in 2007 to film Harry playing the slack-key version of “La Paloma” – the Cuban wedding song. Her film of the same name traces the song, and many of its 2,000+ renditions, as performed around the globe. In April of 2008, Harry traveled to Germany to play at the movie’s opening. As Ray would have hoped, the audience loved the beauty and sweet soulfulness of Hawaii’s music.