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Whidbey Island

By Deems Tsutakawa

For The North American Post

Early on in my recording career I booked a jazz duo gig at a night club in the small town of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. It was located near the naval base and frequented by many military personnel as well as the general public. My good friend Dave Yamasaki joined me to form the classic piano-guitar duet for the weekend engagements. The gig provided our hotel accommodations as well as food, drinks and paychecks, a very amicable arrangement for sure.

Although the music was, in my opinion, quite satisfactory, we actually never had a packed house. It seems that the regular clientele were typically what some folks refer to as “rednecks,” and they wanted country rock as opposed to cool jazz.

My feeling is that the owner, management and booking agent brought in the jazz to try to get a more sophisticated, upscale vibe to the room. There were many occasions wherein people would come in, take a look at the band, frown and simply turn around and walk out without giving a listen. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was rather disappointing that these folks would not even consider listening to a few selections.

We had fun, though, as one weekend Dean Mochizuki, Tim Horiuchi, Susan Horiuchi and Tom McElroy drove up to visit and hang out with us. We went to Fort Casey State Park to see the old buildings from past wars and had a great picnic lunch.

Dean brought a basketball and we played a memorable game of two on two. Dean was on crutches at the time so he had to sit and watch. When it came to picking teams I said out loud, “me and the white guy will play Tim and Dave.”

My old buddy, Tom, gave me a funny look, but we went on to beat a very tough team. 

After the game I said to my basketball partner, “I announced the teams that way to get your dander up and hoped you would take it out on the court.”

My strategy worked, and we all laughed.

[Editor’s Note]

Deems Tsutakawa is a local Sansei musician. He can be reached at deemst@deemsmusic.com.