Lifestyle

And the Grammy goes to ... - Former Islander wins award for `Slack Key Guitar"

By DeAnn Rossetti

Charles ``Chuck'' Michael Brotman grew up on Mercer Island surrounded by music and musicians.

His father, Arnold ``Arnie'' Brotman, played piano. His late mother, Barbara, played cello. His elder sister Marny played piano and his younger sister Jody was involved in dance.

``There's a photo of us, a family of five, all taking classes at Cornish (College of the Arts) together years ago,'' said Arnie. ``But one of our family traditions going way back is music. My mother's family had musicians that played in orchestras in Hollywood, and one cousin was the head of the music department at MGM, so music ran in the family.''

Charles Brotman played violin in the Mercer Crest Elementary School orchestra and picked up the guitar while attending Mercer Island Junior High School. He played in pop bands for events at Mercer Island High School and other schools in the region, such as Bellevue and Issaquah High Schools.

Charles Brotman, who now lives in Kamuela, Hawaii, won a Grammy Award for his album ``Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2'' in the new Hawaiian music category at the 47th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

``Nobody else thought we were going to win, but we had a hunch that we would,'' said Brotman from his home on the big island. ``It's only been a couple of days, but my head is still spinning. It's an unreal, incredible experience. You can't plan for it, but everything just lined up and it happened.''

Brotman's album was recorded over a 10-month period and showcases the talents of 14 Hawaiian slack-key guitar musicians. The album is simple, clean instrumental music.

``It sounds trite, but all of us at Palm Records and every musician on this album feels proud to be in the same category with the others (Hawaiian musicians),'' said Brotman. ``None of the guys on this album are superstar musicians, but they've all been instrumental in shaping contemporary Hawaiian music.''

Slack key is a form of traditional Hawaiian music that was brought to the Hawaiian islands by Spanish cowboys in the late 1800s. Native musicians devised the slack key to accompany the hula dance. Guitar strings were loosened to allow musicians to play bass and melody at the same time.

``It's natural, organic guitar playing, with 10 different guitarists each playing by themselves with no overdubs,'' said Brotman. ``It's a beautiful, ethereal sound, as the slackened keys gives the music a different resonance, tone and color.''

Brotman's sister Jody, who helped him co-found their record label, said: ``Since we co-founded the Palm Records label together, it's really thrilling to win this award. It's a musician's dream to win the Grammy, and the best part for me was to go through the whole process with my big brother. It's quite an honor, and a humbling experience -- I've never received so many phone calls in my life!''

In his awards speech, Brotman said the first Grammy for Hawaiian music was long overdue. He will receive a commemoration from Hawaii's governor, Linda Lingle, in front of the legislature in March. Lingle is in Washington, D.C., this week and will give President Bush and his cabinet a copy of Brotman's album. A tour with the album's artists to Japan, the United States and Europe is also forthcoming.

A 1971 Mercer Island High School graduate, Brotman was president of his graduating class, and received his bachelor's degree in music from Evergreen State College and his master's in music from the University of Hawaii.

Brotman became involved with slack key guitar when he was given some albums 30 years ago while studying guitar at Cornish College of the Arts. He moved to Hawaii in 1976 after house-sitting for a friend and falling in love with the music and beauty of Hawaii.

He taught classical guitar and lute at the University of Hawaii for nine years, and performed with a classical trio in Honolulu during that time. Brotman met and married Joan, the daughter of the university president. The couple have three children.

When Brotman founded Palm Records six years ago with Jody built a state-of-the-art recording studio called Lava Tracks, which is where he currently composes and records music for his label. Other music artists have come from as far away as Japan to use his studio, and recently Wayne Newton dropped by for a visit.

Jody and her brother flipped a coin to see who would be the president and who would be the vice president of the company. ``I'm the VP,'' she said. ``I run the company, and he (Charles) is the musician, so he spends his time producing, recording, composing and performing.''

``We're always working on several projects simultaneously,'' said Brotman. ``Now we're working on a new CD for Kohala, an acoustic guitar trio, and we're going to start work right away on `Slack Key Guitar Volume 3.'''

Brotman said that slack key guitar music is popular in Japan and in America on public radio and jazz stations.

``I think the appeal is the nature of the instrument,'' Brotman said. ``The solo guitar has a very intimate sound.''

Palm Records started with a few albums and has added three to four albums a year until it currently has 20 CDs in its catalog. Slack Key Guitar Volume 2 is available through Palm Records web site, www.palmrecords.com

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Nov 19
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates