Jazz Maui founder seeks more music education for Valley Isle youths
February 18, 2023, 8:00 AM HST
* Updated February 21, 1:43 AM
Maui Now: A People Of Maui Interview
Bryant Neal founded the nonprofit Arts Education for Children Group in 1997 in response to the need for arts and music enrichment programs for Maui youths. What started as an after school program with an arts based curriculum has led to producing year round jazz education workshops and clinics through the subsidiary Jazz Maui.
Now into its 26th year, he and other supporters including educators, artists, and business people have hosted concerts featuring some of the best jazz musicians in the nation who serve as mentors and share experiences with aspiring Maui youth musicians. Some of these performers are Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Rock Hendricks and Downbeat Magazine’s “Best Album of the Year” recipient Katie Thiroux. The most recent manifestation of his efforts is a Sunday Sunset Jazz concert series at Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate Factory in Lahaina where Maui musicians get to play with jazz greats. Proceeds from Sunset Jazz concert tickets go directly to Jazz Maui to support its educational endeavors.
Bryant, who has a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Hendrix College in Arkansas, is also known for his annual performances reciting a selected portion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech for Dr. King’s birthday and Black History Month. He is the creator and owner of Story of Hawaiʻi Museum Exhibit and is the curator / docent at Camp Maui Museum in Haʻikū, honoring the 4th Marine Division, which used Maui as a training and rest area before shipping out during World War II. Additionally, he serves on the boards of South Maui Learning ʻOhana and Maui Arts League. Neal is the proprietor of Hawaii Museum & Gallery at storyofhawaiimuseum.com . Maui Now writer Gary Kubota interviewed Neal.
KUBOTA: What lies ahead?
NEAL: A long time goal is to fund a program that offers private and group music instruction to youths. This requires us to seek and employ qualified, passionate instructors who can offer specialized instruction in addition to what’s being offered in the classroom. The Sunset Jazz Concert Series helps provide funding to pursue this dream while creating a venue to feature world-class local and visiting musicians.
KUBOTA: What prompted you to do all this?
NEAL: The motivation to start the nonprofit was to fulfill the need for an after-school and arts enrichment program where my daughter Olivia attended elementary school. The program was an immediate success and expanded to offer programs during school holidays and summer vacation. My wife Debbie has been a great supporter.
KUBOTA: I know you’ve appeared on Maui and Oʻahu to deliver the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech, “I have a dream.” How did you come about preparing and re-enacting the role?
NEAL: I was a theater major and still enjoy participating in the occasional stage performance. A number of years ago, I was cast to play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an original stage production written and directed by Dr. Ayin Adams. The role required memorizing the full speech which is approximately 12 to 15 minutes in length. It was a long process, but I was able to commit it to memory and that’s when the magic happens. At the point when you’re not worried about remembering lines, the ability to channel the character can take place. “I have a dream” is one of the most monumental speeches of the 20th century, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to share it live with new audiences on an annual basis.
KUBOTA: Is there anyone or anything that was a key factor in your decision to form the nonprofit Jazz Maui?
NEAL: We’ve had great jazz event sponsors like “Maui Sara” and MaryAnne and Nam LeViet, and great board members in Tim and Josie Bruns. It is my belief that music and the arts should be part of every child’s early education and is crucial for their development into a whole person. When the situation arose while my daughter was attending a private elementary school that didn’t offer an arts program, I felt it was time to take action. Nonprofit status is necessary to receive tax-free grants and donations from corporations and individuals. Additionally, the desire to help students and adults expand their exposure to jazz and other music genres was a motivating factor.
KUBOTA: What is your favorite jazz piece and why?
NEAL: While in college I was able to produce a concert featuring the Jazz Crusaders. During the band’s stay on campus I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time chatting with bandleader and keyboardist Joe Sample. Their album Free As The Wind debuted in 1976 and the song of the same name became one of my favorite pieces of music.