John Kolivas, Bass

Question and Answer with John Kolivas

How did you choose your instrument?

My mother Dolly Kang was a piano teacher, but in the 4th grade at Punahou I started playing the cello. However, the bass seemed like so much fun! Also, my brother, Robert Pennybacker told me that all groups need a bass and that bassists always have work. I made the switch.

Who is your favorite composer?

Probably Beethoven. His 9th symphony is just ridiculous! Goes through all the emotions and is very challenging to play. I love his Pastoral symphony and Violin Concerto as well.

Favorite Solo Piece?

Playing behind the great Yo Yo Ma who performed the Dvorak Cello Concerto was one of my most memorable experiences ever.

Other than classical music, ___________ is on my phone/iPod.

SF Jazz Collective, Stevie Wonder, Sérgio Mendez and The Brazil ‘66, Keola & Kapono Beamer and many more!

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

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

Guilty pleasure?

I like a nice Gin Martini, dirty with olives!

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

More about John Kolivas

Bassist John Kolivas is a local boy from Honolulu and has been performing with the Hawai’i Symphony since passing the audition in 1997. He is a 1979 graduate of Punahou School where he performed in the Punahou Symphony, Jazz Band, and Hawaiian Ensemble. John’s major teachers on the bass were George Wellington, Herb Ward, Homer Mensch (Juilliard School), Mike Gorman, Francois Rabbath, Rufus Reid and John Clayton, Jr. 

Before relocating to New York City in 1982, John played in the University of Hawai’i Symphony, and performed in many musicals as a pit musician at the Diamond Head Theater under the baton of Donald Yap. He also served as Musical Director for the Keola & Kapono Beamer show in Waikiki, and performed with the jazz fusion group “Wave” and local jazz musicians Gabe Baltazar, Flip Nuñez, Tennyson Stephens, Azure McCall and Betty Loo Taylor. In New York City, John played on Broadway in The Tap Dance Kid with Alphonso Ribeiro, Big River, and on tour with the Pirates of Penzance and Gregory Hines. 

John has also performed with jazz giants Benny Golson, Delfeayo Marsalis, Don Grusin, Larry Coryell, Makoto Ozone, Eric Marienthal and Les McCann, and backed vocalists Lea Salonga, Wayne Newton and Rosemary Clooney.

Besides the HSO, John is the leader of the critically acclaimed Honolulu Jazz Quartet which plays at Blue Note Hawai’i, Medici’s, Gordon Biersch, the Cupola Theater, and the Atherton Studio at Hawai’i Public Radio. 

In addition to performing, John is the bass instructor at Punahou School, Moanalua High and Middle Schools.