Born on the island of Maui, Dayan Kai’s family moved to California when he was a small child so he could attend public school (from Maui he would have been sent a special “school for the blind” on the island of Oahu). Dayan spent most of his childhood in the San Juan Bautista area of Central California, with regular trips back to Hawaii to be with his grandmother Paulina, who got him started with piano and figured out he had perfect pitch.
She also taught him how to ride waves. In California, his family supported his classical and Suzuki musical education from a very young age, starting with piano lessons at the age of two. Candace Fozzio taught him music in his most formative years, spending hours upon hours to learn braille so she could teach him to read music. His school music teacher, Mr. Miatta, gave him private sessions once a week and turned him onto America’s most precious gift to the world: jazz. Paralleling his study of jazz came his education in the world of Latino music and theatrical production with Teatro Campesino under the direction of Luis Valdez.
Here he learned much more about the history of native people in the Americas and the plight of the farm worker. As a child with many friends from migrant families, Dayan had already learned quite a bit about racial and class inequality, but here he was able to deepen his understanding of racial inequality and the true meaning of solidarity. He even got to shake the hand of United Farm Workers leader César Chavez. Graduating from high school early, Dayan moved to the Santa Cruz area to attend Cabrillo College where he would study with jazz trumpeter/arranger Ray Brown, World Music Composer Lou Harrison, and Latin Percussionist Michael Strunk.
Dayan also had the opportunity to study with mandolin master David Grisman at the local Mandolin Symposium. At age 17, Dayan Kai began to sing and play with the Blues Houndz, the house blues band at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, CA. Around 19 Dayan formed the band Water with Art Alm and Steve Uccello, an eclectic jazz-soul-Americana group that would continue to play for the next decade. Water played solo shows and also backed up various artists including Keith Greeninger and Russell Brutsche.
Over the next two decades he would come to play with a significant range of individuals, bands and ensembles, including Soplavientos, Harmony Grits, Bluegrass Jihad, Bakra Bata (Steel Drum and Dance ensemble), Clan Dyken, Achilles Wheel, the Uccello Project, the Naked Bootleggers, Alice DiMicele, Aaron Ford, Right Means Left, Nina Gerber, Joe Craven, Nancy Cassidy, Melissa Crabtree, Steven Graves, Michael Gaither, Martin Simpson, Chuck Brodsky, John Smith, Dennis McGregor, the Hot Club of Spokane, and many others. Since the late 1990s through the present he played and toured regularly with award-winning singer/songwriter Keith Greeninger as well as the Juan L. Sanchez Ensemble, a unique Nueva Cancion-based musical group that incorporates jazz, Brazilian, and Middle Eastern music.
He has also recorded and performed with Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Records solo and in collaboration with Keith Greeninger. In 2013 Dayan Kai moved back to the island of Maui where he performed music for the Ulalena lu’au and then served as the Musical Director and multi-instrumentalist for “Burnin’ Love,” an Elvis Presley tribute show and top tourist attraction. Since the show ended in 2018 he has been able to focus more on his song writing and has set out for several tours, many with Keith Greeninger. He also recently joined Melissa Crabtree on tour in Australia. Most recently (June 2019), Dayan released solo album “To Be Free” (engineered by Keith Greeninger) that highlights his rich vocals and sublime acoustic guitar.
Dayan Kai’s golden spirit and deep insight into the human condition combined with his virtuous musicality and soulful voice make him a beloved singer/songwriter and top-notch band member. His words, wisdom, humor and talent deeply touch crowds across the world. Dayan’s Work Dayan has self-produced and released seven solo albums including “To Be Free,” “Resonate,” "Treat A Stranger Right," "Livin' Like A Rat Again," "The First Twelve Years," "All Kai," and ”Songs of Sunday", as well as two albums with his former band Water, "Scrape the Sun" and "Look out the Window". In 2010, he recorded the duo album “Make It Rain” with frequent collaborator Keith Greeninger.
Dayan also contributed his talents on a multitude of albums in the folk, jazz & world genres. Dayan has also produced albums for Steven Graves, Russell Brusche, Music for Nalio, Matt Conible, Mike McKinley, Tess Dunn, Quackgrass, and Michael Gaither, the Blue Flames, Matt Conible, Monterey Bay Rockers Three, Nancy Cassidy, The Slac Dragons, Performance Highlights Dayan has played at many notable festivals, including the Kate Wolf Memorial Festival (Laytonville, CA), the Sisters Folk Festival (Sisters OR), the Cobargo Folk Festival (NSW, Australia), the Blue Mountains Festival (NSW, Australia), the Yackandandah Music Festival (Victoria, Australia), Juan de Fuca Festival (Port Angeles, WA), American River Music Festival (Lotus, CA), Strawberry Music Festival (Groveland, CA), K, High Sierra Festival (Quincy, CA), Art on the Green (Coeur d'Alene, Idaho), Sandpoint Music Festival (Sandpoint, ID), Summerfest (Milwaukee, WI), the Folklife Festival (Seattle, WA), the Bummershoot Festival (Seattle, WA), the Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey, CA) and many more. Multi-Instrumentalist A partial list of instruments Dayan plays includes keyboards (piano, organ, accordion), guitars (Spanish classical, six- and 12-string acoustic, electric, and resophonic), other strings (charango, ukulele, bass, 4- and 5-string banjo, mandolin, and fiddle), the single-reed woodwind family and flutes from around the world, trumpet and trombone, conchas, and percussion (trap kit and hand drums [cajon, pandero, doumbec, tabla, and congas]).