John Kolivas, Bass

Question and Answer with John KolivasJohn Kolivas, Bass

How did you choose your instrument?

Started on cello in the 4th grade at Punahou School, but the bass seemed like a lot more fun. Also, my brother, Robert Pennybacker told me that bassists always have work. I made the switch.

Who is your favorite composer?

I guess I’d have to say Beethoven. His 9th symphony is just ridiculous! Goes through all the emotions. Love his Pastoral symphony as well.

When was the career of music chosen?

Well, possibly in the 1st grade at Punahou. The reason is that I write left handed. The pencil lead would smear on the page and would just be a complete mess! I knew I’d have to find something I love to do, rather than all this messy school work. Music was the obvious choice. From the 7th grade on I knew I wanted to be a professional musician.

Who were your major teachers?

On the bass, George Wellington was my first teacher. Then Herb Ward, Homer Mensch (Juilliard), Mike Gorman, Francois Rabbath, Rufus Reid and John Clayton, Jr.

What is your favorite Hawaii Symphony moment?

Backing up Yo Yo Ma some years ago, and having my band, the Honolulu Jazz Quartet featured in the Honolulu Symphony Pops with orchestrations of my compositions by Matt Catingub.

John Kolivas performing with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Victor YampolskyBassist John Kolivas (second from right) performing in Russian Masters in March 2015, conducted by Victor Yampolsky

Other than performances with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, where can we catch you performing around town?

Currently, my jazz group the Honolulu Jazz Quartet plays the first Monday at the Kahala Hotel & Resort’s Veranda Lounge, and once a month at Medici’s in Manoa.

What is your work history?

First professional gig was playing in the pit at the Honolulu Community Theatre (now Diamond Head Theatre) for the show “Pippin” under maestro Donald Yap in 1979. This lead to numerous Broadway shows in Hawaii and New York City. In 1980 I was appointed musical director and bassist for the Keola & Kapono Beamer Show in Waikiki. My jazz career has been very fulfilling, performing with jazz giants like Benny Golson, Delfeayo Marsalis, Don Grusin, Larry Coryell, Les McCann and many others. I’ve also enjoyed backing vocalists Lea Salonga, Wayne Newton and Rosemary Clooney.

What are your activities, hobbies, interests, outside of music?

Surfing, bodysurfing, snorkeling, hiking, going to museums, cooking, spending time with my family.

What famous figure, living or dead, would you most like to invite to dinner, and why?

Other than Jesus, I would say my favorite bassist, Ray Brown. I’d like to talk bass and hear some of his stories from his incredible career.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Getting up early on a clear sky day. Going to the beach with my family and a few friends, and enjoying the water. Then going to a nice dinner with good wine (or margaritas!).

More about John Kolivas

Born into a musical family, John Kolivas is known as a bassist, composer and teacher. His mother, Dolly Kang Lott was a classical piano teacher and his father Christopher Kolivas, a jazz sax player. John started playing the cello and then bass starting in the 4th grade at Punahou School, and from 9th – 12th grade he played with the Punahou Concert Orchestra, Stage Band and Hawaiian ensemble for the Holoku Pageant. Around that time, John took jazz bass lessons from guitarist Bill Valdez, and was one of the founders of the jazz fusion group “Wave,” with brothers David and Delano “Volcano” Choy.

When John was a senior in high school, his mother introduced him to maestro Donald Yap, who auditioned him to play for the musical Pippin at the Diamond Head Theatre. This was the start of John’s professional career in music which included becoming the Musical Director for the Keola & Kapono Beamer show in Waikiki and many other musicals. This continued when John moved to New York City in 1982, toured the US with Pirates of Penzance and debuted in the Broadway pit for the show “Tap Dance Kid.”

Over the years John has performed with jazz giants Delfeayo Marsalis, George Benson, Benny Golson, Herb Ellis, Steve Turre, Arturo Sandoval, Eric Marienthal, Don Grusin, Larry Coryell, Bobby Watson, Makoto Ozone, Les McCann, Bud Shank and vocalists Lea Salonga, Wayne Newton and Rosemary Clooney. John is currently the acting Associate Principal bassist for the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra, and the leader of the Honolulu Jazz Quartet.