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Big Island Jazz and Blues Fest boasts local, national stars

By JOHN BURNETT

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Legendary performers will play with the best musicians Hawaii has to offer in the 2nd annual Big Island Jazz & Blues Festival, May 30 to June 2 at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and other venues on the Kohala Coast.

Festivalgoers will be treated to performances by: trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, a Grammy winner from the legendary New Orleans jazz family; Chubby Carrier, a Grammy-winning Louisiana zydeco artist; saxophonist Bobby Watson, the former musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; and New Orleans blues guitarist Brint Anderson. Local artists taking part include Grammy- and Hoku-winning slack-key guitar master John Keawe; bassist John Kolivas of the Honolulu Jazz Quartet; pianist Mark Johnstone of Mick Fleetwood’s Blues Band; singer-ukuleleist Paula Fuga; versatile guitarist Benny Uyetake; and trumpeter Jr. Volcano Choy and the Jazz Alley TV Trio.

Uyetake, a Hilo native and alum of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, now lives and plays music on Maui, but says he’s “stoked because it’s always fun to come home and play music.”

“I can’t wait to play with those guys,” Uyetake said on Wednesday. “There are all these little sessions where you might play in a lobby or something. Even though these guys will share the big stage, we’ll play all kinds of places. We’re gonna be sitting in with a lot of the musicians, guys like Delfeayo Marsalis. I’ve played with Delfeayo before. I’m also looking forward to playing with the zydeco guy, Chubby Carrier. And Bobby Watson is one of the great saxophone players of all time. It’s gonna be a really diverse group of people, and it’ll be killer playing with them.”

The festival is the brainchild of Ken Martinez Burgmaier, who also promotes similar festivals on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

“Ken is instrumental in putting together all these jazz, blues and slack key festivals,” Uyetake said. “And because I can play all genres, I get invited to play in all of them. I’ve played in all of his festivals, which are cool.”

Uyetake’s day job is as a music teacher and ukulele band director at Kalama Intermediate School on the Valley Isle. He took over the program, which was started by Rama Camarillo, from the Waiakea Intermediate School Ukulele Band’s founding family, after Camarillo left for Kamehameha Schools. He said he approaches music “in a really aggressive way,” an approach that was drilled into him at Berklee, where he studied arrangement and composition.

“You’re in a big fishbowl and you’re around the best musicians in the country,” he said about the prestigious Boston music school. “The very first guys that I met there were Wynton Marsalis, Tain Watts and all these guys who all played on the Tonight Show. … We’d hang in the Berklee College of Music foyer every day with all these great musicians. It was pretty hip. Even Melissa Etheridge was there when I was there. She was already getting pretty famous. People go to Berklee, make it, then they leave.”

Also sharing the fishbowl were Hawaii-born musicians including trumpeter Roy Okutani, who taught there, saxophonist Wayne de Silva, keyboardist Glen Goto and bassist David Inamine.

“There are a lot of top-notch musicians from Hawaii, and these are great musicians who can play with anyone,” Uyetake said.

The festival kicks off Thursday, May 30, 6-9 p.m. with a dinner celebration at the Blue Dragon Restaurant in Kawaihae featuring Jr. Volcano Choy with the Jazz Alley TV Trio. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Call 882-7771. Uyetake will play a free show with the trio Friday, May 31, 4-6 p.m. at The Shops at Mauna Lani main stage. Then on Saturday, June 1, 5-9 p.m. the festival moves to the beautiful oceanfront stage on the lu‘au grounds at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. General admission tickets are $60 with VIP seating $100. And Uyetake and special guests will play a special Sunday jazz brunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. June 2 at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar. Call 882-5810 for reservations.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is offering special room packages. For more reservations or more information, call toll-free 866-774-6236 and ask for the Big Island Jazz & Blues Festival Package. Festival tickets are also available at the hotel, call 882-5810, or online at www.bigislandjazzanbluesfestival.com. No outside food, coolers or chairs are allowed.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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