Artist fuses jazz with peace


POSTED: Friday, July 24, 2009

On the last Saturday of every month in the back of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, the resonant ringing of a sacred Buddhist bell occasionally punctuates the more contemporary sounds of jazz music.





        » Where: Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, 47-200 Kahekili Highway

» When: 1 to 3 p.m. tomorrow (subject to weather)


» Cost: $3 general admission, $2 for seniors and keiki


» Info: 239-9844 or www.visualjazz.net




But there is a common tone of resolute harmony from both. Artist and jazz enthusiast Mihoko Maier started the series of what she calls the “;Jazz Peace Concert”; last August. Most tourists and visitors to the Kaneohe memorial park hardly expect to hear live music as part of their day's visit, but it makes for a pleasant diversion. Maier and her rotating lineup of backup musicians are situated in one of the wings of the picturesque Byodo-in Buddhist temple, at the opposite end of the large bell's location.

Besides being a painter and a jazz singer (she's studied with Azure McCall), Maier is the director and publicist of the Hawaii office of the Japan Religious Committee for the World Federation. The group—consisting of religious dignitaries and care-home directors for Hiroshima atomic bomb victims—is a regular invitee to the annual Pearl Harbor Day remembrance at Arizona Memorial, where they give a prayer for peace as part of the program.

“;Working with the religionists from Japan has provided a unique insight into the relations between the U.S. and Japan and has made me appreciate the importance of the healing process since World War II,”; Maier said. “;The primary lesson, one which resonates today more than ever, is that once bitter enemies can become important friends and allies.

“;That jazz was a major art form and influence then and now appeals to me very much because jazz is my artistic inspiration and helps make me feel connected to those historic events in the 1940s.”;

Maier's husband, Steven, agrees that jazz works as the muse for her paintings. When her work was on display at the now-closed Fine Art Hawaii studio and gallery in Restaurant Row, the couple would occasionally have jazz musicians play there as special guests. Maier even calls her the vibrant tones and carved lines of her art “;visual jazz.”;

“;Whenever I close my eyes while listening to jazz, I instantly see colors,”; she said.

Back at the temple, a table is set aside across from the makeshift stage that displays Maier's paintings, both jazz-inspired and commissioned portraits of beloved family pets. Her group of last month—keyboardist Ikaika Tecson, bassist Bob Hernandez and drummer Sal Di Amore—have been playing a bit on their own before Maier joins them in an impromptu set mostly consisting of standards like “;Summertime,”; with the occasional inspired cover, like Van Morrison's “;Moondance.”;

The backup trio is made up of guys familiar to those who frequent places like downtown's the Dragon Upstairs or the Jazz Minds Art and Cafe on Kapiolani Boulevard. At tomorrow's gig, Maier will be accompanied by another group of local standouts: Dan Del Negro, Lou Benanto and Shinya Yarimizo.

When asked what kind of jazz music she favors to sing, Maier immediately replies “;I like bossa nova. But I think all music, especially jazz, helps bring people together. It's through the music that the message of peace is promoted.”;