Behind the Scenes: The 8th Annual Big Island Jazz & Blues Fest


If you were looking for a full plate of Jazz and Blues (with a scoop of Cajun music on the side) last Saturday, your best bet was the 8th Annual Jazz & Blues Fest at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort on the picturesque Kohala Coast. Concert promoter Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier did a wonderful job with his selection of artists this year, and the food was fabulous too!

Gary Washburn

Concertgoers were treated to local talent like Grammy winner Gary Washburn and his Honokaa High School Jazz Band. Washburn and HJB have had a busy year so far – a tour with Blues master Johnny Nicholas and a Na Hoku Hanohano Award nomination for their 18th CD entitled Playin’ In Traffic.

Listen to an interview with Gary Washburn about working with HJB and other musical accomplishments in 2019.

Benny Uyetake

Hilo music producer Michael Surprenant filled in on drums for various sets, while his talented wife keyboardist Sarah Bethany performed a great set with Maui musician Benny Uyetake and Big Island bassist Matt Spencer. I spoke to Uyetake about teaching ukulele to students at Kalama Intermediate School on Maui. Listen to the interview here.

Nelson Rangell

Saxophonist Nelson Rangell entertained the crowd with his special brand of smooth jazz as the sun began to set. A native of Denver, Colorado, Rangell learned how to play flute at the age of 15, and within six months, he was studying music at the Interlochen Arts Academy. We had a chat about his current and future music projects, and you can listen to the recording here.

Chris Thomas King

Louisiana-based blues musician and actor Chris Thomas King got the audience on their feet with his set of acoustic music. King has won awards including Album of the Year for both Grammy Awards and Country Music Awards. King has sold more than 10 million records in the United States, and is featured playing the part of Tommy Johnson in the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. He is also featured on Down From the Mountain and More Music From Ray soundtracks. I talked with King about his music and an upcoming book about the Blues he’s working on. Listen to the interview here.

Donald Harrison Jr.

Donald Harrison Jr., “The King of Nouveau Swing” has a style of jazz that merges with modern dance music, R&B, Hip-Hop, Soul and Rock.  At Saturday’s concert he also combined jazz with Afro-New Orleans traditional music, and the crowd loved it. Harrison became the Big Chief of The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans cultural group in 1999 and coined the term Afro-New Orleans to describe his culture. We had a chance to sit down and talk about music and his invention of a new system to record and play back music. The system will give musicians and music lovers new ways to engage with music. Listen to the interview here.

Tommy Malone

The party atmosphere was in full swing around 7:30 p.m. when Tommy Malone & The Iguanas took the stage. Both sides of the stage were jammed packed with folks dancing under a clear star-filled sky. The cool tropical trade winds kept both the musicians and dancers quite comfortable.

Wayne Toups

High-energy showman Wayne Toups was invited up to sit-in with The Iguanas. The multi-award-winning accordion player revved up the excitement with his “zydecajun” style of playing. The evening ended with a huge Hana Hou encore jam which gave all the performers a chance to step into the spotlight and take a solo.

We hope promoter Ken Burgmaier will return next year with another great Jazz & Blues Festival.

Read our review for 2018’s Jazz & Blues fest:

Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos: Steve Roby


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