THE OAHU LIVE MUSIC SCENE, PART V
MEET HIGH-FLYER JEREMY CHENG, A PILOT-REBORN-MUSICIAN
Jeremy Cheng has a certain knack for hitting the high notes during his Sunday night gig in The Study at THE MODERN HONOLULU. As a steady, gigging musician, Cheng is one of the lucky few who makes a living as a career player in Honolulu.
But his life was originally planned for a different kind of high-flying dream …
During high school, Cheng started taking flying lessons in his spare time, and those lessons quickly morphed into aspiration. Even before graduating, Cheng knew he wanted a career in aviation, jetting off to University of Hawaii at Manoa and then onto a commercial pilot program. Cheng was eager to man the helm of big jets filled with vacationers set for the Hawaiian Islands.
But his high-flying plans changed when the economy tanked in 2008. Legacy carrier Aloha Airlines declared bankruptcy the same month Cheng earned his accreditation, which pitted Cheng up against hundreds of far-more-experienced pilots suddenly re-entering the work pool.
“It was a rough time,” admits Cheng, who began looking for positive, healthy outlets for his grounded frustrations. “I went to open mic nights at bars with friends. I’d watch them sing.”
Cheng was no stranger to the Hawaiian music scene. His two brothers put themselves through college playing music, and both his grandparents were players back in the day. But with no prospects for a job and months ticking by, Cheng channeled his energy into his surroundings. He started a sound and lighting company, doing staging for other musicians.
One night, a buddy needed a backup singer for a gig, and so Cheng stepped in for kicks.
Cheng quickly discovered he had an ear for singing great harmonies, and so soon after, he bought a guitar. After not strumming a chord since ukulele lessons in seventh grade, he focused his energy into learning as much as he could, whenever he could.
“I caught the bug, big time. I would practice four or five hours every day. Copying licks on guitar, working on singing harmonies,” says Cheng, who grew up on hip hop and R&B. His influences were Donny Hathaway, Brian McKnight, Alicia Keys and the Isley Brothers.
Six years later, he feels well accomplished, pointing toward the family he started on Oahu and the music career he is building in Honolulu. As one of the island’s most-sought-after musicians, he plays as much as he can at THE MODERN HONOLULU.
“The Study brings in this clientele that are there to listen to the music. It’s not just background, like a lot of bars or lounges,” he says. “The room is truly geared for listening. Absorbing. There’s a nice pairing that works in there — the audience and the musician.”
Jeremy Cheng fronts his own with special guests on Sundays in The Study from 7 pm to 11 pm. On Tuesdays, returns to The Study to perform with Alex Oasay from 7 pm to 10 pm, playing classic rock and pop songs with a soulful harmonic twist. Occasionally, Cheng also pairs up with pal Jason Laeha, who performs Friday and Saturday nights in The Study.