Mezz127 a fresh scene for cool sounds
BY STEVEN MARK / email@example.com
Jazz promoter Dave Rohner knew he had the perfect locale for a new jazz venue when he walked into a vacant space in the Topa Financial Center downtown.
A new jazz venue
Where: 745 Fort St. Suite 127
When: Happy hour performances 4 p.m. Wednesdays, “classic” jazz 7 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, contemporary jazz 10 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays
Cost: $10 for 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday concerts; no cover for happy hour and 10 p.m. shows.
» Reggie Padilla (tenor sax), Tommy James (piano), Steve Jones (double bass) and von Baron (drums) appear at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
» Adagio with Joshua Kaye (piano), Riya Davis (vocals), Mark Tanouye (bass) and Bonny B. (drums) is up at 10 p.m. tomorrow
» Padilla and James appear at 7 p.m. Thursday.
» Visiting New York horn players Jim Seeley (trumpet) and Peter Brainin (sax) join James, Dean Taba (double bass) and Darryl Pelligrini (drums) at 10 p.m. Thursday
He’d been asked to look over the place by Leah Arizumi, who was planning to open a lounge-nightclub there and wanted to host some jazz events.
“As soon as I walked into the room, I could ‘hear’ the room,” said Rohner, who has worked as a sound technician for various television and movie productions. “There was no sound, there was no one else in the room, it was silent, but I could hear the room and I said, ‘Wow this is perfect, this is going to work really well.’ The acoustics are great there.”
The result is Mezz127, Honolulu’s newest jazz spot, which opened late last year and has quickly become a favorite among local jazz aficionados.
It’s on the mezzanine level of the mauka tower of the financial center, officially Suite No. 127 (hence the name).
Rohner, known around town for Dancin’ Dave Productions, has organized jazz events at several locations, from Sarento’s atop the Ilikai to the Pioneer Plaza Building and the former Lotus hotel in Waikiki.
SO CONVINCED was he of the Topa space’s potential that he put his money where his mouth is. After convincing Arizumi she needed a good piano, Rohner went in search of one.
“I talked to some people about leasing one, and they said they wanted X amount of dollars per month and the piano they wanted to lease didn’t impress me at all,” he said. “So I went to her and said, ‘If you’re willing to pay me that rent for a piano, I’ll buy a brand-new piano and stick it in here. That way we’ll have a great piano that we won’t be ashamed to provide for the great pianists that come around.'”
The piano immediately came in handy when the club opened, hosting Tommy James, director of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, who recently made Hawaii his home base.
“When he’s not traveling, we have him available,” Rohner said.
James will perform on Thursday and June 29 with trumpeter Jim Seeley and alto sax player Peter Brainin of Arturo O’Farill’s Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. Bassist Dean Taba and drummer Darryl Pelligrini will join them.
THERE HAVE been hurdles along the way to establishing Mezz127 as a go-to jazz venue, Rohner said — especially since the club is somewhat easy to miss within the busy confines of the financial center.
It doesn’t have a street-front location, and parking can be somewhat confusing since the lot is most easily accessed from Ala Moana Boulevard, while the address is on Fort Street. (If approaching on foot from downtown, the entry is on Fort Street, between Queen Street and Ala Moana.) Rohner’s extensive email list has helped build the audience.
Word of mouth helps, too, especially when marquee acts such as the multi talented Loretta Ables Sayre appear. Ables Sayre has headlined the show twice.
“Frankly, nearly everyone that’s been there absolutely loves it,” Rohner said. “I think it’s more like a jazz club than anywhere else in Hawaii except possibly Jazz Minds.”
When he says “jazz club,” Rohner is referring to New York clubs, like the Village Vanguard, “a sort of basement; low-ceilinged, slightly funky that hasn’t changed in maybe 50 years,” or Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at the classy Lincoln Center.
“That’s kind of the range,” Rohner said.
“This is a beautiful lounge, with that nice low-ceiling jazz club kind of feel, and yet there’s nothing funky about it. … It has a high-end jazz club feel.”
“It’s very intimate,” he said. “So the patrons feel very close to the musicians, and there’s interchange between them.”
MEZZ127 hosts five jazz events a week — happy hour on Wednesday, then two acts on Thursday night and two more on Saturday night.
The early Thursday and Saturday programs, which start at 7 p.m, feature a more traditional, classic jazz performance, while the late concerts, starting at 10 p.m., feature neo-soul and R&B fusion, “more up-tempo for the younger crowd,” Rohner said.
Rohner takes full advantage of Hawaii’s far-reaching talent pool.
Recently, he’s scheduled Hilo-born Wayne de Silva, a saxophonist who’s been headlining in Las Vegas for years, as well as Ables Sayre, who’s back performing in Honolulu after an acclaimed stint in the Broadway revival of “South Pacific.”
“The local jazz fans know who’s good and who’s not in this town,” he said. “If I didn’t get the best, people just wouldn’t come.”
Visiting artists are pleased with the space, even though it may not be what they might expect in Hawaii since there’s no beach outside.
“They love that it’s a nice clean environment, that the acoustics are that good, that there’s a good piano,” he said. “They’re about the music more than they are the space, really.
“As long as you’ve got the right space and a group of jazz fans, they’re happy.”
MORE JAZZ HOTSPOTS:
» Chuck’s Cellar, 150 Kaiulani Blvd.: chuckshawaii.com/cellar.html, 923-4488
One of the longest-running jazz venues in Honolulu, and still a good place to find local musicians at the top of their game.
» Dragon Upstairs, 1038 Nuuanu Ave.: thedragonupstairs.com, 526-1411
Find a mix of recurring artists and special guests at this spot known for its vibrant decor and intimate setting.
» Jazz Minds Art & Cafe, 1661 Kapiolani Blvd.: honolulujazzclub.com, 923-4488
Jazz Minds hosts a stable of recurring acts, often mixing blues, pop, hip-hop and rock with jazz roots.
» Sarento’s, 1777 Ala Moana Blvd.: dancindaveproductions.com, 342-8232
Also programmed by “Dancin'” Dave Rohner, Sarento’s at the top of the Ilikai Hotel presents jazz on Friday nights with music starting at 9:30 p.m. To make dinner reservations before the show, call 955-5559.
» Studio 909, 909 Kapiolani Blvd.: fb.com/Studio909Presents, 596-2121
This venue opened last year in the 909 Kapiolani building and regularly hosts recognized touring artists as well as local jazz stalwarts. Next up is the Emil Viklicky Trio, July 27.
» Also check honolulujazzscene.com, an online bulletin board of jazz events.