Gary Washburn: Two Jazz Suites You Need to Know

Gary Washburn is “A Living Hawaiian Treasure”, as declared by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, and proclaimed by the Hawaii State Senate. He’s also about to be inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame on November 16, 2013, along with son, Mocha Washburn, and his brother, Kent Washburn.

Turns out the Oklahoma native and Big Island resident has been involved with music since his high school days in OK in a group called The Shadow Lake Eight. His brother, Kent, was a record producer for Motown in Los Angeles. Gary also composed and recorded an incredible musical suite called A Life In A Day. (There’s so much more to Gary’s story I’ve yet to learn, and he’s promised to chat with me in depth after his Oklahoma trip).

The Shadow Lake Eight, with Gary (far left) and Kent (far right) Washburn.

The Shadow Lake Eight, with Gary (far left) and Kent (far right) Washburn.

Gary Washburn's Justin Thyme "A Life In A Day"

Gary Washburn’s Justin Thyme “A Life In A Day”

Earlier this year I stumbled across his powerhouse suite of jazz funk fusion, Justin Thyme’s A Life In A Day, which was recorded live at University of Hawaii’s Orvis Auditorium in the late 1970s. The album, a double LP, is a classic that Gary and his brother Kent admittedly didn’t recognize until decades later when a Japanese collector and DJ, Yusuke Ogawa, brought the album back to their attention.

I reached out to Gary in September, hoping to ask him about A Life In A Day and his Justin Thyme band. Gary lives in Honokaa, on the Big Island, where he’s the town’s high school jazz band director (lucky kids!) and teaches kids how to compete in today’s real music market. “I don’t do marching bands,” he told West Hawaii Today. “What good is that going to be for musically inclined students in this day and age?” Lucky kids.

Gary Washburn, Honokaa High School band director. Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

Gary Washburn, Honokaa High School band director. Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

Gary Washburn's "Earth Life: October Full Moon"

Gary Washburn’s “Earth Life: October Full Moon”

Lucky me, Gary offered to send me his latest release, a suite inspired by “non-musical ideas” entitled Earth Music: October Full Moon. This too, I knew, would be an instant classic. And now, after playing the CD start to finish, I can thoroughly assure that October Full Moon is of the same caliber and creativity as A Life In A Day. In fact, you could probably play alternating tracks from both albums and it would be a continuous listening experience.

And guess what—October Full Moon has been in progress since 1976, about the same time A Life In A Day came about. No wonder the two suites share commonalities in sound and theme, despite having so many differences at the same time.

You can listen to and buy Earth Life: October Full Moon on iTunes, Amazon and CD Universe.

Congratulations to the Washburn family on the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame honors.

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