At 101 years young, there's no doubt that Bill Tapia is in a class by himself. Not only is he still playing, touring and recording, his chops, wit and showmanship remain top notch. Case in point: that big crowd reaction you hear about 1:45 into "Undecided" on his new CD? That's Bill playing his ukulele behind his head, a trick he first learned about 50 years before Jimi Hendrix.
Having purchased his first instrument at age 7 from one of Hawai'i's original ukulele makers, Tapia represents the last living link to the earliest days of Hawaiian music as we know it today. Tapia is the only musician on the planet who can say these words: "Here's a song I performed in World War I…" when he’s introducing the unique version of "Stars and Stripes Forever" he came up with in 1918 at the age of 10. Abandoning the uke for guitar,Tapia's youth was spent performing and jamming with the top names of the day, including Charlie Barnet, Billy Holiday, Fats Waller, Bing Crosby and many more. While in Hawai'i he led his own big band and also worked with Island luminaries like Sol Hoopi'i and Johnny Noble. After World War II, Tapia and family settled in the San Francisco area, where he taught guitar in obscurity for decades.
Bill picked up the uke again a few years ago. Since then, he's hit the Top 10 on the jazz chart twice while touring the West Coast between frequent trips to perform in the Aloha State, where he now has a second home. His longevity and legend will only grow with his new live release, "Livin' It Live". Recorded at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall and elsewhere on a 2005 tour, Tapia is joined by Bay Area jazz aces Ruth Davies and Akira Tana, plus Hawaiian songstress Mihana and special guests Ledward Kaapana and Lyle Ritz. Jon Berger of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin summed it up last year when he wrote: "For him, being 100 is maybe the new 50, in terms of playing music and entertaining a crowd."