Grammy winner Chris Botti hit all the right notes when he took the stage at Blue Note Hawaii. His stirring rendition and tribute to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah received thunderous applause from a packed house that got louder as the show progressed.
“I’d rather play at the Blue Note than Madison Square Garden,” asserted Botti, whose close relationship with the Blue Note brand dates back to 2005. “For people who like my music, it’s so valuable to be right up close. We care deeply about the audience and want them to have a great time.”
Since opening in January 2016, Blue Note Hawai‘i has welcomed local, national and international artists, from Willie K and Kenny G to Taiwan sensation Tsun-Hui Hung and Chick Correa. Originally founded in 1981 in Greenwich Village, New York, Blue Note has grown to include locations in Milan, Beijing, Tokyo and Nagoya with further plans of expansion in Asia.
“We felt Hawai‘i was a good routing opportunity for bands,” said Steve Bensusan, whose father, Danny Bensusan, founded the Blue Note. “The opportunity came up here at the Outrigger and we jumped on it. A lot of jazz artists have never played Hawai‘i or they have years ago and it was a single concert — in and out. I think there’s a chance to reach the Japanese tourist, as well as locals, with some great music. We are deeply committed to Blue Note Hawai‘i’s success.”
The transformation of the former Society of Seven showroom into a modern 9,000-square-foot jazz venue was led by local architecture and interior design firm InForm Design. New York-based Peltrix installed the state-of-the-art sound system and ambient lighting, which help amplify the intimate experience where each table has a clear view of the stage.
Through its partnership with Blue Note Entertainment Group, Outrigger is now affiliated with a well branded organization that has showcased many of the music industry’s greatest artists over the past 35 years, including such jazz legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson and Sarah Vaughn. While Blue Note strives to preserve the history of jazz, the club is a place where progression and innovation — the foundations of jazz — are encouraged and practiced on a nightly basis.
“It’s nice to have a place like this to play when I'm home,” said ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. “It’s a different experience and vibe from a concert hall. The sound system is great and so is the food. I think this is my fourth series here and this one will be more of a solo than previous times when I came with a full ensemble.”
With Botti and his band on stage, the room’s acoustic was flawless, crisp and in full decibel level, especially when violinist Caroline Campbell rocked her bow to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.
“I’m a trained classical violinist so I don’t get too many ‘woots,’” said Campbell to the sold-out crowd. “So thank you.”
“All Steve’s clubs have a very similar feel on stage,” Botti said. “And his clubs are in mono, which is crazy talk. But I get up there and two sets into it I think this is the best thing ever because you’re really literally on top of each other and the whole place is going crazy; it’s great. And then we leave there and we go to like a big theater show and it’s all stereo and I’m like — I miss the Blue Note.”
Local jazz fans have certainly appreciated the caliber of musicians who have appeared on stage since opening last year. Bensusan backed this claim, adding that island residents are embracing the venue and meeting their expectations.
“Our legacy is that we’ll continue to open more Blue Notes,” Bensusan said. “And we’ll continue to provide great spaces for musicians to perform in.”
Blue Note Hawaii
Blue Note Hawaii Outrigger Waikīkī Beach Resort, 2335 Kalākaua Ave., 777-4890
Doors open at 5p.m. for the first set; the second set starts at 9 p.m. with seating starting at 8:30 p.m. Most shows will have three tiers: Premium Tables, Loge Tables and Bar. For a complete schedule, visit bluenotehawaii.com.