In the mid-1970s, a group of kids fresh out of high school banded together to become all the rage in Hawaii. One of those kids just happens to be Santana’s bassist Benny Rietveld. On July 17th last year, the members of Topaz performed a nearly-sold-out tribute show in Honolulu with guest star Gabe Baltazar. Baltazar, a worldwide sax legend, helped boost the surprisingly complex jazz-fusion band’s exposure in the 1970s when he brought three of the members with him onstage as a part of his new quartet to play at the Cavalier.
The July 17, 2014 tribute turned into an historic reunion concert for Topaz, 36 years in the making.
Another Topaz reunion’s scheduled August 7, 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m., again at Honolulu’s Crossroads-Hawaiian Brian’s. Cover: $20. Call (808) 946-1343 for more info.
In 1976, the young, imaginative musicians began jamming together, working out quite the impressive repertoire while other bands went the easy pop, disco club route. This was no ordinary cover band. They played stuff by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea — very well.
Members of the band included Rietveld, drummer Noel Okimoto, saxophonist Allen Won, and keyboardist Carl Wakeland — all currently active, in-demand jazz and fusion artists who’ve played with their fair share of big-time legends like Baltazar, Jimmy Borges, Kenny Loggins, Oleta Adams, Kenny Lattimore, Kenny Garrett, Rosemary Clooney, Henry Mancini, Stan Getz, Sheila E., and Miles Davis.
In a June 12, 2015 interview with John Berger over at the Star-Advertiser’s Honolulu Pulse, Rietveld talked more about Topaz and the reunion experience. “That was way more successful than I thought it was going to be. It started a whole ball rolling where me and Noel and Allen are starting a nonprofit arts foundation in Hawaii,” said the Netherlands-born bassist, who grew up in Hawaii. “We recorded an album since then — with Fred Schreuders as well — so we’re planning to come in August again and actually do a real Topaz reunion with all five members and actually playing the music that we recorded. That’s another thing I’ve been working on.”
The core remaining members of the band decided to give back to the local community through their newly formed nonprofit arts foundation. “There are so many talented kids that, if they just had a little guidance, they’d be flying and they’d really do Hawaii proud. Our goal is to provide whatever we can by way of the experiences we’ve had,” Rietveld said. “Allen has taken a completely different path, but still in music and equally as accomplished, and so he’s got this whole other circle that me and Noel don’t know about. Noel’s got his thing, and I’ve got the whole rock and jazz thing.
“Maybe we’ll sponsor clinics, bring in people I’ve known, people Allen has known, with some sponsorships, but there’s nothing like just hearing it from the horse’s mouth.
“That’s the way it worked for me, little keys from people who went through stuff opened major doors in my creative life. So that’s what one of our goals is.”
Composer/woodwinds players Allen Won moved to the East Coast to do some serious damage as a major orchestral musician playing Broadway musicals like “Hair,” the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet. He recently announced on his Facebook that Topaz is back. “Just in case you all were wondering, this is the group TOPAZ circa 1977! We were playing a live disco gig in Honolulu. We were all the rage. What’s wonderful, all these dudes can still play! Come on out and see TOPAZ… My high school friend Benny Rietveld playing with this great band… with the group we had back in the day… Fred Schreuders guitar, Carl Wakeland keys, Noel Okimoto drums, Benny Rietveld bass and myself.”