Wednesday, February 7, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2001

When jazz was king on Hotel Street

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

One of the exotic footnotes in the history of jazz not included in Ken Burns’ documentary on public television series is the story of jazz in Honolulu.

It’s never been written down, and most of the places where you could hear the music are vanished and forgotten.

That may be a blessing. The Brown Derby on Nuuanu Avenue wasn’t exactly a Sunday school.

The story of jazz in Honolulu is especially interesting because it was played mostly by black musicians at a time when the black community here was a mystery to everybody else.

You went to Honolulu’s tenderloin called Hotel Street to hear jazz. But where did the musicians live? How were they treated? How did they get by?

An authority on these matters is Ernest Golden, a former skycap at the airport who ended up a capitalist, owning his own company. "My friends were night people," he explained.

Golden said black musicians lived all around town like everybody else. He got the impression they were treated decently.

He remembered that Que Martin, a saxophone player and composer who arrived in the late 1960s, was greeted by fans at the airport.

I remember that Louis Armstrong lived in hotels when he stayed here. He played at the Brown Derby on New Year’s Eve in the 1950s.

Louie came through a second time, from Australia I think, when Kenny Alford, leader of the Dixiecats, got married.

Armstrong sat in the back row of Kawaiahao Church at the wedding. As Alford and his bride came down the aisle after the ceremony, Louie stood up and applauded.

Kenny was one of my roommates at the time in a bachelor house on St. Louis Heights, and we had the reception in our rumpus room. Armstrong came and gave Kenny one of his handmade trumpet mouthpieces as a wedding present.

Trombonist Trummy Young lived in Honolulu for quite a while and married a local girl. "This is where Louie picked up Trummy and drummer Danny Barcelona for his band," said Golden. He remembers Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday performing at the Brown Derby.

Golden said the jazz joints on Hotel Street after World War II included the Swing Club, where Screaming Jack Hawkins played his sax and sang.

The Two Jacks and Hubba Hubba were more rhythm-and-blues than jazz. Early Garner played out by the airport. The Delta Rhythm Boys, we decided, must have been at the South Seas in Waikiki.

Pianist Tennyson Stephens, now performing at Duc’s Bistro, said his mother told him when he was a little boy that the Samuels brothers from Texas had gone to faraway Hawaii.

Jazz buffs will have a chance to reminisce about all this Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight at the YWCA during a jazz concert in honor of Martin Luther King and Black History Month.

Stevens, Azure McCall and J.P. Smoketrain are on the menu. Call 528-5037 for information.

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