The World According to Keitho

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Archive for March, 2010

Prescription for aggravation: One chord a beat.

Posted by keithosaunders on March 25, 2010

I like chord changes as much as the next guy.  In fact, I probably like them more than the next guy, hard-bopster that I am.  Give me a song such as the original Milestones or All Gods Children Got Rhythm and I am right at home and in my element.  

There is one thing, however, that I have never been comfortable with — playing one chord change per beat.  Fortunately we musicians don’t encounter this potentially thorny situation that often.  The song that immediately comes to mind is Randy Weston’s Hi-Fly, whose 4th bar consists of E7+9 Eb7+9 D7+9 G7.  Up until then you have been in ii-V heaven, effortlessly churning out your hippest D minor licks.  All of a sudden – BAM – you have to think.  GOD DAMNIT. 

What to do?  Do you double up and run 16th notes?  You can do that at a medium tempo, but any faster, unless your name happens to be Sonny Rollins, things are going to get dicey.  So you try to run an eight-note line but you soon discover that negotiating those chromatic changes is about as fun as cleaning behind the refrigerator.   OK, so you think about framing the chord and cycling on down but how many times can you get away with this? 

The song that has sparked my one chord a beat rumination is Phineas Newborn Jr’s Sneakin’ Around.  It’s a medium tempo groover with an incredible melody mostly centered around, you guessed it, D minor.  Trouble ensues in the 7th and 8th bar:

G7   F#7 F7| E7 A7 D-   |

/  /    /   /         /   /      /  /

Now that’s a thorny two bars.  You’ve got chromatic dominant 7th moving down one chord a beat starting in the middle of one bar and ending in the middle of the next.  Come on! 

Sneakin' around is on this great record!

I have to admit, though, Phineas plays the hell out of it, seemingly without breaking a sweat.  You hear it time and again with the musicians of that era.  There was a caliber that existed that was off the charts.  Not only could they play the hell out of the blues and I Got Rhythm, but they could negotiate the trickiest of harmony. 

Clifford Brown had some of the most difficult songs.  Brownie Speaks is altered rhythm changes played at break-neck speed.  A jagged, boppish melody and extremely difficult changes.  Don’t you know he cuts through them like butter.  The Jazz Messenger’s albums are full of songs that are hummable and melodic, but many of them are awkward to play over.  You would never know it by listening to Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, and Hank Mobley.

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Look up the word bastard in the dictionary…

Posted by keithosaunders on March 21, 2010

…and you will see a photo of Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office under Bush II from 2003-2005.

With health care reform going up for a vote today, selfish government-hating bastards, such as Eakin and his Republican brethren, are top of mind.  In today’s Times there are two editorials side to side.  One, by Nicholas Kristof, detailed a woman who survived stomach cancer only to see it spread to her intestines when her insurance cut her off having a chronic condition. 

The next editorial, written by Eakin, referred to Obama’s health care reform bill as an entitlement program.  He went on to describe how the CBO’s math is not reliable since it contains gimmicks — front loading revenues and back loading spending — which skew the numbers.  He argues that the bill will add 560 billion to the deficit, a figure I find hard to believe.

People such as Eakin are adept at telling us why we cannot have health care reform, but offer no alternative.  This leads me to believe that the real entitlement, in their eyes, begins and ends with the wealthy.

Posted in health care | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Health care reform: It’s time.

Posted by keithosaunders on March 20, 2010

After months of political wrangling and machinations the Health Care Reform Bill will be voted on in the House tomorrow, March 21st.  People, it’s time.  I understand that this is a flawed bill and that an absence of a public option is huge blow.  The bottom line is that 32 million more Americans will be insured (1 million more than originally thought) and 138 billion dollars will be pared from the federal deficit in the next ten years.

There is no moral reason to oppose health care reform.  The Republicans have yet to offer a valid plan, save for their feeble talking points — being able to buy insurance across state lines, and tort reform.  The last administration had eight years to deal with this and did not lift a finger, tort reform and all.

A year ago, when health care reform was first presented, I figured that this was an issue in which Obama’s bi-partisan efforts would be a plus.  Why wouldn’t the Republicans want to do what is humane and necessary?   How naive I was. 

I have reached the conclusion that there exists a Darwinian sense of entitlement among people of wealth and means.  Their rational is that they have worked hard for what they have achieved and they are deserving of privilege by means of their talent and drive.  The tacit implication is that it is the uninsured person’s own fault for not having had the perseverance and the ability to succeed in a competitive world.

Of course these is a racist component to this. What is the term “big government” but a euphemism for a welfare state.  It is hardly subtle.  The Republicans have spent the better part of 40 years deriding the gains accomplished through Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, as well as LBJ’s Great Society programs.  All of this is a way for the rich, or middle class white person to feel good about where he is in society, and to alleviate the guilt that comes with knowing there are people being denied access to health care and a better life.

Posted in health care, Obama, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Miles Davis: The secret weapon in the fight for health care reform.

Posted by keithosaunders on March 20, 2010

On August 29th, 1970 Miles Davis appeared at the Isle of Wight festival.  Primarily a rock festival it featured such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, and The Who. 

Miles was in rare form — on fire!   The group consisted of 2 keyboard players — Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett.  I know that Jarrett did not like playing electric pianos but he sounded good, playing one of the raunchiest sounding keyboards (supposedly an organ) I’ve ever heard.  He somehow manages not to overpower the music. I wonder how Chick, who was playing rhodes,  and Keith got along on that tour. I would have liked to have overheard some of their conversations.

It is my belief that the entire U.S. Congress, yutzes that are,  should be locked  inside of a screening  room and forced to listen and view this concert.  I am convinced that the ensuing mass heart attacks would be instrumental in driving home the point about the importance of health care reform.

You can watch a great interview with Keith Jarrett about this concert at Joshua’s blog here

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Keith Jarrett: The most annoying great pianist ever.

Posted by keithosaunders on March 16, 2010

I want to like Keith Jarrett.  I do.  He may be the best pianist of our time — certainly he is top five — but his histrionics are difficult to ignore.  To be more specific I do like his playing.  What’s not to like?  It’s the baggage I could do without.

Most notable is the animal groan that emanates from him at seemingly random times.  Ostensibly, I suppose,this is supposed to signal that something deep is going on.  I would give him a mulligan on this since other great pianists have famously made noise.  Errol Garner, and my favorite, Bud Powell come to mind.  Attend one of Keith’s concert’s, however, and you will see a vocal mic.  C’mon!  If I wanted to hear a cow in heat I would go to a farm, not Carnegie Hall.

Finally, I have a beef with Keith’s record producer.  I was listening to one of Jarrett’s live records and after the last song concluded I was treated to no less than one minute of vigorous applause.  Hey  Manfred Eicher, we enjoy the music just fine.  We don’t need some European audience rhythmically applauding to cue us in to the greatness of your delicate genius artist.

Posted in jazz, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

NY Mets: The embarrassment continues

Posted by keithosaunders on March 15, 2010

Driving on the L.I.E. on the way to my gig I nearly threw up in my mouth when I noticed a New York Mets billboard with the slogan “We believe in comebacks!”  As a fan this was insulting on many levels.  First of all it’s condescending.  It is  as if we, as fans, will not support a team coming off a poor season.  Secondly it has the effect of reminding us not only of  how bad they were last year, but of the monumental collapses that took place in 07 and 08. 

The Mets have no feel for their fans.  There is a glib corporatism to the way they present themselves, and they lack a connection to their fan base.  It’s been this way for years.  Even when they won the World Series 24 years ago they had a buttoned down approach to the celebration, upbraiding Ron Darling and a few of the other players for drinking champagne on the field.  The players wanted to share their joy with the fans but management felt that drinking publicly was bad for the Met’s image.

When it comes right down to it this isn’t even an original slogan.  It’s pilfered from the 1973 team.  And guess what?  That slogan was coined by a player — Tug McGraw — not by some corporate hack in the front office.

If the Mets really want to win back some fans I can solve their problem with a billboard of my own:


Posted in baseball, Mets | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Discovering a gem from John Coltrane

Posted by keithosaunders on March 13, 2010

Yesterday I heard a track from John Coltrane that I had previously never heard.  It’s called  Villa and it was recorded in March of 1963 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio.  Previously unreleased, it was included on a CD remastering of  Coltrane Live At Birdland in the mid 1990s. 

There doesn’t seem to be much information about the track other than it is an old standard once performed by Artie Shaw.  It was not unusual for Trane to uncover underplayed gems — Matt Dennis’ Violets For Your Furs, and Hoagy Carmichael’s Little Old Lady are just two examples.  Even though Coltrane’s music was evolving in the direction of the avant-garde, employing long, modal vamps infused with drummer Elvin Jones’ dense polyrhythms, it still retained elements of lyricism that were astounding. 

What is so striking about this track is the restraint of the four musicians.  Trane is on soprano, and Elvin begins the song using brushes.  This is their version of ‘tippin’ — the music is at a simmer, but it hints at raw power.   They’re like a high performance  sports car that’s riding in a low gear. 

All About Jazz critic C. Michael Baily wrote, …if the listener wishes to hear the master in transition, look no further than Coltrane Live at Birdland.  I disagree.  I believe that Coltrane’s playing was in constant transition throughout his career.  Contrast him with the other major band leader of the 1960s, Miles Davis, whose sound remained constant in a brilliantly disparate variety of settings.  Coltrane’s playing and sound were in a perpetual state of flux and his 1963 output was no different.     

If anyone out there has information about the history of this song I would love to hear it.  I also would like to hear your impressions of Coltrane’s version.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Still no joy in mudville

Posted by keithosaunders on March 12, 2010

Jim Walters has a very poignant post on what could have been had the New York Mets come up big in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.  I’ll never forget the elation I felt after Endy Chavez’ amazing 6th inning catch which robbed Cardinal Scott Rolen of a home run.  All the momentum had sudden;y swing the Mets way and when they loaded the bases in the bottom of that inning all of a sudden we could taste a World Series. 

It was not to be, however, as Jose Valentine and Endy Chavez both failed to drive the runs in.  In the top of the 9th Yadier Molina hit an improbable home run off of Aaron Heilman and the Mets, though loading the bases in the bottom of the inning, would fail once again to score.

Even after that playoff loss the future looked bright for the Mets.  That’s what makes the subsequent collapses in 2007 and 2008, and the injury plagued year of 2009 so devastating.  It is painfully clear that the window of opportunity has slammed shut and that there is nothing left to do but rebuild.

I have never felt this depressed 3 weeks before opening day.  

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Giant Steps

Posted by keithosaunders on March 9, 2010

Giant Steps is a fascinating album.  It was a breakthrough album for John Coltrane whose frenetic sheets of sound took up residence in its impossibly difficult title track.  The Giant Steps chord changes, which some say are based on the bridge of Rogers and Hart’s Have You Met Miss Jones, would dominate the album, as well as the several record dates that would proceed it.  It is remarkable to hear Coltrane cutting through those changes as if they were butter, particularly on Countdown, a duet with drummer Arthur Taylor for three-quarters of the track. 

Giant Steps is an uptempo song divided into two eight bar sections, the first of which features two disparate changes per measure.  The second eight bar section is a series of ii-V-i progressions resolving in three different keys.  The song is challenging to say the least — a harmonic minefield — and even those with the technique to execute at this tempo have a difficult time making a personal statement. 

Coltrane recorded Giant Steps just one month after his work on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, an album noted for its scarcity of chords and moody ambience.  [Kind of Blue was recorded on March 2 and April 22, 1959 while Giant Steps was recorded May 4 and 5, 1959]  

I  have always felt that the songs on Giant Steps served as etudes — vehicles for Coltrane’s obsession with these angular chords.  In the subsequent dates, particularly on Coltrane’s Sound (not released at the time) and My Favorite Things, Coltrane was able to discover the soul in these changes.  His playing became more lyrical, and if it can be believed, even more confident.  

These Atlantic dates, recorded in an 18 month period between April of 1959 and October of 1960, were Coltrane’s farewell to playing over standard 32 bar song chord progressions.  Few players before or since could equal his mastery of harmony, as well as his lyricism.  When he found the drummer and pianist that fit his sound it was if his concept and playing came into alignment.  In the later Atlantic dates you can hear him straddling both hard bop and model music.  In the fall of 1961 at the Village Vanguard things would change for everyone.

Giant Steps

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Your Oscar recap

Posted by keithosaunders on March 8, 2010

In this wasteland of sports between the Super Bowl and the opening day of baseball, we must thank the Academy for choosing March to air their big night. That being said what we got was a big bowl of bland.

I was happy to see the Hurt Locker win most of the big awards, and it was good to see Jeff Bridges setting the record for the most ‘mans’ uttered during an acceptance speech.

Where was the wattage? I missed Jack Nicholson leering from the front row, or drunken Dustin Hoffman drooling on a scantily clad Sharon Stone. There were no streakers, no politics, and, sadly, no wardrobe malfunctions. Hell, I would have settled for a Sally Fields weird and wacky speech. Sandra Bullock’s speech was eccentric, but in a joyless way.

Here is the unkindest cut of all. I was listening to a radio interview with the producer of the Oscars who revealed that he had wanted to book Sasha Baron Cohen as the host. The network refused thinking he would be too controversial and would have upstaged the stars. This is a sad commentary on our standards, but consistent with a country that finds Jay Leno funny.

Just get me through these next four weeks…

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