The World According to Keitho

Just another weblog

Archive for May, 2010

Those wacky baseball uniforms of the ’70s.

Posted by keithosaunders on May 29, 2010

 Who besides me is nostalgic for this quirky period in baseball haberdashery?  Who can forget the banana-in-pajamas yellow of the Pittsburgh Pirates? 

  How about the seizure-inducing kaleidoscope that comprised the Houston Astros festival in orange?

 Even the seats of the Astrodome had this pattern!

And of course, the staple road uniform of at least 10 teams: powder-blue.   I was partial to the road uniforms of the St Louis Cardinals, which inexplicably had nothing to do with their home color, Cardinal red.

 How about those Whitesox, who for one game in the middle of the decade actually wore short pants!

I’m hoping that teams begin to break out of the  conservative period that we currently inhabit. Enough of this boring road grey.  I’m also tired of black jerseys that have nothing to do with the team colors. 

How about you?   What were, or are, or were your favorite uniforms?

Happy Memorial Day!

Posted in baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

New York vs San Francisco: Who are the better drivers?

Posted by keithosaunders on May 24, 2010

I spent this past weekend in the Bay Area looking for places to live since I’ll be relocating there late this summer. While I was there I couldn’t help but notice that the driving style was very different from that of New York City. I do a lot of driving — always have, having grown up in L.A. — so I feel very attuned to the road.

In New York we’re usually running late and in a hurry.  We tend to drive a little bit too fast on our small, crowded highways, and we like to weave in and out of traffic.  We liberally (no pun intended) honk our horns, and do not take offense to being honked at as long as the honk is brief and to the point — not a sustained wail.

In the Bay Area the roads are generally congested and people drive close together, but at slower speeds.  I found it very difficult to change lanes as people usually wouldn’t make room. For some reason, New York drivers expect you to change lanes and are usually accommodating.  The Bay Area drivers jealously guarded their lanes and I could tell they considered it an affront when I had to force my way in.  These were the only times I ever heard car horns this weekend.

That’s right, they never honk their horns unless they are mad at you, the catalyst for this anger being the aforementioned lane change.  If you are at a red light and you haven’t noticed that the light has changed, don’t worry.  They will not honk, but wait patiently for you to notice.  This is clearly not a honkable offense out west which is much different from New York.  Here, if you don’t move the split second after the light changes you are reminded immediately.

I’m interested in other impressions.  I admit that this could be all in my head, or perhaps I’m just an impatient driver. 

Posted in New York City, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A few words about Hank Jones

Posted by keithosaunders on May 20, 2010

This week the world lost one of the great jazz pianists of all time — Hank Jones.  He was 91 years old.  Though he was born in Mississippi, he, along with his brothers, Thad and Elvin, grew up in Michigan, and he was one of the immense crop of musicians to emerge from the Detroit scene. 

When I think of Hank Jones I think of touch.  He had a smooth, gossamer sound that was personal and instantly identifiable.  He integrated the language of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker and infused it with an elegance and harmonic language which was second to none.  But always the touch;  light and airy, yet able to handle the fastest of tempos and the thorniest of harmony.

I remember learning some of his solos back when I was starting out.  They were surprisingly difficult — angular with odd intervals.  Very different from the other pianists I was studying — Bud Powell, Tommy Flanagan, and Kenny Drew.   I always wondered how he was able to execute those lines so deftly with legato phrasing. 

A confession:  Hank was not among my favorite of the great pianists.  I gravitated towards the more horn-like styles of Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, and Horace Silver.  It did not lessen my respect and admiration for him.  In fact it made me conscious of my own lack of subtlety and grace.  I did love his playing and the times I heard him play live were awe-inspiring.

I had a friend named Jon who was a Hank Jones freak — a vibes player from L.A.   Once Jon discovered Hank’s music it was all over for him.  He didn’t want to hear about any other pianist — he ate, drank, and slept Hank.   Jon spent hundreds of dollars on rare Hank Jones recordings — his prize was a live record done in Tokyo during the 1960s.   He transcribed dozens of Hank’s solos and compiled them into a book.    When Jon contacted Hank to let him know about the book of solos Hank was flattered, but bemused.  Hank wanted to know why he ever would want to play his own solos again! 

A good friend of mine, drummer Taro Okamoto, knew Hank and played with him.  By all accounts Hank was not only a brilliant musician, but a gentleman who was down to earth and had a great sense of humor.   Warmth that is forever evident in his music.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thank you sir, may I have another?

Posted by keithosaunders on May 19, 2010

You have to have a little of the masochist in you to be a Mets fan.  The pain from tonight’s loss was exquisite.  The Marquis de Sade could not have executed better torture.

This was a game that was winnable.  With our ace, Johan Santana, on the mound, and facing a pitcher I had never heard of, Kris Melden, I figured the odds were in our favor.  Coming off a character building 3-2 victory the previous night, one would expect some momentum.  How wrong I was.

Johan pitched a tight 7 innings allowing only 2 runs on 5 hits, the damage coming off the bat of ‘Sweet Swing’  Troy Glaus.  This being baseball in the 21st century there was no way in hell that Santana was going to finish this game.  There are too many arms waiting to be destroyed by Jerry Manuel.  After all, Pedro Feliciano  gets rusty if he doesn’t pitch EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But the worst was seeing that good-for-nothing, fold-up-like-a-tent-in-the-clutch,  ex-Met Billy Wagner work out of a 9th inning jam.   With Castillo on third and 1 out Wagner struck out David Wright, who now looks clueless at the plate, as well as Ike Davis. 

All that remained was the end game.  Bottom 9th and on comes Meijia.  Poor guy.  He’s only 20, but being that he pitches for Manuel’s bullpen his arm will be shot by the time he’s 21.  Single, walk, and on comes ex-Yankee Melky Cabrera.  Too perfect.  When Melky failed to get the bunt down I was sure he would win the game with a hit.  I was wrong.  Slow roller to Wright who threw it away.  Ballgame.

And now…two games against an up and coming Nationals team who thus far this season have owned the Mets.  Tomorrow should be interesting when the Mets start a rookie knuckleballer.  After the Nats come the Yankees, Phillies, and Brewers.  Fasten your seat belts.  Things are about to get ugly.

Posted in baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Black Dog: Seperating the men from the boys

Posted by keithosaunders on May 18, 2010

So many bands followed in the wake of Led Zeppelin, — Aerosmith, ACDC, Van Halen, and Black Sabbath — and some of them were pretty good. The best of them, such as Aerosmith, could turn out anthemic hooks with an ease that some would say rivaled that of Jimmy Page.

Here’s where they differed. Zeppelin made the complicated sound easy. Case in point is “Black Dog,” from the 4th (untitled) album, which on first listen sounds like a run of the mill blues-rock riff. But try counting the bridge. (the instrumental section with the guitar and bass unison) Is it in 4? Is it in 3? Both? Better yet, try playing it with your garage band and see how far you get.

John Paul Jones, Zep’s bassist is supposedly responsible for the arrangement, but this does not deter from the fact that the band pulled it off with offhanded aplomb that sounded like they barely broke a sweat.  Here is Jones’ on the writing of Black Dog:  “I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until John Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.” 

This does not fully explain what is going on in the bridge, but at least it is an acknowledgement that something quirky is occurring.  What I really want to know is where do they consider one to be?  Is the beginning of the riff a pickup, or is it in fact beat one?  Is there a bar of 2 there or does it actually even out?  [By the way, this is why as a listener I am never comfortable with exotic odd-time jazz songs.  I’m too busy counting bars to enjoy the solos!]

And what about the band’s vocalist, Robert Plant? What did he have to do with all of this? He only had one of the great time feelings in rock history. He had to carry the melody by himself for the first four bars. It’s his pulse that set up the entire rest of the song. His best was so wide and so confident that he may as well have been a second drummer. Witness “The Ocean,” in which the group had a long 2 bar hold before all four of them entered as one.

This band was not to be trifled with.

Posted in music | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Time to face the music

Posted by keithosaunders on May 17, 2010

Just when it was looking like things were shaping up for the New York Metropolitans and that this might be a decent season, we are face to face with the truth.  This is a .500 team that is facing injuries and could easily be buried in the division by the All Star break. 

Oliver Perez is shit.  He will tease you with the occasional dominant start, only to revert to his wild ways.  He, like Maine and Santana, has lost at least 3 miles per hour on his fastball, and lacks the ability to blow hitters away.  When he is forced to throw a strike he is all too hittable. 

With his demotion to the bullpen and Jon Niese’s hamstring flare-up, the Mets are now without 2/5 or their starting rotation.  The bullpen, which has been the strength of the team, is starting to show signs of misuse by Jerry Manuel, who continues to trot out Nieve, Feliciano, and Hashikawa day after day.  You can’t expect them to continue to get outs. Nieves is practically shot and it’s only the middle of May.  The way Manuel handles his pitching staff, his starters do not have  the wherewithal to work out of jams on days when they lack their best stuff.  

I want to know who in baseball deigned that 100 pitches is all a pitcher can handle.  Are all pitchers built exactly the same way?  The last time I checked they come in all shapes and sizes.  It stands to reason that some pitchers can go a lot deeper into the game than others.

The coming series with Atlanta and Washington are gut checks.  MIke Pelfrey, whose last few outings have been shaky to say the least, needs to come up big.  They’ll need more than six  innings out of him.  Ideally the Mets  need to take three of four before the weekend series with the hated Yankees.  I would not want to limp into such a series.

Posted in baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The first gig

Posted by keithosaunders on May 16, 2010

Lately, because of  my impending move, I have been thinking a lot about ‘lasts’ —  my last Spring, my last days of teaching, even my last trip to Roosevelt Island where my kids have been a part of a theatre group for the past several years.  This led me to think about some firsts.  With this in mind I’m going to write a few words about my first gig in New York City.

I moved to New York in April of 1984 but it wasn’t until that summer that I got called for my first gig.  A singer named Judy Niemack called me to play with her as part of her trio at a bar in Brooklyn.  She was extremely talented and easy to work with.  The bass player was Joel Forbes, a great player, and the drummer, Taro Okamoto, would become a good friend and band-mate several years later in the Richie Vitale Quintet, as well as the drummer in my current trio. 

We played at a joint in Brooklyn called Cousins.  Thankfully it no longer exists, but it managed to stay open long enough for me to grow to hate it.  And believe me, it didn’t take too many gigs for this to occur.  Cousins was a crowded neighborhood bar in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn that  had jazz five or six nights a week.  Nobody there really cared for the music which made you wonder why they went to the trouble to have it.  The patrons loudly conversed over the music and the surely employees and managers barely tolerated the musicians.  It was all we could do to get the bartender’s attention to order a coke.  In those days I didn’t drink that much on gigs so I can’t remember what their drink policy was.  They probably charged us double.   I do recall playing there once when there was a prize-fight on TV.  The large screen was positioned directly in front of the bandstand.  We kept on playing and they kept on not listening.

I can’t recall that much of the actually gig except for the fact that I felt uncomfortable not knowing anybody.  I didn’t play that well, but I wasn’t terrible either.  After the gig I got a ride back into Manhattan and we all stopped in at an Upper East Side club called Gregory’s where Judy’s boyfriend, a pianist named Tardo Hammer was playing a duo gig.  Tardo is also someone I would know throughout my entire time in New York and he is one of the best pianists in the city. 

I have a gig with my trio in midtown coming up at the end of July.  I don’t expect to leave town until the second week of August, but wouldn’t it be something if my first and last gig had the same drummer?

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

One night at Small’s

Posted by keithosaunders on May 13, 2010

There are less than three months remaining in my 26 year stint in New York City.  To this end almost every gig I do is a last of some sort.  On Tuesday I had my last trio gig at Small’s, the popular Village basement club which, for the past 17 years has been home base to some of the city’s best musicians.  These are people I have had the pleasure of knowing, hanging out with, as well as playing with.  To name a few:  Joe Magnarelli, Sasha Perry, Neal Minor, Grant Stewart, and Chris Byars.

Small’s has a vibe to it.  It is a serious vibe — the unspoken sentiment is that if you gig there you had better be dealing.  At times it can feel clubby, or clique-ish, but no more so than other jazz clubs in New York.  Overriding all is the feeling of reverence and respect for the music that has existed at Small’s since its inception.   It is a comfortable place with excellent acoustics and I have felt at home there for the past several years.

All of this is a long preamble to stating how important it was for me to have a good last gig there.  I needed to take a positive memory with me out west because I know that may well be quite some time before I find another club that I care about so much. 

Tuesday was one of the rare nights that I was able to execute my ideas with a fluid connection between trio, audience, and myself.  I felt that I had all the chops I needed, but I also felt the ability to leave space and not to overplay.  There was little of the self-consciousness that can sometimes invade my playing when I am concerned with extraneous distractions, and I was able to interject my personality into the music. 

As is the case with my playing I always can find places for self-criticism and the other night was no exception.  The difference was that I felt that what came out of the piano was a true representation of where I am at musically and emotionally.  I was comfortable in my skin and I liked what I played — what more could I ask for?

I owe a great part of this feeling of comfort to the musicians that I was performing with.  Bim Strasberg, Taro Okamoto, and I have been playing as a trio for the past six years and we not only get along personally, but musicially.  Not having to worry about the hookup is a luxury.  

There’s something about having a working band that I have always loved.  I like the ease of calling tunes and the sense of camaraderie.  That’s not to say that great things do not occur with musicians that you only play with sporadically.  Sometimes the newness of the hookup can provide electricity and freshness.  But if I have my choice I will always opt for a working band. 

 In New York I am a small fish in a big pond — the biggest pond, in fact.  In Smalls I am also a small fish.  Almost every pianist who plays there is a motherfucker.  Although I am not the biggest fish, I take great pride in being among these marvelous musicians.  I am one of them.  If it took 26 years to feel this way, well it was worth the wait.  

Tuesday was a good night.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

So you want to be in show business?

Posted by keithosaunders on May 8, 2010

Last night’s gig is a good example of life in the trenches as a musician.  Every six months or so my trio plays at a restaurant on Long Island that has jazz.  The place has great acoustics, serves us a nice meal, and is generally offer a pleasant experience.  The problem is that getting there involves a 40 mile drive into the teeth of Friday rush hour traffic. 

I had a double on the Island yesterday; a lunchtime gig with a singer in the afternoon saw to it that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic.   The bass player and drummer, however,  rode together and experienced the usual Expressway slog and arrived 15 minutes before gig time.  There isn’t much parking on the street but for years we have parked in an adjacent post office lot with no problems. 

You can probably already tell where this is going, but on the first break we discovered that there was a padlocked gate on the post office lot.  The drummer’s car had been locked in!  Fortunately I had parked on the street otherwise we all would have had to sleep in our cars. 

Needless to say this put a damper on the rest of the evening.  The poor drummer had to deal with the stress of not knowing whether or not his car would still be there  the following day.  If the car was indeed towed there would almost certainly be an accompanying ticket.  It doesn’t take a math major to factor in our paltry salary versus a steep towing fine and ticket.  As usual, the jazz economics are bleak.

After the gig  — a  good one,  all things considered — I gave the bass player and drummer rides home to Manhattan and Brooklyn respectively, before returning to my apartment in Queens.  I managed to get four hours of sleep before picking the drummer up and driving back to the Long Island post office.   The good news is twofold:  First of all, and most important, we were able to retrieve the drummer’s car with no more trouble than a stern talking to from the post office manager.  Finally:  We now have conclusive evidence that it is possible to drive 40 miles into Long Island in 40 minutes.  As long as you leave at 7:30AM.  
   Now I have to drive two hours upstate.  Why did I have to go into show business?

Posted in jazz, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Take me out to the ballgame

Posted by keithosaunders on May 5, 2010

When I was a young boy I wasn’t that interested in watching or following baseball.  I liked the Dodgers, as did every other kid growing up in Los Angeles, and I always enjoyed when my father would take us kids to a game, but I didn’t become a rabid baseball fan — counting down the days until opening day, knowing all the stats,and closely following the playoff races —  until I was 17.  

What I did enjoy, however, was the idea of baseball.  I liked that it was every day and that it had order.  The pitchers pitched in a certain order — even the teams, in those days, came into town in a certain order.  You could count on home stands featuring Cubs/Pirates/Cardinals, or Met/Expos/Phillies.  In the Western division you would have groupings of Astros/Braves/Reds.  Year after year they would group the teams this way. I loved that.

After dinner, I would go out into the languid Cali summer night to our backyard and listen to Vin Scully announce that evening’s Dodger game on my transistor radio while I shot baskets.  Don’t you know that to this day he is still announcing for the Dodgers and he still sounds great.  He has been their announcer for the entire 50 years of my life. (and then some!)  

In those days radio and television broadcasts still had a good deal of whimy.  They coul dbe corny, but there was an earnetness to it that I miss.   There wasn’t the heaviness and humorless air that exists today on a FOX or even a local broadcast.  The Dodgers used to open all of their radio broadcasts by playing a song called “It’s A Beautiful Day For A Ballgame.”  Picture a chorus singing to a two-beat accompaniment infused with banjo and ukulele. 

It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame..

for a ball game today,

the fans are out to get a ticket or two,

from Walla Walla Washington to Kalamazoo

It’s a beautiful day for a home run,

but even a triple’s OK,

we’re going to cheer…

and boo…

and raise a hullaballu

at the ball game today

at the ballgame

the wonderful ballgame


Of course I loved that song.  How could you not?  The Mets have one too which they still play called Meet the Mets.  Their version, however has been updated to include synthesizers so it doesn’t have the retro feel of the Dodger song.  But the synths are so out of date (circa early 80s) that their theme has become corny as well.  I like it in the same way I feel nostalgic for the cookie cutter ballparks of the early 70s — Three Rivers, Riverfront, and Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.

Next: My OCD infatuation with the early 70s Dodger radio commercials.  IN the meantime I would love to hear from you, the reader, about any such songs, or traditions  from your local teams from back in the day.

Posted in baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »