jolz at chilli's
I had a wonderful experience in Hawaii that started last winter and continued through the end of April. This experience is ongoing and will last forever. I called an old friend of twenty-plus years whose name is Fred. Fred is a guitarist who also plays the ukulele, electric bass, banjo, lute, wash tub bass and just about any other musical instrument with strings. If it has a string, Fred will pluck it.

I was in need of an activity to occupy my mind and fingers during these years following my retirement from The Royal Hawaiian Band, so I sought Fred’s advice on buying an ukulele. During our chat Fred mentioned he was playing a gig, one night a week at a hotel near me in Waikiki. One lovely evening Barb and I decided to walk the short distance to the Queen Kapiolani Hotel to hear him perform.

He was part of a three piece group that was lead by a lovely woman named Jolene. She had a gentle and soothing voice that never over powered. Her voice felt like the serene trade winds. The trio played a collection of music that clearly resonated with me. There were  gentle swing tunes, bossa novas, fun hapa haole numbers and a few gorgeous ballads to accompany the Waikiki sunset. A bass player named Mike sang harmonies with Jolene. “Jolz” as everyone calls her, played an ukulele and would occasionally shake an egg maraca or a tambourine while she sang. The trio call themselves “Jolz ’n Jazz.” All of this was framed within the lovely indoor/outdoor venue of the Kulana Terrace, a gathering spot for visitors and locals alike. The patrons are happy to be here. Who wouldn’t be? Honeymoon couples, entire families on vacation and happy single people were there. They enjoyed fine dining under a thatched roof or lounged at the swimming pool area. Some simply sat at the bar enjoying a drink with an umbrella in it. Barb and I reclined on chaise lounges near the trio, drinking wine and beer while munching on nachos.

During their break, we chatted amiably with Fred who introduced us to Jolene and Mike. They were gentle folks, who were as polite as their music. There were no “rock star” or “chick singer” egos. They were just there for the music. Jolz asked if I’d join them in the second set and perhaps shake an egg maraca or a tambourine. Yes, there was more cowbell. It was my pleasure to join them and thus we enjoyed a rewarding musical experience, and new friendships were formed.

Jolene told me I’d be most welcome to play with them any time I wanted to sit in. It turned out that on Saturdays she appeared with a guitarist/singer whose name is Sanford. Their music was adorned with the graceful and fun stylings of a hula dancer named Kaliko, who also played a pretty mean cow bell. Sanford sang a lot of Elvis, (“Blue Hawaii” obviously) and an assortment of 50’s and 60’s Rock ’n Roll. And so it was “Jolz ’n Jazz” on Fridays and “Jolz and Sanz” on Saturdays.

I constructed a small drum kit consisting of a snare drum, an attached splash cymbal, a tambourine, wood block and cow bell. I used only brushes to maintain a low profile. Jolz would give me a ride to and from the gigs. I started showing up both nights. The pay was small in terms of money but abundantly wealthy in every other way. We had a tip jar that we shared, and although the revenue was not the stuff of which financial empires are made, the “after gig hang” made it all worthwhile. We would order our complimentary meal from the scrumptious dinner menu…a perfect pau hana time. It’s easy to make good music when you are working with people you truly like.

As Jolz and I worked both Friday and Saturday nights, Fred starting migrating occasional over to Saturdays to play his ukulele alongside Sanford (we call him “San”). Kaliko would dance occasionally on Fridays. The Friday night gang and the Saturday night gang started to mingle. We all become more social with one another. Jolz and I started having our Wednesday afternoon cocktail hour at the Kulana Terrace as we talked story with our favorite bartender. I can think of no better “business meeting” than afternoon cocktails in Waikiki with my new friends. Toward the end of our sojourn in Hawaii, Barb and I and the entire Jolz Band enjoyed lunch together at Chilli’s on our day off.

On one particular night we were playing “Hanalei Moon.” I looked to my left and there was indeed a moon rising over Diamond Head. I looked straight ahead and there was Kaliko interpreting the lyrics with her lovely hula hands. And to my right, the sun was setting over the Pacific while Jolz and San sang in sweet harmony. It was then I suddenly realized that I no longer needed a career in music that consisted of playing in symphony orchestras under the judgmental eyes of  temperamental conductors, and working with assholes who would freak out if they (or you) dropped a grace note. I had finally found My Dream Gig.

This bi-coastal lifestyle that Barb and I have been enjoying is not always easy. Making the 6,000 mile journey twice a year, back and forth between the East Coast and Hawaii can be grueling.  Make no mistake about it, we love Maine and I find myself complaining more and more about crowded conditions on Oahu. Add to it the continuing development of Oahu by greedy business people from other countries and the high cost of living in Paradise. Bananas for $1.49 a pound? C’MON!

But there is a seductive carrot at the end of a stick that keeps luring me back to the islands and back to Waikiki.  It’s not just the sublime weather that meteorologist Guy Hagi calls “the best weather on the planet.” The allure is simply music and friends. Friends like Jolene, Kaliko, Fred, Mike and  San.

It all reminds me of a scene from a favorite movie of mine, “The Boys and Girl from County Clare.” When the heroine asks her elderly bachelor uncle, “Aren’t you ever lonely? Is that all you ever think about? Music?”

He replies, “When you got the music, you’ve got a friend for life. That’s why I’m never alone.”


© 2016, William Emerson Wiley


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