The World According to Keitho

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Archive for February, 2010

Compromising Position

Posted by keithosaunders on February 28, 2010

This week I’ve been playing the after hours gig at Dizzy’s with the Richie Vitale Quintet.  The gig consists of one set beginning at midnight during the week, and 1AM on the weekends. (last night we didn’t begin until 1:45)  What a pleasure it is to play five nights in a row.  You can spend the first night getting used to the sound of the room and not feel that you have to play everything you know in 60 minutes.  

Since  the headline act is the Christian McBride big band the piano is pushed all the way to the left edge of the stage,  As a result the bench is closer to the keyboard than prefer. I feel like one of those Florida seniors driving his Cadillac with the seat pushed all the way up to the dashboard.  It’s actually somewhat nerve-wracking since the chair is so close to the lip of the stage.  If I were one of those pianist who bounced around I would be in grave danger of taking a tumble.  Can you picture the opening of the new, modern Wide World of Sports?  Instead of the skier careening down the mountain you would see me in slow motion falling head-over-chair off the stage.

I prefer to sit back from the piano so that my forward momentum carries me towards the instrument — this setup has me in the Bill Evans position.  There’s nothing I can do about it so I’m making the best of it.  At one point I decided to go with the flow and I moved even closer to the piano — so much that my upper body was over the piano lid almost into the strings.  I was up in that piano’s kitchen, practically having sex with it.  I know this because as I was playing I could hear embarrassed laughter coming from the audience.  I didn’t care — I was in the moment, humping that Steinway 8 to the bar.

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Trumpet tocatta

Posted by keithosaunders on February 22, 2010

Every once in a while I go on a youtube binge.  Tonight I spent an hour watching jazz videos, primarily Freddie Hubbard, but also some Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea.  With Freddie I am amazed not only at his chops but how fluid he was.  The notes streamed out in concise ideas and there was an electricity about him.   Every trumpet player wanted to be him. 

In my younger days I was drawn to the more mercurial sax players — Bird, Sonny Rollins, and Hank Mobley.  As I grow older I find myself leaning more towards the trumpet.  They can’t play as many notes as the sax — they have to come up for air — so their lyricism comes into sharper definition.  I really noticed it with Freddie tonight.  How he would play a phrase and step back, gearing up for the next one.   As a pianist they are more rewarding to accompany.  They leave space for your chords and the timber of their instrument compliments that of the piano. 

What put me off to trumpet in my younger days — the cockiness, which I took for arrogance — is now something which I appreciate.  You must be cocky to play that instrument, just as you have to be cocky to quarterback a football team.  Of course you have to be cocky to play jazz, period, but as a pianist you know that you are going to get a sound and you are buffered from the audience by virtue of your instrument.   Trumpeters are on the front lines — if they crack a note there is no hiding.

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My Bea Arthur Encounter

Posted by keithosaunders on February 18, 2010

Bea Arthur, the actress who portrayed Maude in the 70s, died in April of last year.  I always liked this brash, bold comedienne.  Here is a recounting of meeting her.

25 years ago, when I still lived in L.A., I had a solo gig at a trendy restaurant in the Palisades.  One night Bea Arthur came in with her husband and some friends. On the way out she was smashed, and as she passed the piano she commanded, in her best Maude voice, “Play Lady is a Tramp!” I obeyed and she proceeded, in the middle of this staid, understated restaurant, to belt out “Tramp.”  Her husband was doing his best to get her to leave. “Cmon honey, let’s go…” And she shouted back to him, “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll fuck ya later!”

 Shortly after Bea’s passing I read an article about the seminal two-part episode of Maude where she has an abortion. I actually remember watching this as a kid.  I’m not sure how it registered for me back then, but can you imagine there being a sitcom today dealing with this issue?  Furthermore, this episode aired a few months before Roe v Wade was enacted!

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Dark Days

Posted by keithosaunders on February 17, 2010

Today in Salon Glenn Greenwald wrote:

Dick Cheney went on ABC News this weekend and boasted of the role he played in ordering the waterboarding of detainees.  Andrew Sullivan has written several posts accurately describing this statement as a “confession of committing a war crime on national television.”  Harper’s Scott Horton identifies the specific criminal statute Cheney confessed he violated, makes clear that — as the Attorney General himself previously said — there is no reasonable debate possible regarding the criminality of waterboarding under U.S. and international law (notwithstanding the efforts of Politico and friends to pretend otherwise), and then asks:  “What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it?”

There are no words to describe my feeling of disappointment with the Obama administration.  In a way it’s worse than Bush because I expected so much more from them.  They’re going to be a one term presidency and we’re never going to see indictments. 

So where is all this centrism getting them?  If only they had done the morally correct thing —  — allowing due process for prisoners, and rescinding the more egregious of Bush Co’s legislation, i.e.warrantless wiretapping — I could have forgiven them for being a one term administration.  In fact I would have felt proud of them and placed the blame squarely on an obstructionist Republican/Blue Dog Democrat Congress.  The way things stand now I feel that Obama shares in culpability.  I hold out hope that things can turn around, but not much.

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Yeah, man.

Posted by keithosaunders on February 14, 2010

You may not realize it by our gruff exteriors, but us musicians are a fragile bunch.  Our egos are akin to high performance sports car,requiring constant attention.  This self-esteem, or lack thereof, needs to be tweaked and kept in tune.  To this end, I have to say that you, the audience, do not always do your job.   

I will grant you, kind reader and prospective audience member, that not every venue demands the rapt attention of, say, a Carnegie Hall, but c’mon —  a little applause between shovelling in that linguine and swilling down that house wine wouldn’t kill you.  Here we are — the musicians — and we’re giving, and we’re giving, and we’re giving some more.  What the hell are you doing to add to the urbane experience?!  Are you bringing your A game or are you merely phoning it in? 

The musicians understand, however, that there are times when we are going to have to self-medicate, and by this I don’t necessarily mean getting loaded.   Let me offer an example.  The song ends — a beautiful, introspective ballad replete with verse, solos, and coda.  

Crickets. 

 What do we do? I’ll tell you what we do.  Piano player turns to the bass player and.using his best hipster voice…”Yeahhhhhh.”  

At this point you might be thinking “how pathetic.”  You’re wrong.  Somebody has to say some fuckin’ thing!  If it’s not you it will have  to be one of us.  The band I play with on Thursdays and Sundays  has found the perfect solution.  After the song ends if there is no applause, or just a little applause, we turn to each other and say “BASTARDS!”  Very cathartic.  I’m surprised more cats don’t use this one.

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Nothing beats a good sausage before a gig

Posted by keithosaunders on February 12, 2010

For the past 20 years I have been gigging with a great singer, who is also a close friend —  Richard Lanham.  He is one of the better singers I have had the pleasure to know, and a great guy to boot.  Most people think he sounds like Nat King Cole, which he does, but there are also strong influences of Joe Williams and Dinah Washington. 

For years now Richard and I have worked gigs at nursing homes and/or libraries during the afternoons.  As musicians we need these kind of gigs to fill up the schedule.  They are only an hour-long — no muss, no fuss — and we go all over the city. In the old days we used to have triples — two in Brooklyn, and one in the Bronx etc.   We have driven all over —  from the bottom of Staten Island, to Far Rockaway in Queens, (birthplace of Woody Allen)  to the top of the Bronx. 

Today’s gig was in the East New York section of Brooklyn.  We’ve been there many times and it’s actually not all that hard for me to get to from my place in Queens.  I happen to know that on Linden Blvd, a short 2.5 blocks from the gig, there is a truck that sells the best sausages in New York.  Even though I had already eaten lunch  (an unfortunate seafood salad from the local market) it didn’t take much to convince me to split a sausage.  They are as good as ever!

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The Group

Posted by keithosaunders on February 11, 2010

My trio CD, Lost In Queens, is coming out this April and I thought I would preview one of the tracks on this blog. The song is called The Group and it’s a fast, hard-driving minor tune featuring a cavalcade of B flat minor. I am extremely proud of the take, and, in fact, I am very happy with the entire CD.

Those of you familiar with Queens, New York City’s largest borough will know that we have some of the most confusing set of streets in the metro area. For instance, you have 44th, Ave, 44th, Rd, and 44th Dr, all running parallel to each other, and any one of them is liable to intersect with 44th st. One of the compositions, In Search of the Lost Camel Paths of Maspeth, evokes my continuing struggle to find an alternative route to the Long Island Expressway during rush hour. Suffice to say there is no happy ending.

Here is a link to the sound files. Feel free to purchase the CD if you like what you hear. (I guess I should clarify at this time that the CD is not free)

Lost in Queens — The Keith Saunders Trio

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Talk to the Hand

Posted by keithosaunders on February 9, 2010

 The mocking of  Barack Obama by Sarah Palin for his use of a teleprompter is something I don’t get.  Even the most rabid tea-partier must understand that it is impossible to memorize an 80 minute speech.  Every president has used the teleprompter since its invention. 

If I was a Republican I would be insulted by being condescended to with such a weak talking point.  If this does get traction it is disconcerting to say the least — as if the flimsiest of criticism can seem valid if repeated enough.

Posted in Obama, Politics | 3 Comments »

Keitho’s Superbowl memories: Superbowl XI — I was there!

Posted by keithosaunders on February 7, 2010

I went to Super Bowl XI.  It was the Minnesota Vikings 4th quixotic appearance and they played John Madden’s Oakland Raiders at the Rose Bowl.  The Vikings had won their division eight out of the past nine years and had been to the big game three times.  Each time they were soundly defeated.  The Kansas City Chiefs, the Miami Dolphins, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had taken their turns at a Viking smackdown.  This was the Raider’s second trip, having lost Superbowl II to the legendary Green Bay Packers. 

When we arrived at our seat we found that O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris sat 6 rows above us.   Both were still NFL players.  Little did we now that O.J. would one day change history, forever altering our perception of freeway chase.  Back then he was known as a great running back and pitchman.

 Early in the game the Vikings had a chance to draw first blood when they blocked a Ray Guy punt, recovering it at the Raiders 3 yard line.  They proceeded to fumble  the ball right back to the Raiders and shortly thereafter the rout was on.  Fred Biletnikoff caught three touchdown passes and the Raiders rolled to a 32-7 win.

We had parked at the house of the district attorney of Los Angeles — a friend of my Uncle’s —  two blocks from the Rose Bowl.  After the game we discovered that we had been parked in by a Chevy Nova and my crazy cousin, never one excercise patience, became so upset that he keyed the guys car.  He was like a caged animal and we stared in rank amazement as he vandalized a strangers car. 

That was the first and only Superbowl I went to.  There was no rock-star halftime show, no full body cavity search upon entering the arena, and no MVP prattling on about Disneyland in the post-game interview.  Just a bunch of crazed, over-sized freaks playing a kid’s game without even the aid of an instant replay booth review.

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Lady Gaga — where’s the beef?

Posted by keithosaunders on February 6, 2010

For the last few months I’ve been hearing a lot about this great pop sensation, Lady Gaga.  People have reported how she is the natural continuation of self-invented personas, such as Madonna or Prince.  I am sad to report that her music makes Madonna’s sound like Aretha Franklin.

I watched a few videos of her today.  It is painfully  obvious that she cannot carry a tune and that her voice is predominantly doctored in the studio.  What’s the gadget-du jour?  Auto-tune.  Now that’s a device for our age.  No one should ever have to hone a craft. Why learn drums when you can just as easily program a beat.  No need to practice boring scales on the piano when your synthesizer can sequence the fastest of runs for you.

The thing about Gaga’s videos is — you barely see her for more than a second before the image changes.  Her clothes, a series of loud, leathery outfits, left me cold.  There was nothing inherently sexy about them.  Not even a hint of cleavage.  She could just as easily be a man in a wig. 

The pièce de résistance:  Even her name is contrived — taken from a Queen song called Radio Gaga.  So much for any shred of originality.

Posted in jazz, media, music | 4 Comments »