The World According to Keitho

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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.

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