Sunday night jazz at The Press Room in Portsmouth is a tradition that is now more than 35 years old. Launched in the late ’70s, it was hosted by pianist Tommy Gallant, who led the house trio for about 20 years, until the time of his death in 1998. Playing drums in that original trio was Les Harris, Sr. The bassist was Jim Howe, who had the position until his own death in 2007.
There have been few changes in the trio over all these years. Today, it’s pianist Ryan Parker who leads it. Les Harris, Jr. is more often than not the drummer. And the primary bassist is Keala Kaumeheiwa.
Keala, who lives in the Boston area, is one of the most in-demand bass players on the scene, performing frequently at Sculler's Jazz Club, Ryle's, Wally's Jazz Cafe and the Regattabar. But on any Sunday evening, The Press Room is the venue where you’re most likely to find him.
Kaumeheiwa, who was born in Oswego, New York, in 1966 and raised in Marquette, Michigan, began playing acoustic bass when he was 18 years old. In 1990 he received a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied both jazz and classical music with the renowned bassist Richard Davis. Following his years in Wisconsin, Keala moved to New York City, where his jazz career really began to blossom. In New York, he performed with Betty Carter and Billy Pierce, as well as the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and at Kennedy Center.
It was in 1995 that Keala arrived in Boston, having been offered the bass position at the Thelonious Monk Institute at the New England Conservatory of Music. It was there he gained new jazz experience, performing with luminaries Jimmy Heath, Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, T.S. Monk, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and James Moody, as well as traveling to India and the Playboy Jazz Festival. At NEC, he also studied jazz bass and improvisation with Miles Davis’s legendary bassist Ron Carter, at the same time continuing his classical studies with virtuoso bassist Donald Palma. Keala finished at New England Conservatory in 1997 with the first graduating class of the Monk Institute.
Clearly, the bass position in The Press Room Trio is in the best of hands as the tradition continues.