In the Mix

Blue Note settles into Waikiki digs

May 11th, 2016
STAR-ADVERTISER / 2016New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band performed at the new Blue Note Hawaii in January.


New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band performed at the new Blue Note Hawaii in January.

Saturday marks five months since Blue Note Hawaii opened its doors at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, and owner Steve Bensusan couldn’t be more pleased with the way things are going.

“In terms of the local audience, we’ve exceeded our expectations by far,” he said. “Local response to the venue has been amazing. We were surprised we didn’t have as many problems as we thought we would have.”

Bensusan’s father, Danny Bensusan, opened the original Blue Note Jazz Club in 1981 in New York City after immigrating to the United States from Israel. Blue Note Entertainment currently operates two jazz clubs in Japan and another in Italy along with New York and Hawaii locations. The family-owned company also owns and operates New York’s B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, the Highline Ballroom, Subrosa and Lucille’s Grill, as well as the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.

More than $3.5 million was spent renovating the former Society of Seven Showroom at the Outrigger Waikiki, turning the 9,000-square-foot space into a 300-seat performance venue that Bensusan said visiting artists can’t wait to come back to.

“Many of the artists who have performed here so far, they either haven’t been here before or haven’t performed here in a very long time,” he said. “The idea they can do this every year is very appealing. I’ll get calls from managers on the first night of their gigs asking to book for (2017).”

STAR-ADVERTISER / 2016The Rough Riders — Brother Noland, right, Willie K and John Cruz (not pictured) — performed at Blue Note Hawaii in April.


The Rough Riders — Brother Noland, right, Willie K and John Cruz (not pictured) — performed at Blue Note Hawaii in April.

The Wailers, Maxi Priest and Chaka Khan have all drawn strong support from local fans, as have an increasing number of Hawaii artists signed to play both one-time and recurring gigs at the venue. Bensusan said the goal is not to turn Blue Note Hawaii into a “standing rock club,” but to feature a variety of musical genres in a market hungry for new entertainment options.

“We’ve been trying to balance between some of the older heritage reggae acts and some of the younger ones we book maybe not at the Blue Note, but at some of our other clubs,” he said. “Most of our local acts here now are on Monday nights, but we’re doing some local weekend runs. It gives the artists the ability to play a proper room, and that’s something they’re not used to.

“The plan was always to announce the national acts and then add the local ones. It took us some time to research the local acts and figure out who we could get to play there. We’ve got a local talent buyer now and she’s doing a good job finding local acts for the room.”

Upcoming local artists scheduled to perform at Blue Note Hawaii include:

» May 23: Melveen Leed
» May 24, 25 and 28: Kalei Gamiao (opening for Andy McKee)
» May 26, 27 and 29: Taimane Gardner (opening for Andy McKee)
» May 30: Honolulu Jazz Quartet featuring John Kolivas
» June 6: Adagio
» June 21 and July 5: Willie K
» June 22: Paula Fuga
» June 29-30 and July 1: Jake Shimabukuro
» July 18: Kuana Torres Kahele

“You’re going to see more reggae, more R&B, maybe a little less heavy on the straight-ahead jazz, at least until we build the tourist market a little bit more,” Bensusan said. “I think it’s important to continue the diversity of the room. We’re even going a step further and getting into some classic rock.”

The easiest way to keep up with concert announcements is to keep checking Blue Note Hawaii’s website, he added. All seats are first-come-first-served, but management has quietly adjusted door times to minimize lines outside the club and give the kitchen staff an opportunity to serve customers more efficiently before showtime.

What we’ve been doing, especially for the bigger shows, is opening the doors even earlier,” Bensusan said. “That’s been working well to take the crunch off the bar and kitchen. We’ll open a half-hour earlier than published sometimes. It all depends on the lines.”

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