Samui Wining & Dining
All That Jazz

High-notes and virtuosos at Rocky’s Boutique Resort.


All That JazzSamui’s different. It’s nothing at all like Bangkok. It’s not even like Thailand’s other tourist areas, such as Pattaya and Phuket. It’s smaller here. There’re far fewer people about. And that’s the reason it’s a surprise to discover how many talented people are on our island. And I’m talking specifically about musicians. Yes, of course, you’ll always find a handful of rock ’n’ rollers wherever you are. These are mostly self-taught hobbyists, although there are a few pro and ex-session musicians around.


But I’m on about serious musicians. Classically trained, several with Batchelor’s degrees, and most that have played in orchestras at one time or another, with many of them having worked as full-time professionals. Whilst there aren’t many symphony orchestras on the island, there is a call for good musicians. You’ll spot them playing solo, or in groups, appearing at some of the top restaurants and lounges. And one venue that’s a must when it comes to some very cool jazz indeed is Rocky’s Boutique Resort.


Rocky’s is one of that select group of Samui resorts which should be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list. It’s one of the most breathtakingly-pretty places anywhere, particularly at night, when the myriad of hanging red lanterns and under-lit greenery turn everything into a tropical fairyland.


There’s a choice of dining, there too. On the left-hand side of the steeply-descending central path you’ll find the very laid-back dining area of The Bistro, close to the upper pool. There’s a high-tech open kitchen that services the cosy nests of tables and big, comfy loungers and day beds. And, on the other side of the path and overlooking the rocky coves and beach, there’s the open-sided fine-dining ambiance of The Dining Room. This excellent eatery offers some of the best French-based contemporary European cuisine on the island, and with a standard of service to match. And it’s also where you can garnish your prandial excursion with the liberally-sprinkled offerings of some of the island’s best musicians.


Take Josh Evans, to begin with. He’s one of those effortlessly-talented people who never, ever, need to look where their fingers are on the keyboard. That’s probably just as well as the speed at which they dance about would probably leave him with a migraine if he did. He’s a comparatively young man but has somehow taken root musically in that golden era of the 40s and 50s. The mention of Benny Goodman or Coleman Hawkins will cause both his eyebrows to rise in interest. That’s about as animated as he gets (other than his smile): most of his energy seems to be reserved for his hands.


And then there’s Norman King. Whereas Josh has an intense and fragile presence, Norman is more imposing. He’ll stand unmoving with his hands around his tenor sax like he’s about to plant a fencepost. And then you’ll become aware that both he and Josh suffer from the same syndrome: hyper-hands. Norman might not quite be leaping up the wall but his fingers are flowing as if they were fluid. But take a look at his saxophone; it speaks volumes, and in more ways than one. It’s old, classic and made early in the 1900s. It once belonged to his father and Norman treasures it like he would a child. And it makes really sweet music.


And, lastly, but certainly not ‘leastly’, there’s Annabelle Nicholls. She’s the one in the middle, with a voice like honey and a presence that’s tinged with just a hint of Vera Lynn. If you ask the other two to take you to their leader, they’ll shrug and point at Annabelle. Whereas the others have been on the scene for a while, Annabelle, after a string of holidays here, decided to make the move to Samui just two years ago. She hovered on the fringe of the ‘serious’ music scene for a while before throwing in her lot with Josh and Norman in January this year. And it’s no coincidence that the music they make together is so tightly-knit: they all share a love of the same kind of music. And each one of them is a virtuoso.


Other than throwing the word ‘jazz’ at it, you’d be hard-pushed to be more specific about the genre. It’s not simply about the songs or the lyrics. And it’s not just the ‘jazz’ approach, with a tangible melody-line that’s improvised around, breaks away from and returns back to the tune again. It’s partly about the interaction between Josh on piano and Norman on sax. When one breathes out, the other breathes in. They adjust to each other effortlessly, sometimes with one taking the lead and sometimes the other. There are never any uncomfortable moments of discord, when artists sometimes both attempt to stand up at the same time. And in it and around it is the silky sound of Annabelle, crooning, whispering and, just now and again, growling the lyrics.


And it’s also partly about what they can do with a more-contemporary number. Gershwin is recognisable. Classics like ‘When Autumn Leaves Begin to Fall’ and ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ are instantly identifiable. But you’ll frown for a moment before realising that Simply Red’s ‘Holding Back the Years’ is not a classic from the jazz era of the post-War years. Or that Carol King’s ‘It’s Too Late Baby’ was penned for solo piano and not a jazz trio. With this trio you’re left constantly wondering what their next number’s going to be; they’re just so diverse.


And, just every now and then, Norman weaves his notes against the lead of Annabelle’s voice. Most of the time he’s waltzing with Norman’s piano, but look out for the haunting ‘Din Di’, made popular by Astrud Gilberto. This time Norman takes to the flute and he perfectly pitches his melody alongside the ebb and flow of the vocals, sometimes overlapping in melancholic unison. It’ll make the hairs stand up on your arms.


They’re set against a picture-postcard backdrop: behind them water tumbles down a rugged rock face entangled with tropical vines and greenery. The room is warmly-lit by gigantic red lanterns. The appreciative diners nod their approval, forks poised. Everything’s just perfect. The food is fabulous and the music, marvellous.


Rob De Wet


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