Martin Denny King of Exotica

Welcome to the Martin Denny blog where I pay tribute to Mr Denny and share his albums and information about him and his music.

Martin Denny (April 10, 1911–March 2, 2005) was an American piano-player and composer best known as the "father of exotica." In a long career that saw him performing well into his 80s, he toured the world popularizing his brand of lounge music which included exotic percussion, imaginative rearrangements of popular songs, and original songs that celebrated Tiki culture.

Facts about Mr Denny esq:
  • He studied classical piano and at a young age and toured South America for four-and-a-half years with the Don Dean Orchestra. This tour began Denny's fascination with Latin rhythms. Denny collected a large number of ethnic instruments from all over the world, which he used to spice up his stage performances.
  • In January 1954, Don the Beachcomber brought Denny to Honolulu, Hawaii for a two-week engagement. He stayed to form his own combo in 1955, performing under contract at the Shell Bar in the Hawaiian Village on Oahu and soon signing to Liberty Records. The original combo consisted of Augie Colon on percussion and birdcalls, Arthur Lyman on vibes, John Kramer on string bass, and Denny on piano. Lyman soon left to form his own group and future Herb Alpert sideman and Baja Marimba Band founder Julius Wechter replaced him. Harvey Ragsdale later replaced Kramer.
  • Denny described the music his combo plays as "window dressing, a background". It is the perfect complement to the exotic setting of Hawaii. "A lot of what I'm doing", he stated in Incredibly Strange Music Volume 1, "is just window dressing familiar tunes. I can take a tune like "Flamingo" and give it a tropical feel, in my style. In my arrangement of a Japanese farewell song, "Sayonara", I include a Japanese three-stringed instrument, the shamisen. We distinguished each song by a different ethnic instrument, usually on top of a semi-jazz or Latin beat."
  • Denny built a collection of strange and exotic instruments with the help of several airline friends. They would bring Denny back these instruments and he would build arrangements around them. His music was a combination of ethnic styles: South Pacific, the Orient and Latin rhythms.
  • During an engagement at the Shell Bar, Denny discovered what would become his trademark and the birth of "exotica." The bar had a very exotic setting: a little pool of water right outside the bandstand, rocks and palm trees growing around, very quiet and relaxed. As the group played at night, Denny became aware of bullfrogs croaking. The croaking blended with the music and when the band stopped, so did the frogs. Denny thought this to be a coincidence, but when he tried the tune again later, the same thing happened. This time, his bandmates began doing all sorts of tropical bird calls as a gag. The band thought it nothing more than a joke. The next day, though, someone approached Denny and asked if he would do the arrangement with the birds and frogs. The more Denny thought about it, the more it made sense. At rehearsal, he had the band do "Quiet Village" with each doing a bird call spaced apart. Denny did the frog part on a grooved cylinder and the whole thing became incorporated into the arrangement of "Quiet Village".
  • The Exotica album was recorded in December 1956 and released in 1957. In 1958, Dick Clark hosted Denny on American Bandstand. "Quiet Village" reached #2 on Billboard's charts in 1959 with the Exotica album reaching #1. He rode the charts of Cashbox and Variety also. Denny had as many as three or four albums on the charts simultaneously during his career. He also had national hits with "A Taste of Honey," "The Enchanted Sea," and "Ebb Tide."
  • Denny's Firecracker is well known in Japan as the number which inspired Haruomi Hosono to establish Yellow Magic Orchestra. According to Hosono, one day in 1978, after a recording, he invited Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi to his house and showed a memo which said "Cover and arrange Martin Denny's Firecracker into a chunky-electric disco, featuring synthesizers, to sell out four million copies around the world".

Martin Denny - Baked Alaska

Only available for a short time and now deleted this a rare treat.

Recorded in September 1964, at the Officers Club at Elmendorf Air Force Base at Anchorage Alaska and broadcast live on Alaskan Air Force Command radio.

Although Denny played hundreds of live shows during his active career, none save this one has ever been released. In fact, the liner notes tout Baked Alaska as "his one and only live recording." For fans of exotica, this is like unearthing a long-lost live performance from the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

As "Baked Alaska" starts, it seems like Denny and company is just another lounge combo paid to provide some musical wallpaper to the chattering officers and wives. It takes a few tunes to win over the crowd, but once that happened Denny is in full control. In-between songs, he banter is informative and captivating. It's always a treat to hear a music master narrate an evening's performance.

The real fun of Baked Alaska is hearing Denny and the rest of his band include the bird calls and tropical sounds into their live performance. There is something magical about hearing all the pieces of Denny's trademark sound come together for live takes of his best known tunes. It gives those who were too young to see Denny live themselves a great taste of what his shows were like.

The quality is what is to expected from a radio recording of the era and the final tune "Lovely Lona" is quickly cut short by a radio announcer, but none of these minor technical flaws can mar such a great musical treasure.

1. Busy Port
2. Bacoa
3. Bali Ha'i
4. Girl From Ipanema
5. A-Me-Ri-Ca
6. Tiki Pagan Rituals
7. Taste Of Honey, A
8. Keep Your Eyes On The Hands
9. Beyond The Reef
10. Under The Double Eagle
11. Quiet Village
12. Hawaiian Wedding Song
13. Tahitian Drums - (dance)
14. World Of Suzie Wong, The
15. Manhattan
16. Burma Train
17. Lovely Lona

Denny Alaska

Forbidden Island, Primitiva and Latin Village

Martin Denny Forbidden_Island
Martin Denny Latin_Village
Martin Denny Primitiva

Martin Denny - Hawaii Tattoo 1964

Another nice sixties album..


Martin Denny - The Versatile 1963

The Versatile Martin Denny an album from the 60s. Mr Denny shows his cocktail piano skills on this disc and there are a couple of nice exotica tracks including a reworking of Quiet Village.