Jazz Maui 2014 Festival offers mixed plate of legendary Mainland, local artists
DeShannon Higa

One of the biggest thrills for islanders is a big Mainland artist coming to town. Traffic stops. Concerts, sold out. The chance to mingle, however, becomes slimmer as the crowds surge. (Hawaii may be paradise, but it can be an overpopulated, standing-room-only paradise for first-come-first-served.) Lucky you live (or visit) Maui this summer, because Jazz Maui 2014 brings big names in music to mix it up with favorite local stars in a special festival.

Set for July 28-August 3, the Jazz Maui festival welcomes five-time Grammy-nominated Hawaiian singer/songwriter Amy Hānaiali'i, legendary jazz trumpeter from New York City Valery Ponomarev, pianist Tommy James of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and local entertainer Shari Lynn. They’re just some of the artists scheduled to perform onstage at various venues throughout the island of Maui — thanks to the non-profit organization Arts Education for Children Group.

AECG produces Jazz Maui for residents, young, aspiring musicians, jazz fans, and music students. The organization helps island music students find opportunities to improve their playing through workshops and jam sessions overseen by internationally known jazz educators and working jazz musicians.

“Jazz Maui 2014 provides an opportunity for [them] to participate in and/or attend high quality jazz music performance concerts on Maui. We provide a venue for young aspiring local jazz musicians to establish connections within the professional jazz music scene that may facilitate career opportunities,” stated Jazz Maui founder Bryant Neal, on the festival’s website.

On August 1, 7 p.m., at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater, Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev performs with the Jazz Maui All Stars. Ponomarev is as big as they get. Besides his four-year stint with the Jazz Messengers, the trumpeter has worked alongside Paquito D’Rivera, Charles Mingus, Benny Golson, and many more. A frequent visitor to the islands, Ponomarev’s played with many of the local jazz musicians of note. His late-night collaboration in downtown Honolulu’s the Dragon Upstairs is the stuff of legend.

Ponomarev cited the festival location and the local musicians as good enough reasons to attend Jazz Maui. “Maui is a unique place, like none other in the whole world. That alone makes the festival stand out from other festivals in the islands and even the world,” he explained, July 18. He’s also looking forward to enjoying the performances of the local artists he’s familiar with, “breathing in the Maui atmosphere, which includes the audience, playing with and listening to incredible musicians like Tommy James, Amy Hānaiali'i, Dean Taba, Robert Shinoda, Darryl Pellegrini, and many others.” As a featured festival artist, Ponomarev said he will bring “my experience, which is unique,” adding that, “real art evokes emotion. That is what the audience has the right to expect.” He’ll also teach a master class series for horn players July 30, 5 p.m., at Baldwin High School’s Band Rooms.

Joining Ponomarev as a Jazz Maui All Star is one of Hawaii’s most beloved entertainers, star of stage, radio, and small screen, Na Hoku Hanohano-nominated vocalist Shari Lynn. Most of the students at La Pietra Hawaii School For Girls look up to Ms. Lynn as its director of music and organizer of the school’s annual, star-filled fundraiser, Sunset Jazz. She’s helmed this position for 14 years. She’s also helped book some very big names indeed for the Sunset Jazz fundraiser: saxophonist Gabe Baltazar, vocalist Jimmy Borges, “King of Exotica” Martin Denny, and pianist Betty Lou Taylor.

But Lynn started off as a big band star herself back in the heyday of jazz on the West Coast. She started singing in her first big band at 15 (that’s 50 years so far). “I trained to be a professional performer from the age of 10, studying voice, piano, and dance,” Lynn explained, yesterday. She studied under studio greats Gary Foster, Putter Smith, Dave Koonse (George Shearing’s guitarist), and John Terry in L.A. and Pasadena. When George Shearing (“Lullaby Of Birdland”) first heard her sing, that was it. He “gave me one of the best compliments I’ve had to this day, ‘You’ve got to be Italian, Jewish or black.’”

She also attracted the attention of “Old Smoothie,” big band leader Del Courtney. “I was [his] girl singer, and the only one he didn't marry! (I was already married),” Lynn quipped.

The big band singer moved to Hawaii in 1976, where she made a living as an actress and a cabaret performer. She’s appeared on Magnum P.I., Hart To Hart, Charlie’s Angels, The Jeffersons, and Jake And The Fatman in guest roles.

In 2008, she released the album Miss You, Mr. Mercer with Bob Corwin, Johnny Mercer’s pianist. The album earned her a Hoku (Hawaii’s equivalent of a Grammy) nomination.

When asked what she uniquely brings to this Jazz Maui festival, Lynn jokingly replied, “Well, I’m blond and Jewish...” But seriously, she’s excited about performing and teaching, two things she’s really, really good at. Besides the August 1st concert, Lynn will teach a master class series on vocals July 30, 5 p.m., at the Baldwin High School Band Rooms. “Quite often you’ll hear the quote, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ I earned my living singing all over the country and here in Hawaii for 39 years. I ‘do’ and I ‘teach.’ So, having been invited to the Maui Jazz Festival for the first time, I’m very excited to be able to present the Singer’s Master Class and work with Maui singers who are interested in learning the myriad aspects of being a good singer, such as phrasing, breath control, choosing repertoire, working with an accompanist, relating to the audience, mic technique, etc.”

Jazz Maui 2014 presents ticketed and free concerts, as well as workshops. Music students, faculty, and jazz lovers all have opportunities to engage with the stars and the audience throughout the festival. At Amy Hanaiali`i’s “Putting on the Ritz” concert July 31, 7 p.m., at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua Anuenue Room ($45), guests can bid on an exclusive art auction to benefit Maui music education. The 6 p.m. pre-show performance in the courtyard of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center-McCoy Studio Theater for the August 1st Jazz Maui All Stars concert ($30) is by the Na Ali’i Big Band from King Kekaulike High School in Upcountry Maui.

For the rest of the festival schedule and ticket information, head to the official Jazz Maui website, or call (808) 283-3576.