Scene: Jazz Minds Arts & Café

The notorious assemblage of strip clubs and the like near the intersection of Kapi’olani Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue may be the last place a local jazz fan would look for the stimulating sounds of trumpet fire, saxophone lust and guitar cool. Now, however, music lovers may be pleasantly surprised at what’s going on there, not coming off.

photo: Gina Finkelstein

Young Hae Yi opened the Jazz Minds Arts & Café last October, in the same building (next to Aaxtion Video) that had housed one strip club after another until she moved in. A lifelong devotee of the music, Yi offers live jazz six nights a week. She books many musicians from the local circuit, but she also brings in bigger names like international recording artist Rolando Sanchez, who will be a regular act each month.

Jazz Minds Arts & Café
1661 Kapi’olani Blvd.
Open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Monday through Saturday.
Call ahead for information on live acts; cover varies.

"Jazz is romance, freedom, love, sensitive—everything’s in jazz," explains Yi, who is originally from Korea and most recently owned a barbecue restaurant in Honolulu before opening Jazz Minds. "And I looked all over Hawai’i and especially at this [location], and I like it here, I think maybe I have a mission here. People from all over the world come to this area, and I would like to clean it up with my place. Jazz can make all cultures become one, it is understanding for everyone."

Ironically, on a recent Saturday night at Jazz Minds, the five-man group called the Jazz Perverts had most of the available seats filled by the third song of their set. There were couches and stools for seating, and also a full bar and a heavy pupu menu, with items that ranged from $5 to $20. A big projection screen hung behind the stage for video performances between the live ones, and there was a wood-paneled dance floor for those who’d rather boogie than sit. A framed poster of Miles Davis leaned on one wall, but the décor was more a hodge-podge mix than jazz-focused.

"We want to elevate the cultural awareness on this island," says DeShannon Higa, trumpet player for the Jazz Perverts. "I know for jazz musicians we needed a haven, and for people who love jazz a place they feel comfortable. And, I don’t like to think of this as just a jazz place; it is an art space for people of any kind of creativity, who are not afraid to try something new and push the envelope."