Father’s love of big band era inspires local singer

Carole Kapeliela first began singing in public as a second grader. By 17 she was singing in a rock band. Her family lived in several states when she was growing up. When they lived in Hawaii she sang for Honolulu Symphony Chorus as well as various theatrical and choral groups.

Her love of jazz came from her father, who was a big fan of the big band era. He had a stereo system with speakers all around the house. "Instead of the kids playing loud music it was my dad," she said with a laugh.

He took her to many concerts to see artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton perform live.

After he passed away Kapeliela acquired his considerable record collection.

Her favorite musical eras are the 1930's, '40s and '50s. "I joke with people that I was born in the wrong era," Kapeliela said. Frank Sinatra is her favorite singer. "He was the coolest cat of his era."

Kapeliela has lived in the Tacoma area for 18 years. She balances performing with raising her children and her full-time job doing outside sales for a transmission company.

Many of her recent shows have been private events such as wedding receptions, parties and corporate functions.

She sometimes sings with Rich Wetzel's Groovin' Higher Jazz Orchestra. "That has been fun. It is so different from what I do as a solo act."

Wetzel is booking jazz shows on Saturday afternoons at Oh Gallagher's in Lakewood. Kapeliela has played several gigs at the venue recently.

The musicians who back her up change from show to show. Many jazz musicians shift around often based on their schedules, how much a gig pays and other factors. Bud Schultz often accompanies Kapeliela on vibes and keyboards. Sometimes they perform as a duo.

Playing with different people keeps things fresh, according to Kapeliela. "I like to play with different musicians. It keeps me from getting caught in a rut."

Sometimes she attends a show as a fan and is asked to come onstage to sing a song or two.

Kapeliela is a fan of many types of music. She sometimes sings blues or Christmas carols. She even has a taste for heavy metal and catches a show at Hell's Kitchen once in a while. A few years ago she started noticing heavy metal musicians coming to her shows, standing out from the typical jazz crowds with their long hair and tattoos. Impressed that members of Drawn and Quartered, an intense thrash-metal band, were attending her shows, Kapeliela went to a metal bar to see them perform. "I can appreciate what they are doing," she commented.

Kapeliela, who lives in University Place, laments that there is no venue in the Tacoma area dedicated solely to jazz. She often goes up to Seattle to play gigs. Things have not been the same since Red Kelly, a legendary figure on the local jazz scene, passed away several years ago. His establishment on Tacoma Avenue was the unofficial headquarters for jazz around here until it closed.

"I would like to do more shows in Tacoma," she remarked.

Kapeliela has plans for two albums in the near future. One will be a jazz quartet album. The other will be a big band album, which she wants to do as a tribute to her father. "He is why I am singing the type of music I do," she remarked.

Carole Kapeliela plays Oh Gallagher's in Lakewood at 5 p.m. Jan. 10.

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