Music Magic Hawaii: Aloha Got Soul

Doing Something Special: An Interview with Jay Molina of Music Magic

This weekend, jazz-fusion band Music Magic reunites for a three shows at Jazz Minds Café.

I had the opportunity to ask Music Magic bassist/vocalist Jay Molina some questions over email before the band’s rehearsal this past Sunday. 

Turns out Jay’s been busying performing with a Maui band called SLAM, a “very funky smooth jazz and R&B” group. SLAM jammed with saxophonist Tom Scott and trumpeter Skip Martin (from Kool and the Gang and the Dazz Band) at the Maui Jazz and Blues Festival earlier this month.

By the way, Jay tells me Cool Sound/Cool Hawaii owner Toshi Nakada will be at the reunion! So buy your tickets now for the Music Magic reunion, or at least donate a few dollars so I can make it to the show!

Music Magic Hawaii: Aloha Got Soul

The Music Magic reunion show will feature Jay Molina and former members Fred Schreuders, Darryl Blouin, Al Pascua and more.

Aloha Got Soul: I’m assuming you and your bandmates were about the same age when Music Magic formed. How old were you guys, and how did Music Magic form? 

Jay Molina: Music Magic formed in June of 1977, I think. I was 21 at the time and I think Al Pascua is a few years older than me and our first drummer Renato Guasconi was 33. Our friend/agent Billie Ann Sabala called us and asked if we wanted to do an audition at the Spindrifter Restaurant in Kahala Mall. Al and I were playing with a band at that time that was semi defunked. We got together with Renato and rehearsed about 3 or 4 songs and to our surprise, got the gig. They told us we start in a week. Now we had to cram everyday to get enough material for 3 hours worth on music, but we did it and that’s how Music Magic was born.

Aloha Got Soul: When did Music Magic start playing nightclubs? Was it tougher than you expected?

Jay Molina: We started like I said in June of ’77. We decided at the time to play a mix of jazz fusion, R&B and pop. It wasn’t tough at all. Everything kind of fell into place we started as the off night band for and eventually became the regular 6 night a week band there.

Aloha Got Soul: Was the Spindrifter audition setlist mostly cover songs? When did original compositions become a part of your repertoire?

Jay Molina: It was all cover songs as we were looking for songs that would appeal to the public. I think we may have had one or 2 jazz tunes. Actually we were just looking at it as a gig to play one or 2 nights a week and not expecting it turn into what it did.

Aloha Got Soul: It sounds like the only regular nightclub gig Music Magic played was the Spindrifter. Were there other nightclubs?

Jay Molina: The Spindrifter was our first home for about a year and a half. From there we went to the Plaza Lounge at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. We also performed at the Oceania Floating Restaurant, the Ala Moana Hotel for a short time, the Winery and the Jazz Club at Top’s Canterberry Place. Our last venue was Opus One at the Ilikai Hotel. We also opened shows for The Average White band at Blaisdell Center and Bob James at Andrew’s Amphitheater on the UH campus. "Our First Album was Heavily Influenced by Chick Corea."

Aloha Got Soul: Was Music Magic and jazz-fusion widely accepted within Hawaii’s music scene at the time, or was MM the only group performing this style of music?

Jay Molina: At that time jazz fusion was popular here but only a few other bands were doing it like Topaz.

Aloha Got Soul: Can you recall any other Hawaii jazz-fusion bands like Music Magic and Topaz?

Jay Molina: One of the other great jazz fusion bands back then was and still is Nueva Vida.

Aloha Got Soul: Music Magic’s first album was largely reminiscent of Chick Corea (in my opinion), a far cry from the disco/r&b sound of One Man Lady. What happened between the time you recorded Music Magic and One Man Lady? What prompted this change in style?

Jay Molina: Our first album was heavily influenced by jazz fusion such as Chick Corea, but we noticed that music was changing as it always does and we were playing more R&B and singing more. On One Man Lady we tried to keep some of the jazz influence with instrumentals but added vocal tunes to give us a more radio-friendly commercial sound. I know some people describe it as “disco” but I would say it’s more pop. 

Aloha Got Soul: Music Magic "One Man Lady" (Japan)

Music Magic “One Man Lady” (Japan)

Aloha Got Soul: Music Magic released 3 albums, correct? (Music Magic, One Man Lady [USA], One Man Lady [Japan]). What other recordings did you guys make, if any?

Jay Molina: We released 2 albums, Music Magic and One Man Lady. Both were re released on CD a few years ago in Japan, in fact the guy that released them on the Cool Sound label from Japan is coming to the reunion shows.

Aloha Got Soul: The internet (namely, Al Pascua’s Myspace) states that Music Magic broke up “due to creative differences”.

Jay Molina: Music Magic disbanded in 1983. At that time music had really changed and we were at a crossroads in what we wanted to do. Jazz fusion was no longer popular and people’s tastes had changed. We were relegated to being a dance band at Opus One at the Ilikai. After we lost that gig I decided that I no longer wanted to continue since the original goals we set out to do with Music Magic were no longer attainable in that current musical environment. Al and I were the only original members at the time.”

Aloha Got Soul: Did you know the female model on the cover of One Man Lady?

Jay Molina: I heard she was murdered by her boyfriend years ago and police still haven’t found the culprit. The girl on the One Man Lady cover was Lee Ann Kauhane. Sadly she was murdered by her boyfriend at the time who fled to the mainland. I’m not sure if he was ever captured. She was a beautiful sweet girl who just ended up with the wrong person.

Aloha Got Soul: Why a Music Magic reunion, and why now?

Jay Molina: I saw Al and his family here in Maui about 4 or 5 years ago. He met a friend of mine who was playing guitar at the hotel where he was staying and got my number and also contacted Roscoe Wright (MM’s second drummer) and we met in Lahaina. It was great to see them again.

After that Al and I would email every so often and about a year ago or so there was a little mention of a reunion, we had talked about it but the main problem was cost and finding a venue. I had checked with Gordon Biersch and a few other places. "Music changed. We were at a crossroads."

Then a couple of friends, Fred Li, who used to sit in with us on sax, and Joe Wee, a bass player, said they wanted to sponsor and promote a reunion. Wee got a hold of our original guitar player Fred Schreuders and one of our many drummers, Darryl Blouin, and they both jumped onboard. Peter Factora our 3rd drummer and who recorded the first album will be playing with us along with Rock Hendricks on sax who played with us for a little while.

Aloha Got Soul: You live on Maui, and some of your bandmates live on the mainland. How are you finding the time to prepare for the reunion?

Jay Molina: We all agreed on a list of songs and everyone has been working on them individually. Fred and Al got together a couple of times since they both live close enough to each other in L.A. Darryl is in Las Vegas and I’m in Maui. We’ll all be coming to Honolulu this weekend and be rehearsing during the week until we start playing on Thursday.

Aloha Got Soul: What songs can we expect to hear at the reunion shows, are there any new originals?

“We’ll be doing Music Magic originals like “One Man Lady” and “Avocado Obbligato” and also some covers we used to love to do like Reasons and a few others from Earth Wind and Fire, music from Stevie Wonder, George Duke and more. As far as new tunes. Al came out with an EP last year called The Al Pascua Project and we’re doing one of the songs.

Aloha Got Soul: If the idea for a reunion came about in, say, 1995, would it have happened? Or does it feel like 2011 has the perfect climate for this to happen, and why? 

Jay Molina: Probably not. I think with the 70s Nightclub Reunion and resurgence of a lot of the bands that used to play in Waikiki talk of a MM reunion started. I remember a few musician friends saying it would be great to have a Music Magic reunion and gradually Al and I talked about it. Al also told me that Darryl brought up the idea a few years ago.

Aloha Got Soul: After the reunion, is there anything on the horizon for Music Magic?

Jay Molina: I’m not sure. We’re looking at this right now as a one time thing. If it goes well…who knows. I think time has made us grow, healed some old wounds and made us realize just what we had back then. We were doing something very special that not many others [were doing] and I’ll always be grateful to these guys and all the other great musicians who I got to play with because of Music Magic for making me a better musician and pushing me to my limit.

SLAM Maui jazz band

Jay Molina (far left) with SLAM, a Maui jazz group.

Mahalo Jay for taking the time to answer my questions. See you at the Music Magic reunion!

More Music Magic:

Mixed-Up Music Magic: The Many Styles of Hawaii’s Jazz-Fusion Group

Music Magic “One Man Lady” (1981)

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