Quartet jazzes
up Kapono’s

'Sunday Jazz in the City'

With the Honolulu Jazz Quartet

Where: Kapono's, Aloha Tower Marketplace

When: 7:30 p.m. Sundays

Admission: No cover

Call: 537-9611

John Kolivas, of the Honolulu Jazz Quartet, is hoping that Sunday's debut engagement at Kapono's will be the start of something that will be supported by local jazz fans for months to come.

It will also celebrate this week's release of the band's long-awaited debut on CD. "Sounds of the City" is a fine showcase for the veteran quartet, featuring Kolivas' acoustic bass work, Tim Tsukiyama on tenor and soprano saxophones, pianist Dan Del Negro and newest member Adam Baron on drums (replacing original member Richie Pratt).

The album was financed and recorded with the help of Kolivas' older half brother Robert Pennybacker, who got Kolivas involved in jazz at a young age. "He got me my first electric bass when I was 13 years old," he said. "I had been playing the cello since fourth grade."

Music was always in their home. Their mother was a classical piano teacher, and Kolivas found out that he could pick up what she played by ear.

Besides classical music, "we always had jazz playing in the house. And when I was at Punahou, besides being in the school's jazz ensemble and orchestra, I did a lot of Hawaiian music, like playing at the annual May Day Pageant. The Hawaiian music background also helped me when I played with the Beamer brothers."

Kolivas was the Beamers' musical director from 1980 to 1982. During that time he was also involved with the then-named Honolulu Community Theatre's (now Diamond Head Theatre) Broadway musical productions, still conducted by Donald Yap.

The Honolulu Jazz Quartet, from left, Adam Baron, Dan Del Negro, John Kolivas and Tim Tsukiyama.

"He's been instrumental in my career," Kolivas said. "He had conducted on Broadway years ago, and he was very strict, very precise. He made me shape up, learning how to play soft so I can hear the singers, and observing the rests in the score." (In fact, two years ago, Yap helped him and Keola Beamer with their music for DHT's production of Lee Cataluna's "You Somebody.")

WITH SUCH A strong musical background, Kolivas was inspired to move to New York City himself in 1982. "I did a national tour of 'Pirates of Penzance' for five months, so that got me into the scene quickly. The conductor liked what I did, so he got me on a new show called 'Tap Dance Kid' that opened on Broadway in 1983 that ran for two years.

"Just through that show, I met people like Miles Davis (the show's drummer was jazz great Grady Tate) and trombonist Robin Eubanks, whose brother was guitarist Kevin, who later worked on 'The Tonight Show.' I also did a few late-night jazz gigs, playing with the great pianist Jimmy Rowles."

Thanks to an especially cold winter in 1989, he and his wife, Deanna (whom he met in New York), moved to Hawaii the following year.

"I was doing music when I came back and working at an accounting firm, doing word processing, as a day job. But from '93 to '96, my wife and I went to Guam to do some volunteer missionary work, being both Jehovah's Witnesses. I did very little music during that time, although I did a couple of weddings."

The Honolulu Jazz Quartet will perform Sundays at Kapono's.

They returned to Hawaii in 1996 when his wife was pregnant.

Kolivas auditioned for and got a recurring job with the Honolulu Symphony. He works for the symphony on a "per service" basis, playing during the classical season and at Pops performances that need more than the four core double bassists it has already.

KOLIVAS also got back into the local jazz scene, playing with people such as Tennyson Stephens, Azure McCall and Betty Loo Taylor.

"I noticed that even though I was away, the scene hadn't changed much. It was pretty much the same core of musicians but less venues."

In July 2001 he and Richie Pratt put together the Honolulu Jazz Quartet with Tsukiyama -- a member of Kalapana, the Royal Hawaiian Band and recently the Reformers with Zanuck Lindsey -- and Del Negro, a recent Chicago transplant who was also well versed in touring Broadway musicals. (After Pratt left over creative differences, Kolivas took Baron from Jimmy Funai's group to help complete "a whole bunch of gigs that were already lined up," which helped him to occupy the drummer's chair on a permanent basis.)

"I found out that, through the Honolulu Jazz Quartet, there was an audience there who love to hear good jazz, which is very encouraging to me as a musician. Jazz is my roots, and it was always my intention to found a group, be creative and find the best players to play together regularly and to develop a sound, not thinking commercially.

"I always wanted the band to record, and it didn't happen until Robert stepped in. He said, 'Now's the time for the HJQ to record and to do it right,' so we started recording in June of this year. All of the tunes on the album we've played live before -- the only one exception was 'Keahi,' Dan's tune that he wrote for his wife, jazz singer Keahi Conjugacion.

"We didn't feel rushed at all in the studio. We all played together live, there were no overdubs and we didn't do more than three takes of any one tune."

Listeners of the new album should take pleasure in Tsukiyama's soprano playing on "Keahi" and Kolivas' swinging "Deanna," "Remembrance" and "Hibiscus Drive." Another fine original of Kolivas' is "Heater's On," inspired by the noisy heater he had to live with in his NYC apartment. Baron does a good job mimicking the heater with his cymbal and kick-drum play during his solo.

"The goal of the group is to keep things artistically fresh and work on more challenging tunes. Our long-range goals may include some touring and doing some festivals. So far, everything's worked out well -- it's rare for any group to stay together for any length of time like we have."

Kolivas also thinks it's important to give credit and appreciate those other local jazz musicians who've come before him.

"Hawaii definitely does have a history in jazz and fine musicians. The group wants to extend on that, in appreciating the past.

"I remember sitting in once in a while as a teenager with Gabe Baltazar, playing alongside him and Noel Okimoto. Noel and I played together as the house rhythm section at the Hawaii International Jazz Festival just recently, and Gabe came up to us later and said, 'I'm really proud of you guys.'

"Coming from such a mentor and wonderful player like him, for him to say that, that was just wonderful."

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