Field Guide: Live Jazz

It may be hard to find, but Honolulu does have a jazz scene. Here’s a map to its hidden treasures.

1 Thirtynine Hotel
39 Hotel St., 599-2552, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Thirtynine Hotel is one of downtown’s jazz pioneers and home to Justin James and the New Jass Quartet (right) each Tuesday night and the Groove Improv Artists on Thursdays. Sink into one of the hotel’s couches and listen to a fresh sound you can bob your head to.

2 The Dragon Upstairs
1038 Nu‘uanu Ave., 526-1411, Mondays from 8 to 11 p.m., Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Follow the painted dragon up the stairs from the familiar downtown spot, Hank’s Café, and enter the aptly named Dragon Upstairs. Ginai and Pierre Grill have been a Friday night staple since opening this past July. Drop by on other nights and expect to see Satomi Yarimizo, DeShannon Higa and Abe Lagrimas (left). The jazz style ranges from a New York- style neo-bob to sultry jazz vocals.

3 Indigo’s Green Room
1121 Nu‘uanu Ave., 521-2933, Tuesdays from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.

The popular downtown watering hole recently added Intricate Mediums (right) to its Tuesday night Wrath of Jazz event. The group’s sound is touted as “a jazz-laced fusion of funk and soulful hip-hop.”

4 Che Pasta
1001 Bishop St., 524-0004, Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m.

With a Tuscan-inspired design, the newly renovated space in downtown’s business district is intimate, says vocalist Willow Chang (left), who appears weekly. “It’s really low–key with so many little plusses,” she says, noting the new dance floor, European light fixtures and, of course—the entertainment.

5 The Honolulu Club
Wednesdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., 932 Ward Ave., 543-3900

Stop in to hear some of Honolulu’s “heavies” such as the Honolulu Jazz Quartet (right), when the members-only club opens its doors to the public. It’s a meeting of the old school, with artists such as Steve Jones, and the next generation, featuring drummer Abe Lagrimas. The jazz style varies weekly, log onto

6 Jazz Minds Art and Café
1661 Kapi‘olani Blvd., Suite A, 945-0800, Nightly from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

With the hip-hop infused, jazzy, R&B group Tempo Valley (left) recently added to the weekly lineup, the audience has quickly become a younger, hip–hop and yuppie type. The lineup changes often, so check

7 Lewers Lounge
2199 Kalia Road, 923-2311, Nightly from 8:30 p.m. to midnight; Saturdays from 8:30 to 12:30 a.m.

With some of Honolulu’s yummiest cocktails, soft lighting, booths you can cozy up in and smooth sounds coming from bassist Bruce Hamada and pianist Jim Howard (Tuesday through Thursday), this may be the swankiest venue in town.

8 Hanohano Room
2255 Kalakaua Ave., 922-4422, Tuesdays from 5:30 to 9 p.m., Fridays from 9 p.m. to midnight

Try the new The Listening Party by local promoters Flash and Matty Boy. The Wednesday night event features DeShannon Higa (left) and the Groove Improv Artists. On Friday nights the Hanohano Room hosts John Kolivas and the Honolulu Jazz Quartet.

9 Ward’s Rafters
Sunday afternoons.

It’s the most secret of all jazz spots. Although we can’t reveal its exact Kaimuki location, we can tell you that Jackie Ward opens her home to a mix of regulars and first-timers each week to listen to some of Honolulu’s best known jazz musicians such as New Jass Quartet (right). Keep your ears open or use your deft googling skills to find this hidden hangout.


Whether erratic, up-tempo notes blasting out of a tenor sax, smokey vocals on an old classic, or smooth melodies played over hip-hop beats, the sound and feeling of jazz are as varied as its following. Thanks to venues such as Thirtynine Hotel, promoters and clubgoers have realized the potential of modern live jazz, says Justin James, leader of New Jass Quartet. “[Chinatown] has been the catalyst to the revival of live music.” While 20-somethings to 80-somethings continue to seek out live music, the genre is spilling into venues across Honolulu … sometimes in unexpected places.

Jackie Ward welcomes the in-the-know jazz crowd to her quiet Kaimuki home to listen to some of Hawai‘i’s best jazz musicians. The Honolulu Club, generally associated more with tennis and fitness than jazz, hosts a weekly open-to-the-public jazz night. Even promoters Flash Hansen and Matty Boy, known for a following of fashionable revelers at their weekend parties, have been turned on to the growing jazz scene. “It’s a good time to be a jazz musician,” says James. “Awareness is developing and there’s a huge momentum behind it.”

The bottom line? People are looking for something different. “Any place that doesn’t seem like Hawai‘i is really successful,” says vocalist Willow Chang. Whether it’s the atmosphere or the music, the local jazz scene offers exactly that. The dimly lit and decidedly moody Jazz Minds, the ritzy Lewers Lounge and the New York-style gallery-turned-music-venue Thirtynine Hotel are a far cry from your typical local music venue.

“It’s surprising to see it permeate across the club crowd,” says Hansen. “Because of the way it’s done, our crowd might not even realize they’re listening to jazz.” So whether you’re classified as an enthusiast or a neophyte, start seeking out the scene because it looks like jazz is here to stay.