Dreaming of Jazz

When virtuoso trumpet player Valery Ponomarev heard his first-ever jazz recording in 1961 as an 18-year-old student studying at the First Moscow Regional Music College, his life was forever changed.

A musician friend had taped Clifford Brown’s classic “The Blues Walk” from a Voice of America short-wave radio broadcast.

“I was blown off my feet,” Ponomarev recalls. “When I first heard jazz, it was an unbelievable experience. It was a total revelation. That’s what I wanted to do. The effect of it was I’ve been a jazz musician my whole life. I can’t imagine not being a jazz musician.”

After that profound experience, he raced around Moscow looking for tapes of jazz music (jazz records were impossible to find in the Soviet Union of the early 1960s). The first one he located was “Moanin’ ” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

“I had goose bumps,” he continues. “Can you imagine hearing ‘Moanin” for the first time? I listened to ‘Moanin” all day long. I dreamed I was playing with Art Blakey. I said once, ‘I’ll be playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.’ I’m in the old Soviet Union with the KGB, and travel restrictions and lack of freedom of speech. To say that, people thought I was crazy. People would never believe it. It’s like going to the moon and hanging out with the moon people. You dream of something and if it’s strong enough, it will work.”

Ponomarev finally realized his life’s dream after escaping to America in 1973 (using a fake visa), when he was invited to join Blakey’s legendary jazz band.

On Friday evening, Ponomarev will perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater with the Jazz Maui All Stars, including Honolulu vocalist Shari Lynn and pianist Tommy James of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The concert is part of a series of jazz-themed shows and workshops taking place on Maui through Sunday.

Growing up in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, any interest in jazz was viewed suspiciously by the authorities. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev declared in 1963, “When I hear jazz, it’s as if I had gas on the stomach.”

“There was a time when people would go to jail for listening to jazz music,” Ponomarev explains. “When I was growing up, you were kind of a marked man. ‘Oh this guy loves jazz, oh he loves Western culture.’ You were frowned upon.”

Moving to America and being able to perform with leading jazz artists, Ponomarev felt like he was in heaven. “You are in another dimension,” he says. “My first gig (with Blakey), I was walking off the stage and I actually pinched myself to make sure it’s not a dream. Life was incredible.”

Playing with the Jazz Messengers for four years, he performed at major concert halls, clubs and festivals around the world and recorded 11 albums.

“Valery Ponomarev is the only non-American trumpeter that I know to fill the (big) shoes left by the likes of Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd in Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers,” noted saxophone great Paquito D’Rivera.

Ponomarev returned to Russia in 1990, after a 17-year absence, to participate in the First International Jazz Festival in Moscow, along with many of the world’s greatest jazz stars.

“It was incredible,” he enthuses. “I was back home in Russia. It was no longer the Soviet Union and no longer restrictions imposed on people. Once restrictions were taken off and people could communicate and hang with other musicians, Russia produced some incredible talent.”

In recent years, he was featured in the documentary “Frozen in Amber,” about the contributions of Russian ex-patriots to the performing arts in America. “Messenger from Russia,” a documentary about his life, was aired on the National Geographic Today channel. And the documentary “Trumpet Player from Russia” received the Golden Rami Award at the Houston International Film Festival in 2011.

Ponomarev’s most recent albums as a band leader include “Beyond the Obvious” and “The Messenger.”

All About Jazz praised: “Valery Ponomarev’s ‘The Messenger,’ reminds us that he still is a leading jazz trumpet player who has remained consistent through his years on the scene. Solidly within hard-bop territory, Ponomarev personalizes the work on ‘The Messenger,’ as he always has, to allow the listener a glimpse into the events that made him into one of the most interesting, and most under-recognized, trumpeters in jazz.”

* The Jazz Maui All Stars concert featuring Valery Ponomarev is presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the McCoy Studio Theater. There will be a preshow performance in the courtyard with Na Ali’i Big Band. Tickets are $30, plus applicable fees. To buy tickets, call 242-SHOW, or visit

Presented by the nonprofit Arts Education for Children Group, Jazz Maui 2014 also includes performances at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and the Whalers Village in Kaanapali. Multi-Na Hoku-winner Amy Hanaiali’i will present jazz and classic Hawaiian music tonight at 7 in The Ritz-Carlton’s Anuenue Room. The acclaimed musician began her singing career at the resort.

“What an exciting time for me to return to my roots of professional music,” Hanaiali’i says. “Five nights a week for five years, I was able to hone my craft. I am excited to capture the essence of that creative time singing the old classics, and reopen a new era based on my career at this time, focusing on jazz and Hawaiian music.”

The Ritz concert will also feature an art auction/sale to benefit music education on Maui.

* Putting on the Ritz: Amy Hanaiali’i Live at the Anuenue Room is presented at 7 tonight at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Tickets are $45.

On Saturday, the Sheraton Maui Resort &?Spa will play host to the “Grand Festival Concert & Dance: The Story of Swing Big Band Concert,” under the direction of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s Tommy James.

Performing or recording with many leading jazz artists including Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Lionel Hampton, and Cleo Laine, James became a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1987, after being personally invited by Ellington’s son Mercer Ellington.

This concert will feature the music of classic composers like Basie, Goodman, Dorsey, Ellington and more performed by an orchestra comprised of members of Nassau-Suffolk Performing Arts, the Moonglow All-Star Swing Band and the Maui Community Band. The Maui Swing Dancers will be present as special guests, and swing dancers are encouraged to attend.

* The Grand Festival Concert & Dance – The Story of Swing Big Band Concert under the direction of Tommy James takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Maui. Tickets are $35.

As part of the festival, the Jazz in the Village Series of free concerts at the Whalers Village Center Stage presents Chop Suey and the King Kekaulike Jazz Band at 6 p.m. today. At 6 p.m. Friday, Coco Land Jazz features “A Night of 1,000 Drums,” a retrospective evening of tropical swing dating back to the styles of Martin Denny.

And at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jazz in the Village presents 21 Degrees North and the Na Ali’i Big Band.

* The full festival schedule and ticket purchase information can be found at, or call 283-3576 for more information.


The Four Seasons Resorts will present the free fourth annual Lanai Slack Key Guitar Festival Aug. 8 through 10. The festival, a tribute to Hawaiian legend Dennis Kamakahi, features Kevin Brown, Benny Uyetake, Damon Parillo and Darren Lopez.

* Performances will be held at the Lodge at Koele at 7 p.m. Aug. 8, at 6 p.m. Aug. 9 and at 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Aug. 10 (with Kevin Brown only). The musicians will also play at venues in Lanai City. A full schedule is available online at


It’s Battle of the Bands time. Round 1 kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday at The Mill House in Waikapu. There’s no cover.


Henry Kapono has invited a bunch of friends to join him for a “Back in the Day” concert at the Waikiki Shell on Aug. 23. The amazing lineup includes Kalapana, Jerry Santos, Brother Noland, Keola Beamer, Robert Cazimero, Willie K, John Cruz, Amy Hanaali’i, Robi Kahakalau, Sean Naauao, Ledward Kaapana, Mike Kaawa and Raiatea Helm.

Folks might want to let their Mainland friends know that there’s a contest to fly two people to Hawaii, plus hotel accommodation and show tickets. Details are on Kapono’s Facebook page.