The Napa Valley Flea Jumpers (or “Wine Country” Flea Jumpers, depending on the day or week) is a loosely knit group of `ukulele enthusiasts who get together once a month to drink wine, eat pupus, enjoy each other’s company, and play our ‘ukuleles.  We meet anywhere they’ll have us, generally on the last Sunday of the month. Anyone and everyone is welcome to join us…if you can find us.  Keep checking back for updates on where and when; we’d love to meet you.

Judd Finkelstein

The Flea Jumpers were organized several years ago by Judd Finkelstein, noted Napa Valley winemaker (Judd’s Hill) and lead singer and ‘ukulele master of the  Maikai Gents. makai-gents1

Judd is on a temporary leave of absence from his leadership role with the Napa Valley Flea Jumpers while he pursues simultaneous careers in parenthood and film.  To keep tabs on his exploits, don’t miss the latest installment of Judd’s Enormous Wine Show.

For reasons beyond my understanding, I am now the organizer of this illustrious group.  I came to the ‘ukulele rather late, after being introduced to it by a close family friend and ‘ukulele afficionado, Auntie Lois, during a family vacation to O’ahu (a trip we now make every year.)  It was on that trip that I asked Auntie how to pronounce the name of the state fish, the humuhumunukunuku-a-pua’a.

I can still see it.  The three of us (me  and my two kids), all in a line and repeating after her:

“Who moo who moo”

“New coo new coo

“Ah.”

“Poo”

“Ah. Ah.”

We repeated it slowly. Then we said it again.  And again. And after a few butchered attempts, it was finally rolling off our tongues. 

“Humuhumunukunuku-a-pua’a”

“Wow!” I said. “Remember that old card game “Go Fish?”  What if you had to ask for the fish by their Hawaiian names when you played it?”

Hmmmm. That’s not such a bad idea.

alohacards1884827179And thus, “Go Fish-Hawai’i” was conceived and within a year I was in business, publishing educational games for kids that I could sell in Hawai’i. (I know what you’re thinking. But believe me, it’s no picnic schlepping your wares through the stores at Waikiki while everyone else is running around in their bikinis, tossing their beach balls, and enjoying the surf!)

And so, if you like this weblog and have some kids (young or old) you’d like to entertain in a funny and constructive way and/or you would simply like to help me put my kids through college, be sure to visit CardShark and order a few decks.

But that was just the beginning.  

As Card Shark continued to grow, I realized I needed to know more about the Hawaiian language and culture to make sure I honored it.  I’d heard about the Beamer family’s Aloha Music Camp on Moloka’i, a week of Hawaiian cultural immersion, and decided to go to the winter camp with my then 11-year-old son, Taylor. And that, as the poet Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.

I took along my ‘ukulele, which I had been struggling to learn to play since that first family trip to Hawai’i. One day, in Kaliko Beamer’s beginning ‘ukulele class, I had some kind of epiphany and it all seemed to come together.  I could whip through any song he gave us—as long as it was in the key of C or G and there were no more than three chords (and those were spaced well apart). With new-found confidence I decided to perform with a small group of other musicians at the ho’ike, a type of recital, the last night of camp.  We were well into the second verse of “Moloka’i Slide” when my song sheet slid right off my lap! That initiated a pile-up with my fellow musicians resulting in the biggest train wreck Moloka’i has ever seen. I resolved to get rid of the “papeh.”

It was a few weeks after that, that Taylor and I joined the Napa Valley Flea Jumpers. My music, however, was in a big binder with my chord charts. It was cumbersome to say the least and without a music stand (or room to set one up) I was sunk. I started looking for a clip-on music stand that would hold my music right where I wanted it.

Taylor with klipAfter weeks of searching, we came up with clip that would attach to the headstock of my ‘ukulele and hold my music about a foot away from my nose. Taylor came up with the name–loosely translated, in Hawai‘i, kani ka pila means to get together to play music. (That’s him on the left, with the first ‘ukulele he built at Aloha Music Camp.)

I went back to Aloha Music Camp in June with a bunch of Kani Ka Pila Klips and discovered that the clip not only worked for ‘ukuleles, but the slack key guitar players wanted them as well.

Back home, we started making chord charts, chord transposition wheels,  and other devices I needed to help my in my quest for stardom on the ‘ukulele circuit. Then we took the clip and the rest of our goodies to the Southern California ‘Ukulele Festival and sold a bundle of them. We were on our way.

In February, one year after my first visit, I went back to Aloha Music Camp with new business under my belt. I performed in the hō’ike at the end of the week with nary a hitch and was delighted to see other students breezing through their performances with their Kani Ka Pila Klips attached.

web-Alexander's-Rag-time-BaOur latest  Kani Ka Pila project is a booklet full of songs from Tin Pan Alley, printed song cards designed to fit right on the Kani Ka Pila Klip. The original sheet music cover is one side, and the lyrics, chords, and chord diagrams are on the reverse. Be sure to check them out at www.kani-ka-pila.com.

But wait, there’s more. Remember how I mentioned the Southern California ‘Ukulele Festival? I had such a blast down there, I figured we should do something similar up here. And we did. The first annual Wine Country ‘Ukulele Festival was held right here in the Napa Valley.  Check it out and be sure to mark your calendars for the next one.  

Life with ‘ukulele is, indeed, very good.