Review: 7th Annual Big Island Jazz & Blues Fest


The seventh annual Big Island Jazz & Blues Fest was an eclectic blend of musical styles featuring local musicians and a few that had never visited the Aloha State before. From Gary Washburn and the Honokaa Dragon Jazz Band to Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet, it was a fun-filled fest that took place at the oceanfront Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kohala Coast.

Credit goes to Maui-based promoter Ken K. Martinez Burgmaier for offering seven successful years of sold-out shows, and he’s looking forward to number eight next year. Not only does Burgmaier offer the annual festival, he’s the creator and host of the award-winning TV series, Jazz Alley TV, which is seen in over 80 countries.

Honokaa High School Dragaon Jazz Band

The evening began with a set featuring Honokaa High’s award-winning Music Director Gary Washburn, and the school’s well-known Dragon Jazz Band. They’ve had a busy year opening for bluesman Johnny Nicholas on a three-city tour of the Big Island, and recently returned from a four-day tour of Oahu. Many of the students featured in the band have just graduated and will be pursuing other music opportunities. Washburn, who’s been teaching for forty-one years, won a Grammy Signature Schools Enterprise Award in 2011.

Benny Uyetake

Next up was Hilo-born guitarist and Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Benny Uyetake. He now resides on Maui where he teaches music at Kalama Intermediate Public School in Makawao and performs at night with Glenn Kakugawa at Kimo’s Restaurant in Lahaina. Tonight he covered everyone from The Beatles’ “Elanor Rigby” to a marvelous rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance.”

John Keawe

Acclaimed guitarist and singer John Keawe followed with a set of what he calls “slaz,” or slack-key jazz. Pushing the new genre further he worked in some “slues.” “It’s really just fake blues,” said the guitarist. Keawe is a Grammy-winner and also scored a Hoku Award for his Slack Key Album of the Year Hawai’i Island . . . Is My Home.

Javon Jackson

Tenor saxman Javon Jackson blew the crowd away with several jazz favorites including Miles Davis’ classic “So What.” Jackson came into international prominence touring and recording with the legendary drummer Art Blakey as a member of his band, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Tonight, Jackson was backed up the Jazz Alley Trio featuring Gary Washburn on keys, Bruce David (drums), and Matt Spencer (bass).

Award-winning Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet and acoustic guitarist Sarah Quintana got the crowd dancing with their collection of tunes. In 1977, Doucet founded the Louisiana band BeauSoleil, and Quintana is a singer-songwriter from New Orleans with a background rich in jazz, folk and popular music. There were several shouts for a hona hou and they complied with “Good-bye Old Friend.”

Jo-El Sonnier

Keeping the Cajun vibe flowing, Doucet and Quintana were joined on stage by Grammy-winning Zydeco accordionist Jo-El Sonnier. As a songwriter, Sonnier has had hit songs recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, George Strait, Emmy Lou Harris, John Anderson, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The audience danced freely with the beautiful Kohala shoreline a short distance away.

Fillmore Slim

Fillmore Slim, also from Louisiana, entered the stage decked out in full Superfly attire – red sequined jacket and matching shoes – and the swagger to match! The eighty-three old guitarist got the crowd on their feet and they cheered him through his thirty-minute set. Slim has five albums to his credit, and during the 1960s, he was also a highly renowned pimp in San Francisco, often referred to as “The West Coast Godfather of the Game” and “The Pope of Pimping.” Rappers Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Ice T have all dropped his name in their songs.

Guitar virtuoso Fareed Haque ended the five-hour fest, and there was a fifteen-minute jam session which brought everyone back on stage. Promoter Burgmaier had numerous cameras covering the event and plans to broadcast it at a later date.

For info on the 8th Big Island Blues Festival, please visit:

All photos ©2018 Steven Roby.

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