I only met Chino once, but he left a lasting impression on me. A few years back I went by the Kahilu Theatre to check out the free show during the Slack Key and Ukulele Institute series. I had seen the name “Chino Montero” on the bill, but wasn’t familiar with him or his music. What I saw that night blew me away. The way he shredded on the guitar in such a relaxed and humble manner was shocking to my eyes and ears. The way he tastefully and artfully completely ran circles around the melody put me in awe. “Shredding” per se isn’t something that is overly valued in Hawaiian music. The idea is to humbly state the melody and embellish within the bounds of a restrained approach. Not to say there aren’t people who play fast or overly complex, it is just not something that is emphasized. But there was something in the way this man did it that was so proper and fitting to who he was a musician. He would be constantly smiling and laughing as he was playing like he was just as amazed himself as we were as to what he was playing.
Later that evening I was excited to see him and some of the other members of the Slack Key Institute at a show I was playing with Braddah Smitty. After the show we all sat at a table together and do what musicians do after they have all played their gigs: eat and talk story. The conversation was lively as it was a collection of eccentric musicians (what musicians aren’t!) talking story, shooting the shit and busting each others balls. I was the greenest and youngest member of the group and just sat and listened the whole time. I mean what can I really contribute when you have heavy weights like Aaron Mahi, Sonny Lim, Braddah Smitty and Benny Chong and others around?
Because musicians are always playing at different venues every night, it is rare that a bunch of them are able to get together at one time. Add in that many of these guys live on O`ahu, there was a lot of catching up to do. That night I happened to be seated next to Chino and his wit, charm, story telling and humor were second to none. Topics ranged from Rap Reiplinger to seeing the original Makaha Sons to the status of various venues long gone in Waikiki to Gabby and Sonny getting drunk at the old Waimea Hotel (which is now the HPA Village Campus where I now work!) to well anything and everything.
Amongst all this discussion, Chino took the time and talked to me. He said he was watching me while I was playing and he noticed that I was listening. He noticed I was paying attention to what was happening around me. He said my playing was respectful, restrained and refined. He told me to keep at it. He told me there was still time for me to learn and to improve. He told me I needed to HO`ANALU….to go beyond the known boundaries. He told me to be grateful for my opportunities, continue to improve, never be satisfied, learn more, take chances and above all stay humble. It made me practice harder, prepare better and it set a fire in my belly to humbly develop what I could do with my `ukulele
I will never forget that night. It took me awhile to comprehend everything that I heard and that went on. When I heard of Chino’s passing I immediately thought of this short moment I got to share with Chino. The album of music he recorded before he passed “Made In Hawai’i” is sweet and soulful. Chino may not have been in the realm of the “heavy hitters” in the business, but he deserves to be. He is one of the countless many in Hawai`i who humbly went to work every evening perfecting his craft and constantly improving. There is so much talent here it amazes me sometimes. I have seen guys in the backyard to a no name guitarist in a trio at a hotel gig who could play circles around some of those that have shelves full of awards and accolades up the wazoo.
Unfortunately another one has left us to soon. I am sure I am just one of many who Chino touched with his playing and his positive joyful attitude. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to meet this man who contributed to my own journey of HO`ANALU, of going beyond my known boundaries.