Kenneth M. Burgmaier has been doing it for 15 years. He produces the
longest running music series on the planet. Jazz Alley TV showcases
performances and interviews of some of the top musicians in jazz and
world music, and is a two-time Billboard Music Award winner. Recently,
I spoke to Burgmaier about his upcoming anniversary.
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: You’ve been doing this for a long time. Do you remember what those first episodes were like?
KENNETH M BURGMAIER: Back
then the whole format was different—bigger decks and cameras. Now we
can shoot with compact cameras and equipment. It was a new concept
then—going into clubs with cameras—and no one was doing world, jazz,
blues and Hawaiian. We started making videos. Now we’re nationally
syndicated on Viacom and internationally syndicated in 80 countries on
Voice of America network. It’s seen in 25 languages. They’ve shown our
clips on HBO, CNN, Bravo. And we’ve been giving episodes to Akaku for
free since 1998.
What is one memorable experience?
I had a one-on-one interview with [jazz percussionist] Lionel
Hampton. Then I found out a week or two later that he passed. We lost a
great human being, for one. And his music touched people around the
world. I’m grateful, blessed we documented [these musicians], got them
How did you get started?
My tutu turned me onto Louis Armstrong, and Hawaiiana, Tejano music,
‘cause that’s part of my heritage. I was going to film industry school
and I wanted to bring some of these legends on screen. It became my
I flew to New York and met with record label execs about doing a
jazz blues series. A lot of them looked at me and said, “We don’t have
room for that.” There was no support. Then we started doing projects
for Warner and Columbia. We’d make our own videos and record companies
reached out to our production company. It became lucrative but I did
this because I thought the world needed this. There are over 500 jazz
festivals worldwide. If it’s great for our audience, then we’ll just
archive it forever.
Who are some musicians that have surprised you?
Quincy Jones is so humble, and has so many stories to tell. He’s the
nicest guy, really approachable. I was really touched by how cool he
is. Herbie Hancock, too. There are some artists I’ve interviewed that
I’d never, ever want to work with again—they’re just not the nicest
people, really stuck on themselves. There can be some prima donnas.
Roberta Flack is a bitch. But Patti LaBelle is a dream.
Ninety percent of the time, the musicians see what we’re doing for
them, that we’re promoting music and passing it on—they get it. These
musicians are friends. When they see me, they give me a hug—I’m not
just some journalist. I’m happy that it has worked out that way.
What is your favorite episode?
[After a really long pause] Working with Carlos Santana in St.
Lucia. It was an incredible, magnificent island and the first time I
worked with Carlos, before The Supernatural. The album went on to win
all these Grammies. He burns incense when you’re interviewing him, and
he’s very spiritual. He really got into humanity, and about caring for
our world, not destroying it. He really touched me. And then he played
and blew me away. It was a masterpiece of music we filmed. We
accomplished our mission and now we’re passing this onto the world.
Still when I watch, it takes me back. It was such a great moment in my
life to capture that magic.
What’s coming up in Jazz Alley?
I just worked with Stanley Clark, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
and Stewart Copeland in this documentary called Night School, about all
the kids struggling to be in music. Bela Fleck’s in it, John Singleton,
Stevie Wonder. It’s a long-form documentary and we’ll show it as a Jazz
Alley special. It’ll be released January 2007, roughly.
What do you want to do in the future?
I want to keep going, keep working, documenting great musicians in
world, jazz, blues, Hawaiian and reggae. And maybe 100 years from now,
people are gonna be able to watch this on a chip and say, “Wow, look at
what they’ve done!” And maybe perpetuate it further.
I would love to go back to the early 18th century and see Mozart
play a concerto or something. Maybe what we’re doing now people will
see in the future and be able to appreciate it. I also want to use Jazz
Alley to open the door to show our Hawaiian music as well to the world.
That’s really important to me.
Jazz Alley TV will be celebrating
their 15th anniversary on Thursday (Nov. 2), 8 p.m. at Unisan in
Wailuku. For more info, visit jazzalleytv.com or call 573-5530. MTW