Listen Up! – Jazz

Gabe Baltazar at this year’s International Jazz Festival. photo: Karin Kovalsky


There is perhaps no better known or respected jazz musician in Hawai‘i than alto saxophone player Gabe Baltazar. Now 76, he’s been a stalwart of the local jazz scene for more than 35 years, both as a musician and a behind-the-scenes promoter.

A Hilo native, Baltazar also made a name for himself on the Mainland in the ’60s, recording 18 albums with jazz great Stan Kenton and sharing the stage with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderly, before returning to Hawai‘i in 1969.

Baltazar says the Islands’ mix of cultures makes a perfect home for jazz. “Jazz is American music, it’s democratic. It’s always combined all the different ethnic musical genres of America, so it can take in Hawaiian and Japanese and whatever else,” he says. “You’ll hear some Okinawan scales in my music, and some Japanese pentatonic scales and traditional blues scales—everything!”

photo: Karin Kovalsky


The last time we profiled Abe Lagrimas Jr., in 2001, he was making a name for himself as a precocious jazz drummer, and preparing to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s back in town now, having graduated last year, and has been making waves not only with his sprightly drumming, but his ‘ukulele playing as well.

Amazingly, for anyone who’s heard him play, Lagrimas only started playing the ‘ukulele in 2003, while in Boston. “It was only after I left Hawai‘i that I realized, wow, this is a pretty cool instrument,” he says. He was a fast enough learner that he was able last year to release a solo album of ‘ukulele compositions, Dimensions, which has been well received. Despite the instrument’s Hawaiian association, Lagrimas says he hews pretty closely to traditional jazz. “The stuff I play is pretty pure, going back to what they were playing in the ’50s, the bebop period.”


Azure McCall is the real thing—a true jazz and R&B diva with a golden voice and an unparalleled talent for interpretation.

“I’m not about that smooth jazz,” she says. “I like to go back to the classic stuff of the ’40s and ’50s, like Ella Fitzgerald.” It’s fitting that McCall reference the First Lady of Song—McCall has herself been dubbed the first lady of jazz in Honolulu.

She’s been performing in Hawai‘i since 1972, and has recorded three albums, The Gift, Body & Soul and Harlem Nocturne, the last two of which won Na Hoku Hanohano awards as Best Jazz Album of the year. McCall also teaches be-bop jazz and scat singing.

Azure McCall at Chai’s Island Bistro, where she will perform this month. photo: Olivier Koning


photo: courtesy of Ginai


In her more than 30 years of professional singing, Ginai has performed with a funk band called Mo Dog, sung jazz with Bruce Hamada and Jim Howard at Lewers Lounge, worked revue shows as a Whitney Houston impersonator and swung with Hula Joe and the Hutjumpers.

And after all that, she’s finally ready for her debut. Ginai’s first solo album, Jazz Island, came out in March—a solid roundup of jazz standards she recorded with the help of the Honolulu Jazz Quartet. “I’ve always managed to reinvent myself,” she says. “This is my third time on the upswing.” Reinvention or no—her jazz singing is far from green. She can improvise, interpret and scat with the best, and even throw some Hawaiian into the mix, as on her medley of Irmgard Aluli’s and Charles Kekua Farden’s “Puamana” and Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” Catch her at Jazz Minds Arts and Café every Wednesday.

Ginai – “Puamana/All Blues”

The Honolulu Jazz Quartet, (from left): John Kolivas, Dan Del Negro, Adam Baron and Tim Tsukiyama. photo: courtesy of the Honolulu Jazz Quartet


Because Hawai‘i’s jazz scene is relatively small, local jazz musicians need to be jacks-of-all-trades, ready to play just about anything. Bassist John Kolivas, for example, has taken on everything from Hawaiian music, with Keola Beamer, to classical, with the Honolulu Symphony. To stay connected with his first love, jazz, Kolivas had to start up his own quartet in 2001, recruiting Tim Tsukiyama on saxophone, Dan Del Negro on piano and Adam Baron on drums. “Of all my music projects, I enjoy my band the most, because there’s more freedom to play your own tunes,” he says. The quartet is heavily influenced by the improvisational jazz of the ’60s, such as the post bop of Miles Davis, Kolivas says. “The beauty of jazz is in the interaction, the freedom of saying what you want with your instrument, and playing off the other members of the quartet.” The group has even found success on the Mainland—in 2004, their album Sounds of the City hit No. 32 on the JazzWeek National Radio Top 50 Jazz Chart.

Honolulu Jazz Quartet – “Heater’s On”


The Honolulu Club (932 Ward Ave., 543-3910,, jazz every Wednesday night, 5 to 9 p.m.

Jazz Minds (1661 Kapi‘olani Blvd. open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, cover varies, 945-0800) live jazz six nights a week., a comprehensive calendar of upcoming jazz shows around town.