CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chillin' at the lounge of the Honolulu Club, the Honolulu Jazz Quartet is, clockwise from top left, drummer Adam Baron, saxophonist Tim Tsukiyama, bassist John Kolivas and pianist Dan Del Negro.
The Honolulu Jazz Quartet has grown to influence its own influences by tenaciously telling its own story
"You know, a lot of guys have written books trying to tell what jazz is, but Charlie Parker told the whole story in less than 30 seconds. He said, 'Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn.' ...
"What he said applies most of all to jazz because when you're improvising, man, you're going inside yourself to dig out how you feel at that moment, and if you haven't lived enough to feel enough, you're not telling any kind of a story that's worth hearing."
-- from the novel "Jazz Country" by Nat Hentoff
John Kolivas was carrying a well-worn paperback copy of the young readers' novel with him when we met last week at the Honolulu Club lounge. It was "Jazz Country" that inspired his own journey into jazz. Imagine his surprise when Hentoff agreed to pen the liner notes to the new album by the Honolulu Jazz Quartet, of which Kolivas is leader and bassist.
Honolulu Jazz Quartet
In concert: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Place: Luke Lecture Hall, Wo International Center, Punahou School
Tickets: $10; $7 students and seniors
Call: 923-3909 or visit honolulujazzquartet.com
With "Tenacity," Hentoff wrote, "John Kolivas, tenor and soprano saxophonist Tim Tsukiyama, pianist Dan Del Negro and drummer Adam Baron have even more resoundingly become part of the international family of jazz."
The HJQ has become the islands' premier jazz group since its inception in mid-2001. The quartet has certainly "lived enough to feel enough," as Hentoff put it, to play their original music with a certainty and confidence that can come along only with maturity.
"Basically," Kolivas said, " 'Jazz Country' helped me to appreciate that jazz is a language and that you can communicate your feelings through your improvisations and interaction with the band. I also learned that a solo should tell a story. This fascinated me when I read the book years ago."
The quartet's new album, "Tenacity," is an excellent recording that will debut in concert Tuesday at Punahou School's Wo International Center. The CD will be available in local stores starting that day, and going national in stores and online a month later.
"The word 'tenacity,' for us, means sticking together for six years and sticking with jazz, and being true to the art form," Kolivas said. "The album is a real jazz recording."
Recorded late last July at the high-end Avex Hawaii studio in Hawaii Kai with the help of veteran engineer Milan Bertosa, "Tenacity" is the result of an amazingly concentrated two days worth of sessions. With the exception of a fine waltz arrangement of Keola Beamer's "Real Old Style," all the tracks are originals and equally top-notch.
"It's been awhile since the release of the first album, 'Sounds of the City,' " said Del Negro. "We've come a long way with our writing." (His ballad "Chillin' at the Crib" was a welcome last-minute addition to the "Tenacity" lineup.)
"The new album definitely shows some progress in our work," added Kolivas. "The music's a little edgier." With each track recorded live, and getting two run-throughs at most, it was evident that "everyone was clicking on those days in the studio. We've been playing so long together, there was no pressure."
COURTESY JOHN KOLIVAS
Kolivas with his inspiration, jazz writer Nat Hentoff.
IT'S A CD the HJQ can be proud of, an album strong enough to be a calling card for what the band hopes will be a brief West Coast tour come August. Kolivas said they'd be booking venues with the help of Del Negro's cousin, who recently became a full-time agent with the influential William Morris Agency in Los Angeles.
Back to HJQ's special relationship with Hentoff, a giant among jazz writers and critics: The local-born Kolivas discovered "Jazz Country" "just as I was just getting into jazz, back when I was 12. The book helped inspire my move to New York City when I was 21."
"I remember learning jazz history by reading Hentoff's liner notes on those great Prestige label reissues," Tsukiyama said. "His sense of history has been one of the great influences in my life."
The writer was familiar with HJQ's music when Kolivas approached him at a mainland conference of the International Association for Jazz Education. When Kolivas told him about the new album, Hentoff said he wanted to hear it. When he said later that he was inspired enough to want to do the liner notes, Kolivas was understandably floored.
"Each of these musicians," Hentoff wrote, "has extensively varied experiences with established jazz musicians beyond -- as well as in -- Hawaii. And together they have emerged into the front ranks of jazz combos -- all the more so because ... they can create their own multicolored repertory."
The HJQ has made it this far on its own terms. When asked if the band ever considered doing an album of easier-listening (and probably better-selling) "smooth jazz," Kolivas stated, "We've all played that stuff before. It's important that we stay true to what we believe in. The vision for this band was that it always be an acoustic group."
"That's our musical signature," added Baron. "We believe in what we play, and the music proves we have a distinctive sound."
It's paid off for the Honolulu Jazz Quartet.