Aloha Theatre, Kealakekua
January 20, 2018
Jazz music is a bit of a rarity here on the Big Island, and when the annual Kona Jazz Experience concert happens at the Aloha theatre, it’s an event you don’t want to miss.
The three-hour show opened with pianist Loren Wilken playing mostly original compositions and arrangements, backed up with some of the best players on the island like Bill Noble (alto sax), Jenny Brown (trombone), and Andrea Lindborg (trumpet).
One of the surprises of the evening was when Wilken brought out 14-year-old drummer Nick Wong. Wong is so talented, that if you had your eyes closed, you’d swear the guy behind the drums was a veteran player. On Tuesday nights, you can hear the two play trad Jazz standards at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kona.
After a brief intermission, some members from the first set joined singer Sarah Bethany for a thrilling 90-minute set of jazz.
Bethany began playing the piano at the age of seven, and went on to study classical music at the University of Missouri’s Conservatory of Music. Bethany arrived on the island in 2006 and met Michael Surprenant, a multi-talented producer, drummer, and a key organizer of the Kona Jazz Experience concert over the years.
“Since it started,” says Surprenant, “each year has been unique; mostly driven by available sponsorship. All the events usually sell out in a few weeks.”
Bethany’s set list featured a wide spectrum of tunes. There were elements of Coltrane (“Afro Blue”) and Miles Davis (“‘Round Midnight”), but for those with an eclectic ear, you might have picked out the tune “Drip,” by Tigran Hamasyan, an Armenian jazz prog-rock pianist.
There was even a nod to classic rock musician Al Kooper’s early band Blood, Sweat & Tears, with Bethany singing a heartfelt rendition of “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
Bethany’s band had superstars in their own right. Glen Gotto filled in superbly with an additional set of keyboards. The ubiquitous Jesse Snyder added perfect sax and flute solos. The back-and-forth between bassist Matt Spencer and guitarist Pat Eskildsen was jaw-dropping.Venus Cardona filled in with unique background vocals on many of the songs.
Halfway through the set, Surprenant brought Nick Wong back to the stage, who he also gives drum lessons. Before “Afro Blue” started, Surprenant explained to the crowd what a musical genius Wong is. “Nick sent me a track a few months ago, and simply said, ‘Check this out.’ I asked, ‘Where’d you find the bass player?’ He said, ‘I played the bass.’ ‘What about the guitar, piano, and singer?’ He said, ‘That’s all me!’”
Fans gave the group a standing ovation and cheered loudly for an encore. They delivered with Chick Corea’s “Spain.”
Good news for jazz fans, the Kona Jazz Experience will be back this summer with another sure to be wonderful concert. Stay tuned!
To watch Sarah Bethany perform online, be sure to check out her YouTube channel.
Visit Sarah Bethany’s website for more info: https://www.sarahbethany.com
Bethany is currently writing and recording an album at Mana Music Studio in Hilo. It will be a combination of world-music, R&B, jazz, and future soul.
The Sarah Bethany Band
Sarah Bethany – Vocals and Keyboard
Glen Goto – Keyboards
Matt Spencer – Bass and Guitar
Pat Eskildsen – Guitar and Bass
Venus Cardona – Vocals
Jesse Snyder – Flute, Sax, Percussion, Vocals
Michael Surprenant – Drums
**Special guest Nick Wong on drums
Set List: Chega de Saudade | Bye Bye Blackbird | Nakamarra | Mambo Influenciado | I Love You More than You’ll Ever Know | Golden | Afro-Blue | Drip | I Can Explain | ‘Round Midnight | Sandunguera