Martin Denny

Born 10 April 1911 in New York City, New York. Died 2 March 2005 in Hawaii Kai, Hawaii. This man is the one who introduced the term “exotica” into this genre. The King of Tiki Hut. Denny was the King of the Tiki Hut. He not only made exotica’s biggest hit, with his #2 single, Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village,” but he also gave birth to two other key figures in exotica, Arthur Lyman and Julius Wechter. Their starts were a major influence on many generations of lounge performers. As a child, Denny was a classical pianist in New York City. After starting his career as a professional musician at an early age, he spent four years touring South America in the Don Dean Orchestra. He then served in the Air Force during World War II. He attended the Los Angeles Conservatory, where he studied composition with Wesley La Violette. This was a major influence on many West Coast jazz arrangers and composers. When he was hired by Don the Beachcomber’s in Honolulu in January 1954, he continued working in small clubs and began to play in combos. Henry J. Kaiser, steel and shipping magnate, hired him to play at the Shell Bar in his new resort, the Hawaiian Village. Denny was initially heavily influenced by George Shearing’s piano/vibes combination sound, especially Shearing’s highly-acclaimed MGM album, “You’re Hearing George Shearing”. It was quite ordinary, aside from the Waikiki setting. Augie Colon, his bandmate, introduced him to Les Baxter’s iconic album Ritual of the Savage. Denny then adapted many numbers, including “Quiet Village”. He would record more than two dozen Baxter songs over the course of his career. Denny discovered the trademark of his recordings, which include animal noises in the background, while performing at Shell Bar. Denny shared his experience with Re/Search magazine’s Incredibly Strict Music in an interview. The Hawaiian Village was an open-air tropical paradise. The bandstand was right next to a large pond that housed bullfrogs. We were singing a song one night and the frogs were shouting “Rivet!” Rivet! Rivet!” The frogs stopped croaking when we stopped playing. I thought, “Hmm-–is that a coincidence?” A little while later, I thought, “Hmm–is that a coincidence?” And the frogs began croaking once more. As a gag, some of them started making these bird calls spontaneously. We all laughed and said, “That was great!” One of our guests approached us the next day and asked if we could do that again. You can do it again. I asked, “What are we talking about?” It dawned upon me that he had thought that it was part of the agreement. In 1956, Denny split with Kaiser over a contractual dispute. He toured the West Coast and then took extended bookings at the Flamingo Hotels and Sands in Las Vegas. In 1956, Denny brokered with Kaiser and began his career in Los Angeles as a recording artist. Denny recorded a set of his Shell Bar favorites, including “Quiet Village,” in mono for Liberty, but the album–“Exotica”–had little success. The attention of the U.S. started to shift to Hawaii in 1959 as it was nearing its induction as the 50th State. Liberty invited Denny back to the studio to record “Exotica” again in stereo. The record was a hit with “sophisticated” listeners and found a wide audience. “Quiet Village”, a single, was released and reached #4 on Billboard’s Top 40 Pop Charts. However, Denny’s unique approach was not appreciated by everyone. R.D. R.D. Except for “Firecracker”, the leader’s originals, and “Sake Rock,” these examples seem merely innocuously dull and ridiculously fancy, despite their bright purity with which each jingle-jangle or bird-of-paradise yawp was recorded. Time magazine, August 1959 issue, noted that Denny’s records were noisy and Augie Colon could “caterwaullike a turkey buzzard., cry like a cow. or croaklike a frog. It also noted that “Blended With Buddhist Bells, Burmese Cymbals, and the West Indian Guiro, these sounds have helped sell 60,000 Denny records this year, all labeled as bargain-counter perfumes –Exotica. Hypnotique. Afro-Desia.” Shortly after “Exotica” was released, Kaiser hired Arthur Lyman, Denny’s former vibes player to replace him at the Shell Bar. Lyman was hired by Hi Fi Records to record his own album, heavily influenced by Denny’s sound, after Denny’s single “Quiet Village” rose up the Top 40 charts. Julius Wechter was hired by Lyman to replace Lyman. He remained with him until 1964 when he left to start the Baja Marimba Band on Herb Alpert’s new label, A.

Leave a Comment