Maui Arts & Entertainment

Maui slack-key artist garners two awards with music honoring Hawaiʻi places

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Jeff Peterson. (2022) Photo credit Kat Wade / Courtesy of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recordings Arts

Nā Hōkū Hanohano winner Jeff Peterson recalled one of his earliest memories of live music came from his father Bard coming home from work on a cattle ranch and playing his guitar.

“He loved coming home and picking up his guitar,” Peterson said of his dad.

Bard Peterson worked at Kahua Ranch on the Big Island, then moved to Maui and ʻUlupalakua Ranch, before he eventually was employed at Haleakalā Ranch where he became a manager.

Coming from the land, Jeff Peterson has a unique sense of capturing the essence of island areas and the music that came before him. A graduate of Baldwin High School, he received a scholarship in music to the University of Southern California, with an emphasis on jazz, classical and studio guitar.

He also played in a band with the son of Bell Sound Studios’ owner Don Piestrup and recorded at the studio in Los Angeles.

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He watched the way songs were recorded by some of the best session musicians, including Larry Carlton.  

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“I learned so much from that,” he said.

Peterson said he felt fortunate to have been raised at a time when Hawaiian music was undergoing a resurgence. While he learned “kī hōʻalu,” the art of Hawaiian slack-key guitar, in his youth, he focused more upon it after his return from college.

In slack key, Hawaiʻi musicians developed a way of retuning guitars to sound a chord for a particular song and used fingers instead of a flat pick to pluck strings.

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His latest album of original slack-key songs, Mele Nahenahe, earned him two Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards last week — one for “Best Instrumental Album” and another for “Instrumental Composition Of The Year” for Halema‘uma‘u from this album.

He’s received a total of 13 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards and two Grammy Awards.

Five of his songs were featured in the film “The Descendents” starring George Clooney.

Jeff Peterson remembers learning to play the guitar as a child in an after-school program taught by Gabby’s son Blah Pahinui.

His father had a great collection of music from Hawaiʻi artists, including Gabby Pahinui, Hui ʻOhana, Sunday Manoa, Sonny Chillingsworth, and Keola Beamer.

Peterson said he wants to participate in more outreach programs in Hawai‘i schools to teach kī hōʻalu to the younger generation.

He has lessons available on his website jeffpetersonguitar.com, and he’s teaching an online kī hōʻalu class at Windward Community College.

“I’m hoping more of the younger generation will see the need to learn kī hōʻalu,” he said.
“Many are playing ʻukulele, but not as many slack key.”


“An Evening of Aloha”  Concert & Film, Aug. 13

Jeff Peterson is scheduled to perform with Keola and Moana Beamer at an upcoming concert and film event at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The event is a fundraiser to spread aloha around the world. 

All proceeds from the show go to the Mohala Mou Foundation to help teach children in Bhutan how to play the ‘ukulele. The event honors Aunty Nona Beamer and her effort to live a life of aloha.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13, at the McCoy Studio Theater. The concert will be followed by a screening of the Oscar-nominated film Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.

Tickets are available online.

Jeff Peterson will perform with Keola and Moana Beamer in a concert and film event at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. PC: MACC

For a weekly listing of Maui music and other events, go to Maui Entertainment, Arts, Community, July 21-27 and click here.

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with MauiNow.com, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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