Floozy Places Again

December 12, 2008

“Floozy Tune,” the opening cut of my blues/jazz CD, What Living’s All About, has garnered a runner-up position in yet a THIRD songwriting contest, this time as a Finalist in the 100% Music Songwriting Contest.

In summer 2008, “Floozy Tune” received Honorable Mention (7th place) in the World division (which includes jazz), in the Indie International Songwriting Contest. Here’s their profile page on me.

The first award for “Floozy Tune” was in the Top 20 Finalists in the Jazz Division of the Unisong International Songwriting Contest, in 2007.

Floozy Tune Places in ANOTHER Songwriting Contest!

August 5, 2008
Today “Floozy Tune,” the opening cut on my 3rd CD, What Living’s All About, has placed in yet a SECOND international songwriting contest, as Honorable Mention (7th place) in the World division (which includes jazz), in the Indie International Songwriting Contest. Here’s their profile page on me.

The first award for “Floozy Tune” was in the Top 20 Finalists in the Jazz Division of the Unisong International Songwriting Contest, in 2007.

Music Bio

Marinated from birth in the world music, classical music, jazz and Broadway tunes my parents played on the hi-fi, I succeeded (after two years of begging) in starting piano lessons at age seven, mastered the Bumble Bee Boogie by age twelve, and was levitated into learning guitar and writing songs when I saw Bob Dylan play, shortly before I turned fourteen. A couple of years later, my cousin Jan Lebow married John Fahey, and one day I cornered him when he was bored at a family party and got him to teach me open tunings. That became my sound.

Most of my musician friends played rock and roll, so I was overjoyed when I first visited Hawaii in 1969 and discovered that open-tuned guitar picking was the national music. Between 1969 and 1974 I enjoyed a phenomenal career as a bestselling author, illustrator, book designer and media icon for hipdom and sustainability. My book Living on the Earth was the first paperback book ever on the New York Times Bestseller List, and it’s still in print in English, Japanese and Korean. I wrote, illustrated and designed eight more books, appeared on talk shows, and got written up in lots of magazines.

In 1974, I moved to Maui. There I learned to play slack key guitar and sing Hawaiian songs from some of the most soulful people I’d ever met anywhere. I learned to sing in Hawaiian from recording artist G-girl Keli’iho’omalu’s mother, legendary singer and choreographer Auntie Clara Kalalau Tolentino. I learned slack key guitar from Clara’s son-in-law Jerome Smith in Hana, and from Uncle Sol Kawaihoa in Wailuku. In the early ‘80’s, I began playing in restaurants and bars for the tourists. Over a period of twenty years I studied vocal technique with five teachers, including pop singer/songwriter Pamela Polland. (I STILL take vocal tech lessons!) My lifelong love of jazz (the first LP I bought at age 13 was Local Color by Mose Allison) led me to learn a repertoire of standards and the jazz chords I needed to accompany myself. In the late ‘80’s I started playing at weddings and learned love songs of many genres. From 1988 to 1999 I owned a wedding business that put on 3000 weddings, and I sang at hundreds of them, sometimes accompanying a troop of hula dancers.

In 2000, Random House released the thirtieth anniversary edition of Living on the Earth. I sold the wedding business and went on tour for eight months with an original one-woman show of comedy stories from my life and folk songs I wrote during the time I created the book. I self-produced Music From Living on the Earth, a solo CD of these songs, to sell while on the book tour, and, to my astonishment, it was not only reviewed but selected as an album pick on All Music Guide. Then a psychedelic folk radio show in Belgium started playing it. Then a Japanese record company released it.

When I returned to Hawaii from the tour, I self-produced Living in Hawaii Style, a CD of original and historic Hawaiian songs, mostly slack key guitar and tropical jazz. The CD features Sam Ahia, arguably the best jazz guitarist/vocalist in the islands, and Lei’ohu Ryder, a reknowned spiritualist and chanter with a string of fantastic CDs of her own. This CD got airplay both in Hawaii and on the legendary Ports of Paradise radio show in California, was released in Japan, and, in July 2002, I was the only woman headlining at the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival. I toured in Hawaii and California to promote this CD with a new one-woman story and music show.

I’ve spent a lot of time around avant-garde improvisational musicians in my life. I lived with Ramon Sender, one of the founding composers of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early ‘60’s, and co-designer of the Buchla Box, the first synthesizer built on the west coast. In the early ‘70’s, we co-authored a book, Being of the Sun, containing information about drones, modes and open tunings. In the late ‘90’s, I began partnering with Joe Gallivan, one of the pillars of the jazz fusion scene in New York and in Europe, who was the first to play a Moog drum in concert, who played in the Gil Evans Orchestra for two years and in a quartet with Larry Young for three years, and about whom an entire section is devoted in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.

These men have been mentors to me, and, while Ramon’s influence is in my first CD, Joe’s influence is most evident in my newest release, What Living’s All About. Good luck in real estate afforded me the luxury of a great LA recording studio with Scott Fraser (audio engineer and producer for the Kronos Quartet) at the controls and a fabulous line-up of session players, notably avant-garde/rock/jazz guitar legend Nels Cline (best known as the guitarist with Wilco, and who I met when his band opened for Joe Gallivan’s band at the Bell Atlantic Jazz F
estival in New York City in June 2000), and John B. Williams, bassist for Nancy Wilson, the Manhattan Transfer, the Tonight Show Big Band and the Arsenio Hall Show Band. I co-produced the CD with Ron Grant, an Academy Award winning film composer, who arranged and conducted some of the material, but I also relied heavily upon the improvisational skills of my great players, and they surpassed my expectations.

In Performing Songwriter Magazine’s May 2007 Issue, “What Living’s All About” is one of the Editor’s 12 Top DIY Picks, and in June 2007, the first track, “Floozy Tune,” placed in the Top 20 Finalists in the Jazz Category of the Unisong International Songwriting Contest. Raves reviews of the CD appeared in eJazz News in London (written by John Stevenson, the editor), and in Feminist Review in New York City. The second track, “America The Blues” was a featured download on indieguitarists.com in August 2007.

In the summer of 2006, songs from “What Living’s All About” got airplay in Europe and in the USA, and in October 2006, I did eight concerts in four weeks in Japan. In February 2007 I did three concerts in Phoenix, where the CD has gotten a lot of play on Radio Free Phoenix, and in May and June 2007, I toured Japan again, this time performing 15 concerts, including two festivals, in seven weeks, and appearing as the subject of a TV documentary on Asahi Broadcasting Station. In May 2008 I return to Japan for another tour, including a concert at the opening of a gallery show of my art in Tokyo. I’m currently based in Los Angeles, working on creating an animated children’s television series that features my drawings, stories and music.

Reviews of Living in Hawaii Style

LIHS cover at 96 dpi


buy Living in Hawaii Syle


Review by Gerald Van Waes, radio producer and webmaster for radio show “PVHF”(Psyche Van Het Folk), Radio Centraal, Antwerp, Belgium
November 2005

Alicia started to live and breathe the essences of the island of Hawaii with its own special ‘heart’ energy. Like she expressed the hippie life book and album, this album expresses original and historic Hawaiian songs, accompanied by a slack key guitar with the help of Lei’ohu Ryder, singer and spiritualist with roots in Hawaiian culture, Sam Ahia, vocalist and jazz guitarist and Rick Asher Keefer, with some ukulele and percussion and vocals. Different from the previous album that seemed to have been an expression of immediate life energy, here a few song experiences have a kind of nostalgic souljazz in them even as if something is lost but still remembered. Elsewhere I feel sadness as if being an ode to the original Hawaiian joyful soul, while the historical songs are the immediate reference, while guitar instrumentals like “Sassy / Manuela Boy / Livin’ On Easy” are performed with a blues feeling. Other tracks, like the titletrack have all the luck and sunshine of Hawaii most brightly in them.

Review by Chris Roth
Editor, Talking Leaves Magazine
Spring, 2002

Our friend Alicia Bay Laurel (author and illustrator of the 1971 bestselling book
Living On The Earth) has put together an album of original and historic
Hawai’ian songs, sung with slack key guitar. After more than twenty-five years
living in Hawai’i, Alicia has obviously absorbed much of the spirit of her adopted
home—a spirit she conveys with great respect and also an effervescent joy. Most
of this is lovely music about what’s good in life on an island where native culture
and nature are still respected and honored by such “adopted natives” as Alicia.
Just as important, several songs point to the threats and damage to Hawai’i’s
people and land done by less-respectful outsiders, and a call, gently and
beautifully, for a return to balance and sovereignty.

Review by Stanton Swihart
for www.allmusic.com
September 23, 2001

It took Alicia Bay Laurel nearly half of a lifetime and years of concerted study
in a variety of styles before completing her debut album, but, oh, was it worth
the wait. A gorgeous amalgam of John Fahey-style fingerpicking, modal passages,
and lovingly sacred sentiments, Music from Living on the Earth was a sparkling
stream of music pure from the heart. It took but mere months for Laurel to back
up those sentiments with a second album that is every bit as compelling and
beautifully realized, although it is considerably different in both tone and
purpose. Living in Hawai’i Style is instead a collection of Hawaiian songs – some traditional, some native and, indeed, some from the pen of Laurel herself,
a longtime resident of the 50th state. Although a few have (most notably jazz
guitarist George Benson), ha’oles (or “gringos”) have not traditionally been
accepted with ease into the wider Hawaiian musical community. But Laurel proves
herself acutely in-tuned to the nuances, subtleties, and details of traditional
island styles, and the gorgeous open-key melodies or her original tunes are
tailor-made to Hawaii’s deep legacy of slack-key guitar. Without debating the
notion of authenticity, it can be said, at the very least, that Living is a
supremely humble and giving album, both towards the listener and towards the
Hawaiian musical history that it upholds and extends. That it goes well beyond
is the album’s most endearing grace. Far from playing shallow and dilettantish,
Living is, in fact, a paradisiacal love letter to Hawaii’s musical lore and to
the place the artist calls home, and it could not honor the tradition any more
than it does. Laurel studied Hawaiian musical culture for more than two decades
before even attempting to put her learning on tape (although some of the
original songs date to the mid 1970s), and the album benefits greatly from that
level of sensitivity and deference, as it incorporates nearly every style
endemic to the islands, from ancient chant and drinking songs to a birthday
tune, wedding songs, wonderfully breezy hulas, environmental anthems and songs
of welcome. With ample help from the widely respected Hawaiian jazz-guitar great
Sam Ahia and ravishing vocal support from spiritualist, composer, and educator
Lei’ohu Ryder, Living in Hawai’i Style is every bit the blissful oasis that
Hawaii often seems itself.

Review on Amazon.com by Pam Hanna
November 21, 2001

O Hawai’i!

In her first CD, Alicia Bay Laurel wrote and performed all of the songs, and it was a wonderful musical tour de force. On “Living in Hawaii Style,” other performers, writers and musicians make an appearance to excellent advantage. Alicia’s liner notes are a virtual musical primer on Hawaii – its musical history, genres, culture, geography, flora and fauna, as well as some magical personal history on how she came to know these people and places and enter into their music and their lives.

Traditional Hawaiian songs are included here (Nanakuli, from the 1890’s) as well as steel and nylon string guitars in standard and open tunings (known as Ki ho’alu or slack key) and “hapa ha’ole” (meaning half-foreign, one of a genre of swing tunes with tropical lyrics) as in “Moonlight and Shadows” with the smooth-voiced Sam Ahia.

Koa ukeleles, an ipu (gourd drum), pu’ili (bamboo rattles), pu (large conch shell used as a wind instrument), ti leaf rattles, slack key, steel and nylon string guitars, and ki ho’alu (open-tuned guitar, Hawai’ian style) are heard. Several songs, such as “Kawailehua’a’alakahonua” and “Holua, Kapalaoa and Paliku,” are sung in Hawaiian. The second of these is introduced with an original chant in the ancient style created and sung by Lei’ohu Ryder. The liner notes define Hawaiian words such as “Waikaloa” – “fresh water that is endless,” “A’a” a sharp, jagged lava and “Laupaho’eho’e” a smooth, ropy lava.”

One of my favorites is written and performed by Alicia alone (harmonizing with herself), “Ukulele Hula” – a lilting sing-along kind of song that embodies the feeling and spirit of Hawai’i. Has the feel of a years-old traditional song. “In Paradise, everybody is a lover.” Balmy, swaying breezy, rolling, it’s a “breezy afternoon and a sunset on the ocean.”

But the song that tugs most at the heart, for me, is “Kanikau, O Hawaii!”, written by Ginni Clemmons and sung by Lei’ohu Ryder and Alicia. “Kanikau” means “a mournful cry.”

“Oh Hawai’i, you’ve lost your innocence/ How can we get it back?/ Have we claimed you? Have we shamed you?/Have we spoiled the prize we’ve won?/ By taking you against your will,/Like all greedy lovers do./ Oh Hawai’i… we’re sorry/ Those who care are crying tears of shame./ ….Teach us the ways of nature,/ So that peace can end this war. Oh Hawai’i.”/
Lilting, haunting and lovely, the melody opens the heart to Hawai’i as she is, as she was.

This CD is pure pleasure. Just listen!

Review on Aloha Plenty Hawaii
by Doug and Sandy McMaster
September 28, 2001

“Any woman who has a great deal to offer the world is in trouble.” ~ Hazel Scott

In 1970, she wrote Living On Earth which hit the bestseller
list in 1971. She published 8 more books during the 70’s
and moved to Maui. Last year she released a CD entitled
“Music From Living On the Earth” including 16 songs she had
written at the time of the first publication.
Living on Maui and visiting the other islands, Alicia was
influenced by the musical stylings of Hawaii. She learned
traditional and contemporary songs as well as writing her
own. Spring of 2001 took her to the Big Island and into
the recording studio once again to create “Living in Hawaii
Style”. On this recording she’s joined by the Hawaiian
jazz guitarist Sam Ahia, spiritualist Lei’ohu Ryder, Rick
Asher Keefer. The recording includes several of her
originals as well as contemporary and jazz favorites.
It includes slack and standard guitar, ukulele, chants, ipu
(gourd), ukulele, and more.

It’s good to hear more women playing slack key… hence the
quote I included in this issue. Having spent time in Hana
on Maui we understand Alicia’s sentiments. A magical place
with very special people. Her folk/pop renditions are nice
and catchy. Alicia will be touring in support of her CD so
watch for her coming your way… she has some great stories
from her time on Maui. We met Alicia and her friend Joe at
sunset by the bay.* Hope to see you there again soon Alicia!
And hope life is good for you on Big Island.

*Doug and Sandy are often found performing slack key guitar and ukulele duets at sunset at one of the beachparks in Hanalei, Kaua’i. Their music is beautiful! Their CDs are available at their web site (link above), which is a wonderful resource on ki hoalu (slack key guitar). ~ABL

Review in Newsgroups: alt.music.hawaiian
A new CD by Alicia Bay Laurel… some slack key, some jazz, some vintage
Hawaiian… beautiful songs honoring her teacher and places on Maui that
touched her heart. And a happy birthday, Hawaiian style, song too!


From Judy Barrett, former music industry professional in Honolulu, August 1, 2002:

I asked Led [slack key legend Ledward Ka’apana] to keep an eye out for you at the Hilo festival [the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival]. “She one haole girl? Kinda hippie?” Yeah, that sounds about right, I said. Turned out he’d already met you at one of his workshops in Hilo a few months ago. Said you played some of your compositions for him. I asked, “So?” He said you were pretty good. Now, I know that sounds pretty dang low key, but, from him, it truly is high praise. Enjoy it!

Sounds like you had a great time. I love that little festival!


September 4, 2001

Mahalo Alicia,

We just reviewed your charming release “Living In Hawai’i Style”. It is
refreshing to know there are still some artists performing and recording in
the islands who appreciate our magnificent musical roots.

You original compositions offer a compelling story of what is happening to
beloved Hawai’i. Usually, most artists only record their complaints, not
solutions. You are the difference. Even though you are not native to the
islands, you have the feel of the land and people.

When I was involved with the original “Hawai’i Calls” radio program, and
the newer version, I always looked forward the most to the more traditional
and hapa-haole numbers.

This is a most enjoyable musical experience.

Aloha nui loa,
J Hal Hodgson
Executive Producer
Ports of Paradise


September 12, 2001

Aloha Alicia~

I am delighted to have shared in your CD project. The songs are clearly from your heart. You are a gift to our islands. The makana who has been called to service the vision of aloha and maluhia for the world.

Congratulations on such a fine job. May you continue to heal the people in your work.

Malama pono~

Lei’ohu Ryder


“What a nice recording. You did a very good job.”

January 21, 2002

Auntie Nona Beamer
Mother of Keola and Kapono Beamer
And Hawaiian Music Legend in Her Own Right


“I’ve been listening to your Hawaiian album.  I love it.  Every single song!  I hardly ever listen to other people’s music because my brain is just so full of my own.  Right now I’m listening to Track 3.  I love your voice; it’s so perfect, so lovely and sensual!”

June 28, 2011

Gabrielle Silva
Jazz vocalist and visual artist
Creator of the Ragananda doll, books and videos


I Absolutely LOVED YOUR Hawaiian CD! I especially loved your stories, like that of Auntie Alice. For those of us who had lived there and loved Paradise yet saw firsthand the impact on the old Hawaiian culture, those stories mean a lot.

I think we both saw Hawaii thru the same set of eyes while we were living there – I like the way you succinctly articulated it both here and thru the songs and stories on the CD – It will always hold a very special place in my heart, but what happened to the lovely gentle native people there was very similar to other Native Americans — yet you captured their Joy and Aloha spirit with your sweet Music, Alicia!!!!

Aloha Nui Nui,


March 10, 2012

Linda Joy Lewis
Earth Angel Kitchen

My Hawaiian Hanukkah Song

Festival of Lights chart.jpg
Guitar chart handlettered by Alicia Bay Laurel in 2002.

You can listen to Festival of Light here.

In 2009, Sable Cantus, the choir director at Temple Beth David, in Westminster (Orange County), California, found Festival of Light online while searching for a song his choir could sing for a Hawaiian-themed Hanukkah party at the temple, and contacted me via my website for permission to use it. I not only assented, but volunteered to attend and participate, since I was living in Los Angeles at the time, about an hour’s drive away on the 405 freeway. Sable made sheet music of his choral arrangement of the song, which I have as a pdf document. Please let me know if you would like a copy and I’ll email it to you.

Temple Beth David made the feminist in me sing. The rabbi and the cantorial soloist are women – gorgeous, intelligent, talented women. Here’s a photo of me at the party, sporting a blue and white mu’umu’u (my best approximation of a Hawaiian Hanukkah gown), next to Rabbi Nancy Myers. In the center are two people whose names I don’t know, and on the right is Cantorial Soloist Nancy Linder.

12-11-09-CA-Westminster-Temple Beth David-Hawaiian Hanukkah Party-ABL, Rabbi Nancy Myers, Cantor Nancy Linder

And, hooray, below is a REVIEW of Festival of Light, by Jeanne Cooper, published in SF Gate, the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, on December 24, 2009.

“I’ve only just discovered a beautiful slack-key Hanukkah song, “Festival of Light,” by Alicia Bay Laurel, which appears on the 2001 “Old Hawaiian Christmas” compilation CD (SeaWest label), now out of print; you can hear by clicking on the player below, or following the link above. Anyone who’s a fan of ki ho’alu may enjoy it no matter what the season.”

My own assessment of the song:

Festival of Light is sweet and sincere rather than humorous, a Hawaiian slack-key-guitar-inspired folk song combining Hawaiian elements (aloha, ocean) with Hannukah elements (the eight nights surrounding the new moon preceeding the winter solstice, family gathering, candles of menorah). I performed two vocal tracks and two guitar tracks (one Hawaiian slack key, one in standard tuning).

Story Behind the Song:

Rick Asher Keefer, a producer-recording engineer whose Hoku award winning Hawaiian CDs include those by reknowned Hawaiian artists Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Brother Noland, and Tony Conjugacion, created Old Hawaiian Christmas, a compilation holiday CD, in 2001, and asked me to write and perform (probably the first ever) Hawaiian Hannukah song. The CD (and this song) continues to get airplay in Hawaii every December to this day. Rick engineered and helped me produce my first two CDs (Music from Living on the Earth and Living in Hawaii Style) at his studio, Seawest, near Pahoa, Hawaii, in 2000 and 2001.  He and his wife Donna Keefer both perished from cancer, he in December 2013, and she in April 2015.  They are sorely missed by a large musical community, not only in Hawaii, but in Japan, in Seattle (where Rick produced albums by the all-woman band, Heart), and elsewhere.

Lyrics to Festival of Light

Verse One
Festival of light on a winter night
Gathering of friends and family
Flickering candles in a row
Shining for a miracle in history

All of this on eight starry moonless nights
All of this surrounded by the great blue sea
All in the spirit of aloha
Smiling in the heart of Hawaii

Verse Two
Now is the season for sharing our light
Singing and dancing so joyously
Thanking each other for kindliness
Flowing through our lives so plenteously

All of this on eight starry moonless nights
All of this surrounded by the great blue sea
All in the spirit of aloha
Smiling in the heart of Hawaii

(c) 2001 Alicia Bay Laurel, Bay Tree Music (ASCAP)


Dead Heads Land

Look for this sign above the door and you know you’re at Yukotopia.

Tonight I visited Yukotopia Dead Heads Land Night Club where its fifteenth anniversary party is in full swing, featuring Sandy Rothman, a masterful multi-instrumental player from Berkeley who had played at the grand opening and the tenth anniversary festivities as well. Sandy played in several bands with Jerry Garcia, and sings with the same kind of friendly, slightly sardonic, laid-back delivery for which the Dead are known. The three other players live in Tokyo. Lots of joy emanated from the stage during their sets and the audience loved them, too.

Meet Roku, the sound engineer, Yuko, the club owner, and Masahiko, the official club photographer.

After Sandy and the Anniversary Band played their acoustic sets, the Warlocks played a couple of electric Grateful Dead sets and the audience danced.

Everyone in the room at least swayed in their seats to the band, but most were full on dancing.

Yuko’s got all kinds of Grateful Dead items for sale—books, DVDs, CDs, Jerry Garcia dolls, tie-dye t-shirts, and posters.

Dead head tie-dye on the ceiling.

Poster for this week’s events.

Yuko and I enjoyed our dinner at a sushi diner just down the street from the club, with this cool, super slow conveyer belt that circled three sushi chefs who constantly replenished it with dishes of sushi. Each dish cost $1. Not everything in Tokyo is expensive, it turns out.

My Romance

Lila Downs at the Barbican, London, April 2006
Photographer: Damian Rafferty

My favorite vocalists of late all sing in romance languages. They are already legends, but if you haven’t heard them yet, get thee to iTunes and check them out. You don’t need to know Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese, although, if you do, it will no doubt enhance your thrall.

From Brazil, dig Rosa Passos (pronounced Hosa Passos), a soprano whose hip, creative phrasing enhances the cool “beach samba” style of Brazilian pop standards. When I first heard her, I realized I’m more accustomed to hearing this music performed in an alto range, and Rosa’s high, vibrato-less voice gives even 1960’s Jobim chestnuts a fresh youthfulness.

From Peru, Susana Baca gives voice to an African-American community in a country without Caribbean frontage. Rich with complex rhythms and responsive chorus, Susana’s music takes you right to the emotional and spiritual center of her mysterious and earthy world.

From Mexico and Minnesota, Lila Downs combines a degree in opera singing, a bloodline of the majestic women of the ithmus of Tehuantepec, and a cool New Jersey saxophonist boyfriend to create traditional Mexican music with soaring vocals, hip arrangements, and sometimes political rants.

From Mexico, Montreal, and lots of road time in between, Lhasa de Sela grew up traveling with singing parents on a school bus, and began gigging at age 13. In Montreal she partnered with Yves Desrosiers, a monster guitarist and brilliant producer, to create two emotionally urgent yet surreal CDs.

From Asti, near the French border of Italy, comes a dapper, older attorney turned singer/songwriter named Paolo Conte. With a gruff voice, fabulous jazz piano chops and eerily retro band arrangements, Conte creates the most gorgeous, profound and hilarious poetry imaginable. Be sure, when you purchase one of his CDs, to get one with English translations of the lyrics in the liner notes.