The World According to Keitho

Just another weblog

Leaving New York

Posted by keithosaunders on April 27, 2010

I never thought it would ever happen.  I figured I would live here the rest of my life.   A friend of mine  told me that once you make it past the five-year mark you become an official New Yorker.  I made it past the first five years.  In that span I endured two muggings, vandalism, theft, threats from roommates, a fair amount of vibing from fellow musicians, and the non-stop mishagos that comes with living in the big town. 

And it was great.

I played with some of the best musicians in the world, and I met some of its great characters.  I hung out until all hours of the night.  Got drunk at the West End trying to meet college co-eds, invariably failing and staggering home.  There I saw Bob Berg play an electrifying sax solo and not get paid at the end of the gig.  I saw Benny Green execute one of the coolest sit-ins ever at Sweet Basil when in mid-tune he replaced Larry Willis.  I saw Woody Shaw at the old Star Cafe almost deck a guitar player who was pestering him.   I saw Elvin Jones at Fat Tuesdays play John Bonham licks.

I lived in Manhattan in a room a little larger than a walk in closet.  I lived in Brooklyn in a house with four roommates, one of whom stole from me and threatened to beat me to a pulp.  A few years later I would move back to Manhattan’s Upper West Side where I lived in an apartment nicknamed “the dungeon” by my first cousin for the amount of direct sunlight it received:  two minutes a day. 

I played at great venues and I played at dives.  In the early years I gigged at a McDonald’s where I had to climb over a steel railing to get to a piano that was encased in a loft suspended 15 feet above the restaurant.  I worked at Princess Pamela’s Little Kitchen when the East Village was still dangerous.  I accompanied a blues singer who would verbally abuse her yuppie clientele.  I was fired for asking for a five dollar raise. 

I worked at the Empire Diner on 10th avenue from 11PM-3Am on Saturday nights where I would meet my future wife.  A few months after we began dating we drove across country in a Nissan Stanza that had a sun roof which we nicknamed the Stanzaterium; a drive we will reprise this August.

I played at the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note, The Village Gate, Sweet Basil, Fat Tuesdays, Birdland, Lincoln Center, and Smalls.  I never played at Carnegie Hall.  Didn’t practice enough. 

I met my best friend in the upper deck of Shea Stadium between games of a Mets/Cubs double-header.  Together we attended a myriad of sporting events.  We saw game I of the 1996 World Series, a game which the Yankees lost by 11 runs to the Atlanta Braves.  Little did we know that game would be one of only three Series games that the Yankees would lose in the next six years. 

While I lived here the Mets won one World Series and played in another.  The football Giants won three Super Bowls (!) and the Knicks, though they made the playoffs almost every year in the 1990’s, made the finals only once, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games.  Most improbably, in 1994 a few days after my first-born arrived, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 44 years.

My three children, unlike me, are native New Yorkers.  Just as I did, they will have started out on one coast only to emerge on another.  Unlike me, however, they carry the cache of being from New York.  They are savvy city kids who will not be easily rattled and are much greater equipped than I to deal with this move.

Now I find myself in the unenviable position of starting over.  This fall, and for the foreseeable future I will be living somewhere in the Bay Area.  I do not know any musicians there and I have no gigs.  Part of me is relishing this new challenge.  After all, I knew only one musician when I moved to New York 26 years ago.  All I ask is for a good bassist and drummer, a few laughs,  and the occasional gig to get me started.  I know it can work — there are great musicians all over the world.  There will be some where I’m going.  Just got to find them.


12 Responses to “Leaving New York”

  1. David said

    What an amazing little history you have here…and you are starting a grand adventure!! Your words remind me of Bukowski 🙂 I wish you well!! DAVE

    • Thank you, Dave. High praise indeed. I’ll let it be sure to go to my head since my ego could use a boost about now. I’m going to try to blog the entire cross country trip this August, so if you are inclined stay tuned!

  2. Good luck on your move, KeithO. I was born and raised in the Tri-State area. It gets in your blood, and no matter where you move to, it’ll always stay with you. Hope you keep up with the blogging. Bill

  3. Bryan Helmig said

    Found some of your stuff through Reddit, love the blog. Keep on posting and kicking. Gotta say I make my living off the ‘net in various ways but blogs are almost universally a massive waste of time. Except for this stuff. Keep it coming.

  4. bkivey said


    Good luck on your move. I lived in San Francisco for a couple of years and really enjoyed it. I’ve never lived in NYC but did live in West Point for five years and spent some time in Ft. Monmouth (NJ) so I’ve visited the City quite a bit and the best Halloween party I’ve ever been to was in The Village.

    I really enjoy your posts on jazz. Although I learned to play several different instruments in my teens (including the piano) music never became the passion that it is for you. Your posts provide some real insight into the thinking of a professional musician and I find that fascinating.

    I am curious about something: If you are part of a trio why are there five people on your “Lost in Queens” CD?


    • Hi Blair,

      Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind words. The idea of the cover photo is that we — the trio — are hopelessly lost in Queens and are relying on two [clueless] strangers to show us the way out. The way you would know that we are the trio is that we are dressed in suits, supposedly going to a gig. I actually stopped those two guys as they were walking down the street and asked if they would be in the photo. They were very friendly and agreed to help out. I didn’t mean to imply that they are clueless in real life — that was just a role they played for the photo shoot.

      If you buy the CD this will be made even more clear by the liner notes, of which I am the proud author 🙂

  5. […] by keithosaunders on June 10, 2010 With the impending move to San Fran my mood has taken a turn to the south.  It’s hard enough trying to rent our […]

  6. Syche said

    Hi Keith- I’m Laura Hamilton’s niece (she implied that would be meaningful to you) and she sent me the link to your blog because last July I too made the drive from New York City to San Francisco with my fiance. Luckily we are native Californians too and so this was more about coming home than striking out. When are you guys moving? It’s really great here. Although your New York memories made me flip through some of my own, and it’s great there too…

    • Hi Syche,

      Laura and I went to junior high and high school together. I haven’t seen her in over 30 years but we are friends on facebook.

      How long did you live in New York? I was here for 26 years after growing up in Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to living in the Bay Area — we’re moving to Albany — but right now there is a lot of stress thinking about the move and trying to get our apartment subletted. I’m looking forward to the cross country trip. We’ll have our dog with us so that may make it a little difficult but I’m sure we’ll have fun.

      Thanks for checking out my blog!

  7. […] gigs and some terrible gigs.  Some of the notable ones were documented about three months ago here.  I’ve decided to write about a few of ones that have made the Keitho hall of fame and hall […]

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