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One Of Hawaii's Finest Jazz Artists: Jr Volcano Choy

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Jr Volcano Choy
Q: I'm sure you receive this question numerous times. Your name - where did you get it?

A: Almost 30 years ago, I was on a road tour for Columbia Records. After one of our performances, a music critic who was present mentioned that the “trumpet soloist” blew like an “erupting volcano” and so the other musicians on that tour jumped on it and began calling me “Volcano." At first I discouraged them from addressing me as “Volcano,” but they told me that since I was the only guy from Hawaii on the tour, that they needed to have an appropriate island nickname for me. When I asked them if there might be an acceptable alternate nickname that they could call me, one of the guys said that, “It's either Volcano or Pineapple!” Well, I rolled with “Volcano." They also reminded me that “Volcano” rhymes with my proper given first name which is “Delano," and so it have been “Volcano Choy” ever since.

Through the years, the name “Volcano” has been an easy name to remember by many; also, coincidentally, when relocating back to Hawaii with my family, we ended up purchasing our home located very near the community called “Volcano” here on Hawaii. As you might guess, I am recipient of many wisecracks because of my name “Volcano,” but it's all in good-natured fun and really, I’ve come to embrace it. (One time on a gig in Pittsburgh, I was introduced by a venue MC, who no doubt was a bit confused regarding my name, as, “Hurricane Choy.”)

Q: When did it begin for you as a musician?

A: For me, it began very early in life, as my father was then a full-time working musician (woodwinds). During those years, my dad was working during the day as a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band which is one of the few federally funded municipal bands still out there, and during the evenings he was working at one of the shows in Waikiki, when there were still many showroom performers utilizing horn sections in the nightly performances. My mother was also very musically inclined as all three of her brothers, who were and are professional career musicians. Most notable is my eldest uncle, Gabe Baltazar, who is considered to be one of the rare Asian-American jazz artists that gained international acclaim starting back in the ‘60s as he was the lead altoist with Stan Kenton and then later for many years in Los Angeles studios, also recording with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Oliver Nelson, etc.

I can remember as early as 3-years-old, listening with my parents in the living room to recordings by Clifford Brown, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughn, and of course to my Uncle Gabe’s recordings, among many other greats.

Q: What artists have had the greatest influence on you, especially in your early years?

A: Some of the artists that really did influence me especially during my early formative years were Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, just to mention a few among so many of the “greats” that had a musical impact on me, all different styles and approaches, but they all swing like crazy.

Q: You went on tour with Columbia Records; when was that and what was it for? What was the experience like?

A: Yes, I mentioned earlier in the interview that I was on a tour for Columbia Records. This one occurred in the mid-‘80s. It featured some of Columbia Records past artists on the tour, such as Maxine Andrews, who at that time was a surviving sister of the Andrew Sisters and Johnny Smith, who was one of the surviving original members of the Ink Spots. I was part of the “Kay Kyser Ghost Big Band” that backed all of the different artists on the tour; it was a great experience being on the road like that as I got to see a lot of beautiful and unique scenery and places across the country. I also got to perform with a lot of great musicians that were also in the band with me. Being a young musician at that time, I gained much valuable musical and life experience.

Q: How would you describe your new album, Lava Flow?

A: I would describe my new release, Lava Flow, in a similar fashion as does CD Baby: “An eclectic album of jazz flavors that will satisfy the hunger pangs of any musical palate, with main courses being dished out by way of major league performances by the musicians on this album.” Yes, eclectic is an accurate term describing my many influences not only musically, but also culturally and ethnically. Hawaii is well known as the “melting pot” of the Pacific and so this album reflects that “melting pot” influence. For example, I sing in three languages on this one (English, Spanish and Hawaiian).

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