Newcastle man’s exotica album wins Hawaii Music Award
May 31, 2012
By Christina Lords
There can be a hard, cold rain blowing outside, but the atmosphere is always as warm as a tropical breeze at a luau in the basement of Andy Nazzal’s Newcastle home.
With nearly 900 records and dozens of instruments surrounding him and his two young sons, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nazzal — the winner of the 2011 Best Exotica Album at the 15th annual Hawaii Music Awards for his third album, titled “Under the Midnight Sun” — knows what it’s like to grow up in a music-rich environment.
“I grew up in a musical family,” he said. “My grandfather played drums in polka bands in Milwaukee. My mother played piano. My brother played the saxophone. My other brother played the drums. There was always music around.”
The family moved to the Seattle area from Milwaukee when Nazzal was 10. After beginning his musical roots with the piano at age 5, Nazzal picked up the guitar after hearing one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time — The Beatles.
He went on to form and play in several rock bands in the Seattle area throughout the years, but in 2000, Nazzal knew he was due for a change.
“I made a real conscious effort to not pick up a guitar,” he said. “I didn’t want to play any instruments. I wanted to see where a muse would take me.”
Nazzal had just turned 30 when Capitol Records put out a compilation CD called “Mondo Exotica.”
“It happened to be playing as a sampler when I was at the old Tower Records store in Seattle,” he said. “These songs were incredibly familiar. These songs are what I heard on the AM radio in Milwaukee growing up.”
Exotica, a form of tropical jazz music popular during the 1950s and 1960s, reached out to him in a way he couldn’t ignore.
“It’s very percussive, very tropical,” he said. “It has a very deep, almost spiritual feel to it. It’s an homage to that whole feeling of another world, another island, another place to escape to.”
After three years of studying and taking notes on the likes of Arthur Lyman, Martin Denny and Les Baxter — artists who have 20 albums each —Nazzal said he put together a home studio.
“It was like a new day, like a completely different world had opened up to me,” he said. “Why not run out there and embrace it and put my new spin on it?”
He put out his first exotica album, “The Exoticating Waves of Tiki Joe’s Ocean,” in June 2009, playing all of the instruments himself. That album was immediately followed up by “Christmas with Tiki Joe’s Ocean” in November 2009.
The first album was nominated for a Hawaii Music Award, a true honor for Nazzal.
He opted to incorporate six other musicians to complete the award-winning third album. “Under the Midnight Sun” features Parisian theremin player Jimmy Virani, Los Angeles-based musicians Dave “Squid” Cohen on saxophone and Marty Lush on vibraphone, Seattleite lap steel/Hawaiian guitar player Jack Aldrich and Maui-based flutist Cudra Cover.
Nazzal would have a jaw-dropping surprise when Alika Lyman, the great nephew of exotica pioneer Arthur Lyman, offered to play on the record after seeing Nazzal’s craigslist ad. The album was released in July 2010.
Nazzal said he has received feedback from people listening to his music in France, Germany, England, Australia and South American countries.
“You’re doing all this in a tiny little room,” he said, “and as you’re recording, you have the thoughts of, ‘I wonder who will be listening to this. I wonder how it will be received. I wonder if this is something that will enrich people’s lives.’ That’s what I’m attempting to do.
“I’m not aiming to bring back this music. I’m just doing what is in my soul. I want to create this music that evokes images of more innocent times.”
For his next album — hopefully to be released sometime this year — Nazzal said he wants to build on more sophisticated aspects of the musical genre.
“Because I love a challenge, that seems to be the next step for me,” he said. “It borderlines on the more orchestral, with saxophones and even more exotic instruments to essentially build on what I already did. I always want to keep stepping up my own personal ladder.”
Until the next album is released, he said he fully intends to continue creating music with his sons Joey and Sammy.
“When we’re in the car driving, it has now become the norm that within the second I turn the ignition key, one or both of them is clamoring for a Tiki Joe’s Ocean song,” he said. “Those kinds of requests do not go past me. Those kinds of requests go straight to my heart.”
On the Web
Listen to Newcastle resident Andy Nazzal’s music at www.tikijoesocean.com or like the Tiki Joe’s Ocean Facebook page.