By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Entertainment Editor
Relocating from Tokyo to Honolulu has proven to be far more than a mere change of scenery for Hiromi Kanda. In a land where residents are constantly exposed to music of all genres and styles, the one-time teen idol in Japan has found her musical soul reawakened by a golden era that was ruled by cool crooners elegant songbirds.
“My world has changed, completely,” Kanda said in a Monday interview with the Rafu. “I’ve just recently discovered Sinatra. I never listened to him in Japan and now I want to sing like him.”
And that’s precisely what she has dedicated her time and energy into doing. After an industry showcase in Bel Air on Monday, Kanda’s first release in more than 20 years, “Hiromi In Love,” will hit stores Tuesday. Gorgeously packaged in a tri-fold sleeve, the CD contains timeless classics such as “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “When I Fall In Love” and “Unforgettable,” all set into sumptuous arrangements played by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.
“The music of the 1930s and 40s is still great, and there are so few American singers still performing in that style,” Kanda explained. “When I first started thinking about it, I realized that singing these standards, with genuine orchestrations, was really a good idea.”
A native of Nagasaki, Kanda made a huge splash in Japan in the late 1970s, a fresh-faced teen singer typical of many who perennially populate the music landscape in that nation. After winning the enormously popular TV talent contest, “A Star Is Born,” at the age of 19, her cherubic image and schoolgirl charm helped fill record stores with a string of hits, including “Hitomishiri” (“Shy Among Strangers”) and “Don Juan.”
She soon tired of the marketing machine that drove so much pop music in Japan at the time, however, choosing not to follow the prescribed path forged by super-cute megastar acts like Candies and Pink Lady.
“They wanted me to do more idol-style singing and I wanted a change. I wanted to do things my way,” Kanda recalled.
And do it her way she did–Sinatra would no doubt approve. Rather than rebel against the system that brought her to prominence in the first place, Kanda strived to affect change from within, becoming a songwriter and penning several hits for other artists.
In an inescapably ironic twist, she wound up marrying Yusuke Hoguchi, the highly successful songwriter who composed many top hits for Candies and other popular artists.
“My vocabulary wasn’t jazz,” Kanda admitted, adding that a specific set of emotions is required to sing standards. “My husband and I were basically doing this as a hobby. We were so in love with all these great American artists and wanted to join in.”
Kanda explained that reverence for jazz runs deep in Japan, and as a veteran composer, she holds high regard for the writers of the kinds of songs she performs on her new album–Sammy Cahn, Rodgers and Hart, Gershwin among them.
“I respect the songwriter first, that’s important,” she said.
“Hiromi In Love” will be released on her husband’s Music Gate label, with a DVD of the elegantly arranged numbers due April 13. Plans are already in the works for another CD, possibly to be recorded in Los Angeles at the iconic Capitol Records building, where the likes of Nat King Cole and Ray Charles plied their trade.
After headlining Tuesday at Vibrato Grill Jazz, owned by legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert, Kanda will head off for dates in New York, Las Vegas, Toronto and London.
Kanda has spent most of the last year or so rehearsing, recording, refining her takes on the Great American Songbook. English was an early obstacle, but she said that perseverance and support from her friends and colleagues in Hawaii and Japan has helped her reach a level she feels will do the songs due justice.
“I’m been dreaming of this for a long time,” she said. “Now, it’s a dream I can touch.”