When I walked into Jazz Minds Café at 6pm on Sunday, a night when the Honolulu jazz club is usually closed, a handful of musicians roamed the interior. Tonight was a special event: Michael Paulo’s Java and Jazz, a unique showcase of Hawaiian jazz and a special kind of coffee endorsed by Michael himself.
Bobo Butires was busy readying his percussion instruments, Michael Paulo greeted family and friends, and Kirk Thompson stood to the side, watching the stage as a couple of workers prepared a slideshow and the stage lights. I introduced myself to Kirk, who immediately took to me as if we were old friends, speaking with a warm, inviting tone about his studio and music, school programs, and a handful of in-the-works projects.
I didn’t expect to learn so much from Kirk after arriving just five minutes earlier. What soon followed—an all-out, near non-stop jam session with Hawaii’s top jazz musicians—I wasn’t quite expecting, either.
Michael mixes things up
I figured Michael Paulo would invite a string a of great musicians, like Kirk and bassist Bob Hernandez, to jam through night. Instead, Michael ushered a constant, rotating stream of artists up to the stage, trading drummer for drummer for drummer for drummer, bassist for bassist plus another bassist (that’s two onstage at once). Soon Mike added a guitarist to the mix, switching out the pianist and adding another keyboardist, and all the while taking his five to 10 minute-long solos to new heights.
This is Michael Paulo’s Java and Jazz, a (tentatively) recurring event featuring live jazz music and Gano coffee. (Stay tuned for more updates on future Java and Jazz jam sessions.)
The lightning strikes
“Here comes the lightning,” Kirk said to me as we watched Michael about to start a solo, after everyone else had their turn.
As if the accompanying musicians rocked the house like thunder, Hawaii’s greatest saxophonist stepped forward and followed up with a powerful force that would make Mother Nature quiver. Kirk was right about Michael’s soloing—lightning, all throughout the evening.
Over a dozen top musicians at Jazz Minds
I can’t recall the names of every musician on stage—and in the crowd there were plenty more, including Kalapana member Randy Aloya—but from what I remember, here’s who joined Michael Paulo at Jazz Minds last night:
Kirk Thompson (piano, keys), Bobo Butires (percussion), Steve Jones (bass), Steve Lucas (vocals), Elliot Maker (flugelhorn), Mike Kessler (guitar), Bob Hernandez (bass), Dean Cortez (bass) and his son Justin Cortez (drums), Alvin Fejarang (drums), Rene Paulo Jr. (drums), and Juan Reyes (trumpet). Three other musicians (synthesizer, bass, and drums) I don’t know the names of, if you know who I’m talking about, help me complete this list please!
At one point, Michael stopped a jam 12 minutes in.
“Hold on, hold on, break it down, break it down. It’s not often that we’ve got two—not one, two—two bass players on stage. We gon’ make ’em talk to each other.” Michael directed everyone’s attention to Bob Henandez and Dean Cortez (of Hiroshima) who, groovingly, ensued in a double bass jam.
“Double Bass Jam” – Michael Paulo’s Java and Jazz
I wonder what kinds of conversations people held amongst each other that night. I enjoyed my time listening to great music and kicking back with Kirk and Bob and friends at the bar, content to snap a few photos and document a jazz session many of you missed (that’s ok, next time).
Kirk told me a lot of Hawaii’s musicians, including himself, broke into major music scenes across the world: New York, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Germany. The reach of musicians from Hawaii knew no boundaries, yet few people realize Hawaii’s artists are so prolific, up there making moves in the music industry.
“Michael,” Kirk tells me, “leads the way for us. He’s at the top.”
I agree, then turn to watch Michael in awe as he takes to another solo with a esoteric force, like lightning.