If You Don’t Know Jack, You Should!
By Jacquie George
Actually, I didn’t know Jack Johnson until about a year ago when a random search through itunes.com for singers named “Jack” (see my name!) brought him to my attention. I started listening to the 30 second samples of his songs, downloaded 3 and became an instant fan of this young singer-songwriter from O`ahu’s North Shore. As the writer and performer of the music for the 2006 film Curious George and a 2005 Grammy nominee for Best Male Vocal, he has gained significant mainstream exposure this year, but Jack has enjoyed a loyal following of fans since the release of his first CD, 2001’s Brushfire Fairytales.
Having grown up in Hale`iwa, O`ahu, Jack pursued his interest in surfing, and though he could have had a career as a professional surfer (he had a sponsorship with Quiksilver while still at Kahuku High School), he opted instead to study film at UC Santa Barbara. During his time there, he actively indulged his interests in surfing, filmmaking and creating music. He became friends with fellow film students and brothers Chris and Emmett Malloy, with whom he later made the award winning surf films Thicker Than Water and The September Sessions, both of which featured soundtracks written and performed by Jack. These soundtracks generated interest in his music and resulted in Brushfire Fairytales. That CD had an unusual genesis in that it was released before the band had ever played a gig together and was initially available only in shops that catered to surfers. By the time the group toured, however, the music had been shared on the internet and downloaded by so many people that audiences sang every word right along with him – and that kind of audience participation has become one of the trademarks of a Jack Johnson show. There have been 3 CDs since then: On and On (2003), In Between Dreams (2005) and Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George (2006).
With Jack on the guitar and `ukulele, Merlo Podlewski on bass, Adam Topol on drums and percussion, and Zach Gill on piano, the musical rapport these artists share is magical. Listening to this music is like floating in the water at the beach: Jack’s strumming lulls you back and forth but keeps you in the pocket, and his richly layered vocals are soothing but intriguing enough that you want to pay attention. The simple instrumentation works because the songs themselves are so good and the lyrics are contagious – it’s impossible to not sing along!
And while his artistry is enough to keep me opening my wallet for the next several years, it’s what he has done with his relatively young celebrity that has gained my deep respect and admiration. Inspired by artists who have used their celebrity to raise money and awareness about certain issues, in 2003 Jack and his wife Kim founded the Kōkua Hawai`i Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that teaches kids about caring for and respecting the environment. Kōkua Hawai`i has set up recycling programs in several schools on O`ahu and plans to help kids learn about how easy and “fun” sustainable living can be. Jack and Kim started the program because they feel that the only way to create lasting behavioral changes is to work with children; they chose Sunset Beach Elementary School in Hale`iwa as their inaugural site because it was the elementary school that Jack attended.
For those of you lucky enough to be in Hawai`i this April, you might try to get tickets for the 3rd Annual Kōkua Festival, which will be held on Maui at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on April 19th and on O`ahu at the Waikiki Shell on April 22 nd (Earth Day!) In addition to Jack, Willie Nelson and the Planetary Bandits, Ben Harper, Henry Kapono, Paula Fuga and the One Love `Ohana Band and the Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) will be performing. For more information, go to www.kokuafestival.com Tickets for Jack shows sell out quickly, often within the first few hours of sales, so hurry! If you can’t get to the Hawai`i shows, try to catch his summer show at The Gorge; he’s come to the Northwest for the past few summers, but, again, his shows sell out fast, so get your tickets early.
This August, the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association will award Jack and Kim “Environmentalists of the Year” honors for their work with the North Shore Community Land Trust on The Campaign for Pūpūkea-Paumalū. Jack has been very involved in raising the necessary money to buy the 1,000+ acre parcel of land from the Obayashi Corporation; in fact, Jack served as co-chair, auctioneer, and entertainer at a special event held in December in Waimea Valley, which raised over $250,000. NSCLT is very close to raising the money needed for the purchase; once the sale is complete, the land will become a park available for use by everyone.
I have to confess that after I began raving about Jack to everyone I know, I was given a bootlegged copy of On and On. But after I learned about his philanthropic work, I promptly went out and bought a legitimate copy for myself. You should, too.
This is one talented and committed man. Go to www.jackjohnsonmusic.com to hear some song samples and to learn more about his work on the Islands. You’ll be glad you did.
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