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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

Immerse yourself in cozy Jazz Minds

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Jazz Minds Arts & Cafe on Kapi'olani Boulevard has hosted a number of our town's finest musicians.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Patrons get comfortable at the laid-back venue that's decorated with framed jazz art prints.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Where: 1661 Kapi'olani Blvd., Suite A (945-0800)

Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Happy hour, 4-7 p.m.

Cover: Only during performances, prices vary; otherwise, free

What to wear: The crowd I found kept it dressy, but casual is OK.

January schedule includes: NewJass Quartet, 9 p.m.-midnight Wednesdays; Groove Improv Artists, 9 p.m.-midnight Thursdays; open mike with Andy Bumatai, 8-9 p.m. Fridays; Noly Paa Connection with Sherry Shaoling, 9-11:30 p.m. Fridays; Rolando Sanchez and Salsa Hawaii Latin Jazz, 8 p.m. Saturdays. Honolulu Jazz Quartet on Jan. 20, 9-11:30 p.m.

Some room history: Yup, it's a former strip club. Yi ripped out everything in it, from booths to stages to a mid-room shower, and redesigned everything from lighting to furnishings to sound.

In Yi's CD player: "Everything by Miles Davis. I love Miles Davis."

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I don't smoke. But I need air.

So I was probably fated to meet jazz CD collector Will Hamada of 'Aiea just outside Jazz Minds Arts & Cafe on a recent Saturday night.

He needed a cigarette. I needed ... air.

Introductions and a short lecture about the dozens of essential CDs apparently missing from my jazz CD collection preceded some advice from Hamada.

"Don't write anything down when you go back in. ... Just listen and observe. Don't ignore either of those senses with that ... pen."

(Note well, dear Night Stuff reader: Hamada uttered the word "pen" with the same mournful disdain and frustrated exhale of smoke he had reserved for the words "hip-hop" only minutes earlier.)

After that, I snuck notes during Hamada's frequent trips to the restroom. (Kirin Ichiban does have a way of sneaking up on you.) What I didn't get, you'll figure out when you drop by Jazz Minds.

If you're a fan of live jazz, you really should drop by. A funky, cozy Kapi'olani Boulevard oasis, oddly situated among strip bars and a peep-show business, the 2-month-old lounge has already hosted an impressive handful of our town's finest jazz players.

NewJass Quartet, Groove Improv Artists and Honolulu Jazz Quartet have all played gigs there. The oddly named, though out-and-out superb, Jazz Purr-verts (trumpeter DeShannon Higa, pianist Rich Crandall, drummer Daryl Pellegrini, saxophonist Larry Cook, et al.) were visiting John Coltrane's "Equinox" when I walked in.

Imagine the black-and-white, '60s-era penthouse set of Hugh Hefner's "Playboy After Dark" variety show colored with the mismatched coziness of a retro '70s living room, and you'll get an idea of Jazz Minds' nifty decor.

On the faux-brick walls are framed old-school jazz art prints collected by owner Young Hae Yi over the two decades she dreamed of opening Jazz Minds. Discreet spots keep the room comfortably lit yet appropriately moody.

Surrounding Jazz Minds' stage (which manages to squeeze in a baby grand piano), a couple dozen scarlet and black loungers and loveseats arranged in small klatches complete the ground-floor penthouse vibe. Tchotchkes scattered throughout (lamps, little treasure chests, a globe of the world, a pith helmet, etc.) and a stack of real eight-track tapes leaning against an old stereo lend a quirky sense of playfulness.

A wood-panel dance floor fronts a stage sublimely lit in red. The room's acoustics are clean. And you can order from a nonfussy pupu menu (soybeans, kal bi, poke, chicken wings, kim chee pancake, zaru soba, etc.).

Yi modeled Jazz Minds not after high-end jazz clubs, but the kind of homey, laid-back joints she found thriving in New York, San Francisco, Japan and South Korea.

"There was none of that here," said Yi. "So I thought we needed a nice, warm, lovely jazz bar. ... I want people to love this place the moment they come in. I want them to love jazz."

The crowd was largely thirty- to fiftysomething, and dressed for a night out on the town. Seats were filled by 11 p.m., but scattered bar stools (with back- and armrests, no less) left room for a few more patrons.

"I'm not advertising a lot. But people are finding the place thanks to word of mouth," said Yi, a lifelong jazzhead. "I'm doing this for love, not just money. Of course, I need money to run it and pay the musicians. But if I just wanted to make money, I wouldn't open a jazz bar." Yi smiled and grabbed my arm for emphasis something Hamada, thankfully, did not and added, "there are a million other options where I could do that."

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.