Jazzitude

DeShannon Higa, the cool cat with the golden tone, brings a modern, push-the-envelope attitude to Island jazz. Trumpeter DeShannon Higa pushes the bounds of traditional jazz to create his own sound. I’m no expert, but DeShannon Higa’s coolness factor is pretty high up there - and he calls himself a “band geek.” Well, “former bona fide band geek,”

Melissa Moniz
Friday - December 12, 2008
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Jazz, says Higa, requires discipline from both musician and listener

Trumpeter DeShannon Higa pushes the bounds of traditional jazz to create his own sound

I’m no expert, but DeShannon Higa’s coolness factor is pretty high up there - and he calls himself a “band geek.”

Well, “former bona fide band geek,” to be precise. Either way, his days as a geek are long gone, and have since been replaced with references such as “hottest young trumpet player” and “Hawaii’s best.”

But while the compliments are nice, Higa says he doesn’t exactly agree with them.

“If they would ask me if I’m Hawaii’s best trumpet player, I would say no. There are different guys here who are better at certain aspects of trumpet than I am, I think. I think I’m perhaps most prominent because I have my own distinct voice, and maybe that’s what grabs attention.”

OK, so for this story, we’ll use the term attention-grabbing, because there’s no denying that.

DeShannon Higa has been called the best horn player in Hawaii

Higa has spent most of his adult life pushing the boundaries of jazz music and has remained dedicated to creating music that not only expands on his creativity, but the minds of those who hear it.

“If you’re not growing you’re shrinking, so I always hope to get a broader and wider audience to take notice, especially the people of my generation or younger,“says Higa, who is married to Rocky Brown, a singer and Broadway star. “That’s why my approach to jazz is very untraditional.”

A few years back, Higa put a band together called grOOve.imProV.arTiSts. The unconventional look of the name is the first telltale sign that this ain’t your ordinary jazz band. Instead, it’s an approach to jazz that has a lot of improvisational elements to it, with a flavor young people can identify with. It has electronic elements, hip-hop beats, vocals, rapping, and a fusion of different worlds that draws listeners who normally wouldn’t attach themselves to jazz. The band has done well and has played regular gigs throughout the Island at spots such as Hanohano Room and Jazz Minds Art & Cafe.

Higa and wife Rocky Brown say they have differing musical styles

“I think there is a pocket or small community of people who support jazz, and they are hard core,” says Higa, a Kaimuki High School graduate.“So that’s like the nucleus, and the next broader circle are the people who are kind of curious. Here in Hawaii, people tend to follow where everyone else goes. If something is big it gets bigger, if something is small it tends to stay small unless you find a way to slowly bring people in, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The challenge, according to Higa, is that “Jazz, unlike pop and some other forms of music, requires a little bit of discipline on the part of the audience, and I think that’s the part that makes it not as appealing. Just as I’m intentional about playing the music, the audience has to be intentional about wanting to hear what the message is.”

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