We hear a lot about big name Jazz artists coming to Maui, so it’s especially great to hear about one with Hawaii roots. DeShannon Higa, who grew up in Hilo, will be performing at Gannon’s on Saturday, Feb. 22, as a benefit to the Arts Education for Children Group. He’s one of Oahu’s most renowned trumpet players, and has sat in with so many bands it’s hard to keep track.
Performing with Higa will be the select student combo Teal & Black Quintet, the Jazz instructor group Chop Suey Combo, Andrea Razzauti, Adonijah Imgrund, the King Kekaulike Jazz Combo, Mike Buono, Danny M and Sal Godinez. For reservations, call 808-879-8080.
Higa was game to talk story with us:
MAUITIME: What’s your earliest memory of the trumpet?
DESHANNON HIGA: I was nine years old when I started playing trumpet. Drums was my first choice but my band teacher denied me, saying there were enough drummers already. A lot of my friends were playing trumpet at the time, so I decided to join them. It was the best decision I ever made.
MT: How did you meet your band?
DH: Not sure which band you mean, but if you’re talking about my own personal band, I have several. [There’s the] Jazz quartet Quadpod, quintet Bop Tribal, sextet Deep 6, eight-piece Subtonic Orchestra: Ear Candy, a hip hop/club band Subtonic Orchestra: Bump! and The DeShannon Higa Big Band. All musicians in my bands are friends. I start there and look for the best musicians I can get who can also mix it up, who also have good chemistry with other members of the band, including myself.
MT: Can you list one favorite thing about each band member?
DH: Let’s go with my quartet, Quadpod. It’s a modern Jazz quartet. My drummer, Konrad Kendrick: wicked grooves. Bass, Jon Hawes: extremely musical. Keys, Reggie Padilla: swings his butt off.
MT: How did growing up in Hilo influence your music?
DH: I don’t know, to be honest. It must be something in the soil. The Big Island grows some of the best food in Hawaii, it also produces some of the finest musicians. Some of the best musicians I know are from the Big Island, particularly Hilo. Come to think of it, Hilo is such a rainy, sleepy town, back in my day, if you couldn’t play outside ’cause it’s raining (which happened a lot), there wasn’t much else you could do. So I’d stay inside and practice. Turned out to be a good thing.
MT: Who is your biggest musical inspiration?
DH: Ah, I knew this one was coming. It’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, I would say Miles [Davis]. A truly uniquely talented individual. He was more than a great musician, he was a visionary, not afraid to do what no one else had thought to do yet. In that way, he continues to inspire me.
MT: The Gannons concert is a benefit for music education. Can you tell us why that’s important to you?
DH: Without music education, kids would be left to discover music on their own. Very few would get past the pop music of their generation. It takes good teachers, educational programs, mentors and role models to expose kids to the wonderful, colorful, historically rich and diverse world of music. The more music you’re exposed to, the more inspiration you have to draw from. When that happens, you’re able to discern good music from bad; you’re no longer getting spoon-fed–-you are feeding yourself.
MT: Aside from your trumpet, what are three things you must have with you when doing a show?
DH: Oh that’s easy. First, a plan. Any good show has to have an arc: a beginning, a middle and an end. When I put a show together, I carefully select my songs and the order they go in. It has to flow. When done right, it takes the listener on a journey–one that they will want to go on again and again. Second, a killer rhythm section. ‘Nuff said. Third, good sound. You can have #1 and #2, but a bad sound man can kill your show. If I can’t hear myself right, or hear the other instruments how I need to, I’m dead in the water. Good sound is critical to my success.
MT: There’s nothing like a live trumpet. How does that fit into our modern, digital world?
DH: How true! There is nothing like the sound of a live trumpet. That’s the pull that keeps me coming back for more. CDs, MP3s, even vinyl, can’t quite do it. Something about the way the acoustic sound vibrations move through the air. There’s an extra dimension present that the best equipment still cannot reproduce. When I hear the sound of a great trumpet player, it affects me in a way few things do. It hits me in my core. It’s as if it is speaking to me in a language that only I understand.
MT: Do you have a dream venue?
DH: The Superbowl would be nice. I would love to play the National Anthem a cappella at the Superbowl.
MT: What’s your favorite part of the music process?
DH: Composing, arranging and producing are all fun in their own right, but it’s the final product that brings me the most joy. To hear a composition performed live to an audience that “get’s it” is the most rewarding feeling. For me, it is the harvest celebration.
MT: We stalked you on Twitter (@deshannon808). You have a taste for seafood… do you have a favorite spot on Maui?
DH: It’s gotta be Mama’s. Is there really any other spot?
MT: Maui’s Jazz community is growing. Do you have a dream local musician you’d like to play with?
DH: Well, Bruno [Mars] is a local musician turned superstar. I’d like to play with him, but not in the pop, neon lights kind-of-way. I’d like to do an unplugged session with him. I think that would be cool, and very interesting.
MT: Do you have any new projects we can look out for?
DH: Look out for my band, Subtonic Orchestra, to do a Snarky Puppy-type live performance/ recording, but with local-style kanikapila flair!
MT: What piece of advice do you have for an up-and-coming musician?
DH: First, pursue your dream. Second, find a mentor–someone who is living your dream. Third, be genuine in everything you do.
MT: Complete this sentence: When people listen to my music, I want them to walk away feeling…
DH: …Like a secret part of them has been awakened, and will never be the same.
By Marina Satoafaiga & Jen Russo
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DeShannon at Gannon’s
Saturday, Feb. 22
100 Wailea Golf Club Drive
$25 per person
A benefit for music education in the schools. For reservations call 808-879-8080
This performance is part of the continuing concert series, Jazz Maui, presented by the nonprofit Arts
Education for Children Group. For more information call 808-283-3576 or visit jazzmaui.org