Interview with Music Man Joe Nicolas: The Master Fiddler Revisited

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Before there was Jay Cayuca, John Lesaca, Cecil Licad, Tots Tolentino and Jong Cuenco, there was Joe Nicolas: the music genius.

Also a pioneer in hotel and restaurant string entertainment, Joe is a highly-respected world-class veteran violinist who has crossed oceans and has performed with some of the biggest personalities of the music world. His achievements says a lot about his passion for music: He is the leader of renowned band called the Manila Strings who have won Aliw Awards for three consecutive years, from 1979 to 1981 for Best String Ensemble thus earning him the 2004 Hall of Fame Aliw Award; the co-founder of the National Philharmonic Orchestra; director of the Philippine Musicians Guild; chairman of the board of judges for the 7th and 8th Metro Pop Song Festival; and a moving influence in the music business and arts.

At 67 years of age, Joe is still strong and able, he continues to flourish in the career he loves, playing his soothing music with his band. Below are excerpts from my exclusive interview with this impressive yet humble musician.

Q: At what age did you start pursuing your love for music?

A: I started when I was 10 years old.

Q: Who were your musical influences then?

A: There are many to mention. I would say three of them were my mentors, my professors when I was still in musical education - Luis Valencia (St. Scholastica & PWU), Basilio Manalo (CEU), and Ramon Mendoza (UP).

Q: Youve been in the industry since circa 1950s, what are your most cherished experiences as a musician?

A: A lot. Ive performed onstage with Dionne Warwick, Andy Williams, Jhonny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, Paul Anka, Perry Como, Harry Bellafonte, and Lynda Carter.

Q: Lynda Carter, as in "Wonder Woman"?

A: Yes, she also sings. Ive also performed with Lea Salonga, Raul Sunico, Regine Velasquez, and many others. I was also frequent in Malacanang Palace since the time of Imelda (Marcos) and Ive travelled abroad (the U.S., Europe and across Asia) to serenade special personalities (like Margaret Tatcher, etc.) in grand occasions. I was also able to record a live album with my group (The Manila Strings) while we were aboard the Philippine Airlines.

Q: Where do you usually perform?

A: At different hotels, restaurants, cruise ships and different stages here (like the C.C.P. and Paco Park) and abroad. But I remain loyal to the Manila Hotel. I owe them a huge part of my success. Ive been with them since 1977 until now.

Q: What were some of those huge events?

A: To name a few, the Asia Conference in Madrid (1977), the Asia Conference in Munich (1979), the Asia Conference in Hawaii (1981), the induction of Cardinal Vidal in Rome (1985), and the Transac Convention in Taipei (1987).

Q: When did you start with the Manila Strings?

A: Ive been with different groups for years, some of which even decades. …