CULVER CITY, Calif. — Although it is of Portuguese origin, the ukulele is often associated with the music of Hawaii.
Whatever its origins, for musician and teacher Cali Rose, the ukulele is simply her favorite instrument for jamming with friends and students on a Sunday afternoon. Rose began her career performing in piano bars, which she said was a great training ground.
“It's where I really learned to be a good musician and a good entertainer, and to help make the shows about the audience and not just myself,” she said.
Rose explained that when piano bars began to fade in popularity, she wondered where she could go to continue singing the songs she loves. So she started performing at senior centers and switched from piano to ukulele.
“Suddenly, I really, really wanted to learn how to play this instrument well,” she said. “It's made me a better musician. These four little strings, you can go very, very deeply into the world of music.”
In 2010, Rose began teaching the ukulele to seniors in Culver City, resulting in jam sessions, and even a name for the group CC (or Culver City) Strummers. The COVID-19 pandemic then halted in-person jam sessions for a while. Then came Zoom meetings, and now the group meets at the Jackson Cafe patio where players can gather relatively safely.
In her 90s, Lillian Jenkins is a longtime member of CC Strummers. She recently came to her first of the group’s outdoor sessions where she got to catch up with some old friends like Tom Kuwata, with whom Jenkins likes to share a laugh.
“We hadn't seen each other in about a year and a half,” Jenkins said.
“You haven't been here?” asked Kuwata, jokingly.
“Oh my God! I told you, I ran off with a drunken sailor, and I have not come to this event,” Jenkins quipped back.
While Jenkins loves the good-natured camaraderie, she remains modest about her musical talents.
“I'm the worst player,” Jenkins said in hushed tones. "And they all said, ‘You got to practice, you have to practice.' I don't like to practice."
But nobody is keeping track at CC Strummers. It's all about good vibes, smiling faces and participating, something many here have been missing during these difficult times. The formula seems to be working here, too, as the group's numbers continue to grow both at the jam sessions and for Rose’s online ukulele classes.
“It was rather awe-inspiring,” Rose said. “That people are coming to us from all over the map, and that continues.”
CC Strummers meets every other Sunday and welcomes all who want to learn or just listen. Of the group’s undeniable positive energy, Rose has a motto: “It's a wacky world, and we need all the music and laughter we can get.”