Field Notes: Swing into the New Year at Big Band Monday with Mike Lewis & Friends
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Big Band Monday.
Al Waterson and Sally Davis sing out.
Photos: Brandon Smith
What it is
A regular meetup of a 16-piece big band, featuring some of the best local musicians on the island. Five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones—the works. Every second and fourth Monday of the month, the band gathers for a casual jam session, playing a mix of music including jazz hits like Count Basie’s “April in Paris” and Benny Goodman’s “Sing! Sing! Sing!” as well as standards from the Great American Songbook such as “Georgia on My Mind” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” In 2016, they played at the Pagoda Floating Restaurant, but, beginning this month, Big Band Monday moves to Jazz Minds Art & Café on Kapi‘olani Boulevard.
“Big bands getting together for kicks and having fun, playing new arrangements on Monday nights, is a tradition that happens all across America,” says band organizer Mike Lewis. “And we got 16 of the best musicians, these cats that play with the Symphony, the Royal Hawaiian Band and their own groups, showing up for the joy of just creating music.”
Lewis, himself a veteran trumpeter who has played with the likes of Natalie Cole, Billy Joel and Bruno Mars, has been organizing bands for decades. “I lived [in Hawai‘i] from 1975 to 1995, and used to have a big band back then that played at a place called Reni’s in Pearl City. Roger Mosley from Magnum P.I. owned it. Then we moved to Waikīkī, to the former Coconut’s at the ‘Ilikai,” Lewis says. After Hawai‘i, he lived and continued to perform in New York and, most recently, Seattle, then returned to O‘ahu last September. By that November, he had put the band back together and they’ve been going full swing (ha!) twice a month ever since, with Lewis doubling as band conductor and trumpet soloist.
Lewis says, “There was a time in history when big bands backed up everybody in show business. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin—all these guys had big bands, it was an American tradition. So it’s a real opportunity that not many people have in this lifetime, for vocalists to perform an arrangement with this kind of backing. These are the songs Sinatra would sing.”
Musicians and singers who have joined in already include local icon Kimo Kahoano, Honolulu Jazz Quartet bassist John Kolivas and Brownman Ali, a trumpeter for Jay-Z. When Big Band Monday meets this month, they’ll be joined by Rob Scheps, tenor saxophone for Aretha Franklin and, formerly, Ray Charles. Stay tuned for future big band news online at facebook.com/mikelewisandfriends.
“In this world, where you can’t get two people to agree on anything, to have 16 musicians all playing together, it’s really powerful,” Lewis says. “It’s lively and spontaneous and real, and I don’t think anybody leaves our event saying they haven’t had fun. There’s nothing else like it.”
Popular Hits Include
Chuck Mangione’s “Children of Sanchez”
Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”
Frank Sinatra’s “Lady Is a Tramp”
In the House
professional entertainer, Mō‘ili‘ili
“You’ll leave here with a better feeling about life. With all the bad stuff going on now, it’s always nice to go back in time a little bit.”
Bill Beimes, 68
alto saxophone player and retired firefighter, Kahalu‘u
“There aren’t many bands of this size that play this kind of music with these caliber musicians.”
singer-songwriter from London, Kaimukī
“This was my first time, and I’ve absolutely had the most tremendous evening. I came to Hawai‘i to be surrounded by good jazz and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it so far.”
READ MORE STORIES BY JAMES CHARISMA