ARTHUR LYMAN – Bahia (Hi Fi) – 1959

what Frank is listening to #67 – ARTHUR LYMAN – Bahia (Hi Fi) – 1959


I have a lot of Arthur Lyman LPs – more than Martin Denny and Les Baxter. He was the one that really got me into exotica way back in the late 80s. So every time I get a new Lyman LP I don't have, I get quite excited. So as I sit here with my Stones Green Ginger Wine and ice (again no Bacardi in the house) I'm in bliss. Lyman has no let me down (oooh he card read good – that is meant to be "Lyman has never let me down") as his albums are varying shades of great to my ears. Though, in saying that I acknowledge that over 30 or so albums, some blend in with others …


Way back in Comment #21 I reviewed Martin Denny's "Enchanted Sea" which is appropriate to raise here as he is more or less the "Father of Exotica" and Arthur Lyman was in Denny's band. I said:


To some this is "exotica", to others it is "lounge music", "popular", "muzak", "mood music", "background music", "easy listening", "instrumentals" – these are all terms which can be applied, though those terms also define specific and distinct styles under the general banner of "lounge music". The term "Exotica" is best applied to Denny as most of his career he spent re-interpreting native ( Polynesian, African, Hawaiian, Caribbean etc sounds) ….. it's not folk music as it is distinctly western with a hint of jazz but what Denny did was take the "mood" of those "exotic" sounds and fuse them in with his western upbringing. To enhance the effect ( or mood)  he would use "strange" instruments or sound effects.


The same applies to Lyman though Lyman stuck mainly to all things Hawaiian and exotic as he was born and bred there (native, Portuguese, French etc). He left Denny's band in 1957 and set up his own combo based in Hawaii where he recorded through the 50s to the 70s.


Coinciding with Lyman's music was a general popularity of all things Hawaiian … the Polynesian and tiki thing (which though Polynesian was popularized across the Pacific from Hawaii to the Californian coast) was about to "go off" across the US in the late 50s thanks to the excitement generated by Hawaii relinquishing it's "territory" status and becoming the 50th State of the USA. Between about 1958 and 1965 the Hawaii craze went on with many tourists visiting the newest state. This was fanned by popular culture:

  • Literature: James Michener's best seller – Hawaii (1959) (made into a film in 1966)
  • Films: Elvis' Blue Hawaii (1961) (a humongous box office hit – and a #1 soundtrack album), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1963)  with Elvis, Gidget Goes Hawaiian(1961), Paradise Hawaiian Style (1966) with Elvis, John Ford's Donovan's Reef (1963) with John Wayne – not set in Hawaii per se but French Polynesia (filmed in Hawaii), South Pacific(1958) (close enough to Hawaii), She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) (again close enough).
  • Acting: James Shigeta, Poncie Ponce.
  • TV Shows: Hawaiian Eye (1959-63), Hawaii Five-0 ( 1968-80), Adventures in Paradise (1959-62), even Gilligan's Island (1964)
  • History: The Arizona Memorial for the sailors who died in the attack on Pearl Harbour was formally opened in 1961.
  • Sport: the increasing popularity of surfing
  • Music: the ukulele craze, Lyman, Alfred Apaka, Don Ho (a little later), Eddie Bush, the Hula dance and song, country hula music (Marty Robbins and Hank Snow and many others recorded in the style).
  • Food: Pineapples, papaya, poi, sweet potato, kalua pork, kona coffee
  • Fashion: Grass skirts, and the Hula Hoop (which had nothing to do with Hawaii – it was invented in Australia- but named after the Hula dance)

It was natural for lounge music to attach itself to the exotic and if all things exotic were Polynesian and Hawaiian it is not surprising that musicians in that genre were attracted to Hawaii.


That was the perfect opportunity for a local boy brought up on Benny Goodman jazz band records (with Lionel Hampton on vibes who he adored) to join the craze and adapt his jazz to the exotica and lounge music gaining popularity. Lyman is a beautiful vibes player and though he never goes totally crazy like Hampton he does have a feel and light touch for the genre (and Lyman did play with four mallets at once, often). And playing-wise his band really swings. Most impressively most of his stuff by his group was recorded live:


from wikipedia: Most of Lyman's albums were recorded in the aluminium Kaiser geodesic dome auditorium on the grounds of the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki in Honolulu. This space provided unparalleled acoustics and a natural 3-second reverberation. His recordings also benefited from being recorded on a one-of-kind Ampex 3-track 1/2" tape recorder designed and built by engineer Richard Vaughn. All of Lyman's albums were recorded live, without overdubbing. He recorded after midnight, to avoid the sounds of traffic and tourists, and occasionally you can hear the aluminium dome creaking as it settles in the cool night air. The quality of these recordings became even more evident with the advent of CD reissues, when the digital mastering engineer found he didn't have to do anything to them but transfer the original 3-track stereo masters to digital. The recordings remain state-of-the-art nearly 50 years later.


Hawaii was the perfect launching pad for Lyman and  the cacophony of nature sounds (the birds, winds, sea etc) that make up a lot of "exotica". Those natural sounds really must have impressed Lyman's ears from his childhood on, and better than most he manages to tap into the feel of the islands. Having said that he never looses the 50s slightly cool jazz and even adds a touch of Latin which was starting its ascent to popularity in 1959 (as well as a little Caribbean – which was popular then too). The other thing I like is the sense of "drama" he brings to a tune, there is danger out there in the wilds amongst the wonder.


Where's my Stones Green Ginger wine …


Best Tracks:

so many to choose from – this is a splendid Lyman album up there with his "Taboo (1958) and Leis of Jazz (1959) … so I choose all …

  • "Bahia" – wow – penned by Brazilian composer/pianist and soccer commentator Ary Barroso.
  • "Jungle Jalopy" – a Les Baxter song – with congas going off.
  • "Legend of the Rain" – for the guitarists out there, from allmusic: "Legend of the Rain" is notable for the traditional Hawaiian slack key guitar — which is represented with what sounds like an amplified slide guitar — predating the instrument's use in pop recordings by several years.
  • "Bamboo" – I can hear the drama and the gentleness of the bamboo rustling or is that a freaking possum outside on my eggplants.
  • "Return to Me" – the 1958 hit for Dean Martin – a beautiful Neapolitan type song.
  • "Caribbean Nights" – a happy bouncing piece of escapism – machine castanets(?) go crazy as do bongos – with crazy tempo changes.
  • "Quiet Village" – Lyman's cover of the Baxter song that was a hit for Denny also – a great song but if this is a Quiet Village I would hate to hear a noisy one …
  • "Tropical" – it certainly is … didn't I ask for a drink?
  • "Happy Voodoo" – unless you are the chicken … slightly spooky … where does the "happy" come from?
  • "Busy Port" – it sounds like Quiet Village.
  • "Beyond the Reef" – recorded by everyone – (including Elvis – at home in 1960 and in the studio in 1966) … quite a evocative and romantic song.
  • "Maui Chimes" – a weird way to end – a carnival, circus type song – like the end of a Fellini film … "life is a carnival"

Who needs "chill out" music done by some pimply poxy kid on his PC, when you can put Lyman on the turntable?


Though Lyman had some hits most notably "Yellow Bird" in 1961 which went to #2 (the only other big exotica hit after Denny's "Quiet Village" which went to #4 in 1959) this album failed to chart.


As I said in comment #21- the same applies here to Lyman: Sit back with a drink ( preferably a pina colada, or something with white rum) and you are transported to another time and another place ….. a small island in the pacific, 1960. I can feel the wahinni fanning me now and I don't have a care in the world. Was life simpler then ? I think not, though Denny (Lyman) was selling escapism then and that's what makes this so enjoyable now …. we probably need this more than ever now… Ray Davies would certainly agree.


If you didn’t guess – I'm keeping this.





Bahia – play this late at night …grab a drink, turn out the lights, and turn it up


Quiet Village – the exotica standard.



Arthur doing "Quiet Village” in some Hotel Bar in 2001 (listen to the background noise – didn't these people know they were in the presence of genius)


About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
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