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Archive for June, 2010

Revisiting Mets vs Astros: Game 6

Posted by keithosaunders on June 27, 2010

The game was played in the Astrodome on Wednesday, October 15th.  I was at game 5 which was played at Shea Stadium the previous day.  Nobody remembers game 5 because of the magnitude of the following game, but it was a beauty as well, featuring an epic matchup of Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan.  Darryl Strawberry tied the game at 1 with a home run in the 5th and the score remained knotted until the bottom of the 12th when Gary Carter drove in the winning run with a single up the middle.

I never saw Game 6 because of  my then steady gig playing solo piano for yuppies at a Wall street watering whole called St Maggie’s Cafe.  I ended up listening to most of the extra innings on the restaurant’s transistor radio.  (how quaint!)  

24 years ago postseason day games were not uncommon, especially when both leagues were playing on the same day.  The Mets game had a 3;30 start time because the ALCS game 7 between the Redsox and the Angels was scheduled for 8pm that evening.  The result was that New York City, on a crisp fall afternoon, ground to a halt.  People literally stopped working and flocked to office TVs.  On the streets people ducked into the nearest bar or watched department store televisions. 

After playing for an hour or so I was politely asked to stop.  I gladly took a seat at the bar and listened to one of the most gut wrenching post season games ever.  The game matched  Bobby Ojeda and Bob Knepper.   Ojeda did not have his best stuff allowing 3 early runs, but he settled down.  Knepper pitched a gem shutting down the Mets offense for 8 innings.

The details:  The Mets finally solved Knepper in the 9th inning putting up a 3 spot off of him and reliever Dave Smith.  When the ‘stros failed to score in the bottom of the inning the game headed to extras.  The Mets went ahead in the 14th on a Wally Backman RBI but Jessie Orosco blew the save allowing a home run to Billy Hatcher.  Finally, in the top of the 16th the Mets exploded for 3 runs silencing the rabid Astrodome crowd.  But the Astros would not go down easily and they battered a tired Orosco for 2 runs before Kevin Bsss struck out to end the game.

Living in New York City I have always looked at this game from a Mets perspective.  It was a tough, gritty win — an improbable win given how dominant Knepper was.  Ojeda was hittable but managed to get the key outs keeping the score within reach.  The bullpen was almost flawless and Keith Hernandez made several sparkling plays at first. 

From an Astros, perspective, however, the game looks much different.  In the bottom of the first Houston scored 3 runs and had the Mets on the ropes when Alan Ashby botched a squeeze play, swinging through a pitch and leaving Bass hung out to dry between third and home.  Just that one run would have made the difference.

The 16th inning rally began with a high fly pop up by Strawberry which dropped between three fielders.  Center fielder Hatcher had taken one step back before realizing that the ball was going to be in front of him.  This was probably a catchable ball.  When Ray Knight singled to left.  third base coach Bud Harrelson aggressively sent Darryl home.  The throw from Bass was up the line and Strawberry was safe, but a good throw may have gotten him. 

Imagine being an Astros fan watching this game.  Could there have been a more excruciating loss?  Boston Redsox fans would soon have an answer to this question.   

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The best buy for your buck? A drummer!

Posted by keithosaunders on June 22, 2010

This anecdote is brought to you by a drummer friend of mine, Taro Okamoto. He plays on my current CD, Lost In Queens, and is one of my favorite musicians.

A while back, a friend Taro’s needed him to facilitate the rental of a drum set.  The friend was arriving from Japan to play a gig, as well as a recording session and wanted to pick up a drum set in New York rather than have to bring his own. 

Taro called several music store only to find that the going rate for renting drums was $250.00.  There was an additional charge of $100.00 for cartage — $50.00 per trip to have the drums delivered and picked up from the venue.  

Now this is embarrassing to admit but most jazz gigs pay much less than $350.00   It would have been much cheaper for his friend to have hired a drummer and told him not to play, just to bring the drums!

$375.00                                                                                                                               Much cheaper!

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

A salute to New York drivers.

Posted by keithosaunders on June 22, 2010

I was driving home from my gig last Friday, a birthday party which was held at the Four Seasons restaurant on the east side of Manhattan.  The bass player was with me, and as I was pulling onto the 59th st Bridge all of a sudden a cab cut directly in front of me from the right.  I couldn’t move to the left hand lane since there was a car directly to my side.  I had to brake, swerve, and accelerate, all within the span of a second.  The bass player calmly noted “You’ve got your New York chops.” 

The truth is that maneuvers such as this happen every time you drive in New York.  We don’t look at it as a big deal.  It’s reality.  When I’m driving downtown on 7th Ave I expect the cab on my right to dart in front of me to pick up that fair.  He, in turn expects me to squeeze in front of him in because my lane is ending due to construction.  He’s looking out for me, I’m looking out for him.  No big deal.  Sure, sometimes we have close calls.  That’s what the horn is for.  We use it liberally. 

I haven’t yet moved to the Bay Area (still seven weeks to go) but my wife and I recently spent a weekend there looking for homes.  During that time I had my re-introduction to west coast  driving, and let me tell you, I do not have my California chops yet.   

In New York when I want to change lanes, one of two things occurs.  Either the person to my left speeds up and passes me, or he slows down and lets me in.  Either way is fine with me.  I just want to change the damn lane.  In Cali the drivers jealousy guard their lane.  They will not budge one inch and I found myself having to force the issue by squeezing in.  inevitably they would become upset and shoot me a scowl or give me the finger.  Apparently one must plan for his lane changes well in advance.

The other thing that bothered me about the driving habits out there was how often the light would change and the driver would not notice.  And you don’t honk there — it’s simply not done!  So you just sit and stew waiting for the driver to wake up.  Here in New York we would be all over the horn.  “Cmon!  Move it!”  The driver at the light might respond with a hearty “Aw, blow it out your ass!”   But you know what?  It works.  In the end everyone is happy — no bottled up aggression here.

Just this morning I witnessed an all-time classic New York driving move.  It was executed by my wife’s 91-year-old great-uncle Ralph.  I drove my mother in law and her friend up to Ralph’s place in the Bronx where he was waiting to drive the three of them up to another friend’s house in Westchester.  I pulled over alongside the curb, and I don’t know why, but Ralph pulled his car out of his driveway facing the wrong way.  He was pulled over a few feet from my car but he was facing the oncoming traffic!  How did he do it?  Why  did he do it?!  These are mysteries better left for the ages, but I’ll tell you this:   I tip my cap to Uncle Ralph.  He executed the move perfectly, with confidence and conviction.  I couldn’t have pulled it off.  It takes a native New Yorker to have the wherewithal and the moxie.  Take that, California!

[Ralph’s car is facing the white SUV.]

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The Bumblebee Bucs

Posted by keithosaunders on June 18, 2010

Between the years of 1977 and 1983 the Pittsburgh Pirates wore what was arguably the most garish uniforms in the history of baseball.  Their color scheme, like their Pittsburgh brethren Penguins and Steelers, was banana yellow and black.  The combination of colors changed every day.  One day they might wear a black jersey with yellow pants — the next it could be the opposite.  Or they could go straight black jersey and pants.  They also had white jerseys and pants which gave them nine different combinations.  I always looked forward to seeing the Pirates on their bi-annual trips to Dodger Stadium –for me the holy grail was all yellow.

Nowadays it’s common for a team to wear an alternate black jersey to go along with their regular pants.  Back then, however, it was a radical idea to have more than two possible uniform combinations, the norm being home whites and travelling greys. 

  The Pirates were dominant in that era and featured players every bit as colorful as their uniforms.  Kent Tekulve was a reed-thin submariner relief pitcher with a rubber arm.  He regularly would throw more than 100 innings a year.  In those days closers weren’t only used in the 9th inning, but when they were needed the most, which often as not was the 7th. 

Bill Madlock was a batting champ — a pure line drive hitter who regularly batted over .300 .  Willie Stargell, Pops, was my favorite.  Even though by the late 70s he was nearing the end of a great career, he was still a feared home run hitter.  To this day he is one of three players to hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium.  (Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza are the other two)  He did it twice.    He also owns the record for the longest home run ever hit in Dodger Stadium — 506 feet.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention two-time batting champ Dave Parker, the Cobra.  He was a tall, burly right fielder with a howitzer for an arm.  In the late 70s we thought he was on track to become one of the all time greats but injuries and cocaine use hampered the latter part of his career, largely spent with the Cincinnati Reds.

So let’s have a drink to the Pirates of the ’70s, a team that along with the Dodgers and Reds, dominated the post season.  The decade was framed by their twin championships of 1971 and 1979, but they also appeared in the NLCS in 1970, ’72, 74, and ’75.  As of now the Pirates have not appeared in a post season since 1991 which is a dubious record:  No other sports franchise has suffered through this long of a drought.  Perhaps they should bring back the Bumblebee Bucs unis.   

For those of you interested in sports uniforms here is a link to a great blog called uniwatch.

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Game 7

Posted by keithosaunders on June 17, 2010

It took me until the middle of June, but after a horrendous NBA playoffs which featured one-sided defeats and a too-early exit from LeBron, I am finally engaged.  Tonight’s game 7, between the Lakers and Celtics finds me enlisting my best friend to man the VCR.  After my gig in Westchester I will head immediately to the Bronx for some midnight hoops. 

This is only the 17th NBA finals game 7 and it’s just the 4th in the last 22 years.  In 2005 the Spurs beat the Pistons. In 1994 it was the Knicks who blew a 3-2 lead in games, losing to the Rockets, and in 1988 the Lakers beat the Pistons at the Forum.

I grew up in Los Angeles rooting for the Lakers.  I was a little young to experience the perennial disappoinment of the 1960s Lakers fans who saw their team lose to the Celtics 7 times.  (to be accurate the first of that string came in 1959)  When I moved to New York in 1984 I was deeply into the Magic/Kareem Lakers and I rooted hard for them in the three Finals that occured that decade.

There is something about this current Laker team that prevents me from rooting for them.  For starters, there is Phil Jackson.  I had to endure his Bulls team spoil the Knnck’s dreams year after year in the 90s.  He came to the Lakers and it wasn’t as if he had to rebuild from scratch — they already had Shaq and Kobe!  Furthermore, I have never warmed to Kobe.  There is no denying his greatness, but between his failure to get along with Shaq, and his questionable off the court adventures, I never rooted for him.

I don’t think the Celtics have much of a shot tonight.  Only 3 of those 17 game 7s saw the road team win and the Celtics are going to miss their big man, Kendrick Perkins, who is out with an injury.  Still, if the stars align, you never know.  It could be a thrilla!

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It’s gigging season

Posted by keithosaunders on June 14, 2010

This is the storm before the calm — my final busy period in New York before the approaching gig-drought in my new home, San Francisco.  I am so busy now that I even have doubles on Monday and Tuesday.  My only day off this week is Wednesday and this is the way I like it.  I would gladly work a 50 hour week if those 50 hours were gigs. 

This is the busiest it’s been in quite a while.  Last year the economy was in the tank so nobody was that busy.  I’m getting the feeling that things are beginning to loosen up and there are more gigs happening.  At any rate it feels great to be this busy and I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever be this busy again.

I played a couple of parties this weekend and ended up eating as if I was going to the electric chair.  At Saturday’s gig, a 50th birthday party, we were invited to partake of the crab meat and jumbo shrimp before the music even started.  Let me give some advice to prospective party hosts:  Don’t invite musicians to eat shrimp and crab meat unless you have an enormous supply. 

As it turned out this host had an enormous supply.  We could have spent the entire evening by the crab bowl if it weren’t for the appearance of…roasted pig!!  Believe me when I tell you that you have yet to taste a more tender, succulent entre.  It was a real party enhancer, if I do say so myself.

With all of this it’s hard to imagine that we actually managed to get in four sets of music.  By the end of the night we were happily exhausted.  Then came the moment of indecision inherent in  such gigs:  Overtime?   

The bass player and I had each had a previous gig so we were not in the mood to stay any longer.  But you never say no to overtime since you can always use the extra cash.   We were beginning to pack up when along came our host who proceeded to bellow “YOU CAN’T LEAVE!  STAY!  HAVE A DRINK!  CMON, WE’RE HAVING FUN!” 

I thought about staying, but I had a 30 mile drive home and I knew that if I stayed I was going to drink, and I didn’t want to risk being pulled over.  At some point the host and his friend said they would make it “worth our while.”  This is great on its face, but it really means nothing to us.  Someone, either the host, or the leader of the band, had to say “We’ll play for another hour for X amount of dollars.”  Otherwise we can find ourselves in a situation in which a four-hour gig turns into a 6-hour gig for not that much more money.

I know what you’re thinking:  These guys ate and drank like kings — how can they be so ungrateful?!  That’s fair if, in fact, we were personal friends of the host.  The truth is that we are going to play the gig whether we eat or not.  It is wonderful when the host is generous, such as the other night, but that still can’t detract from our professionalism, and the bottom line is that we must be fairly compensated for our service.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a grey area.  We are constantly balancing our business sense with our desire to ‘do the right thing.’  In the end we could have stayed, but we didn’t.  Our host had received more than a fair price and we played for an ample amount of time.

And everything turned out alright.  There was a guest who was a rock/folk guitarist who ended up entertaining the remaining folks, and I’m sure it was a nice contrast to the jazz standards that we had played. 

Our leader was in a tough position because he was a personal friend of the host.  I can understand why he wouldn’t want to ask for more money, while at the same time respecting our need to get home.  It all worked out well, however, and it was a good night. 

Since these gigs are among my last in New York I have a feeling that they will tend to be a little more resonant to me.a t least for the time being.  I”m going to try to keep documenting them and to let you know what the experience is like.  The chances of me leaving another city in which I have resided for 26 years is extremely remote.  This is a huge time for me.

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

The view from the piano bench

Posted 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 apartment while organizing our move west, but all of a sudden, in an ironic twist of fate, I’m having my busiest June ever gigging almost every night.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this plethora of gigs.  Just that it will be hard to go from crazy-busy to sitting by the phone.  

That being said, here is a small sampling of my hit parade of gripes.  Think of it as a premier in how-to-deal-with-muscians 101.   

The majority of songs that I play are 32 measures long.  Sure, there’s the odd Cole Porter 64 bar marathon such as In The Still of the Night, but for the most part the songs are fairly concise.  I am almost never more than 31 bars from a natural ending point.  Now let me ask you something:  Why in the world would you want me to stop in the middle of a song, when in mere seconds I can reach the end?  Are you a fan of resolution?  If so, then LET ME FINISH!  I’ll be happier, and you may not believe this, but so will you.   

Now here’s something:  Even though the area around my piano is lacking four walls, a desk, and a phone, this space constitutes my office.  What would you do if I walked into your office while you were on a business call, and made a request to invest in penalty-free annuities?  I thought so.  Look.  You can talk to me.  I’m not a delicate genius that requires absolute silence while I’m playing.  (Keith Jarrett)  You just need to find the right time to do so.  Here’s an idea to get started:  Between tunes.   

Finally:   If you insist on talking to me while I’m playing please do not be offended if I do not talk to you.  You see, contrary to what you may believe, my fingers are actually moving in a prescribed order — I’m not just wiggling them in time.  Making music requires concentration.  If you frame your question so that a simple yes or no will suffice, then sure…I’ll answer or nod.  But if you come over in the middle of a song to discuss quantum mechanics, don’t get your hopes up.  

My office

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The hype, it burns!

Posted by keithosaunders on June 8, 2010

You know I actually feel a little sorry for Stephen Strasburg.  He’s got to live up to hype of Superbowlian proportion. Imagine if he allows three runs in the first inning — the media will be calling for his head.  I would be surprised if ESPN, which if I’m not mistaken has a three-hour pregame show, has not come up with Academy Awards style music to lead in and out of the commercials.

At any rate, once this all dies down, between Strasburg, yesterday’s #1 draft pick Bryce Harper, and a few good trades, the Nats should be a good team for the foreseeable future.

Posted in baseball, sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Graduation day

Posted by keithosaunders on June 7, 2010

For the past nine years I have taught beginning piano at a Catholic School in Yonkers, New York.  A sax player friend of mine whose daughter attended the school recommended me for the job.  I was at a slow period in my work so I agreed to give it a try.  To my surprise and delight I ended up enjoying it.  In fact, it was this teaching experience which would eventually inspire me to pursue my undergraduate degree, a goal I accomplished one and a half years ago.

For years I had resisted teaching thinking it would frustrating and boring.  On the contrary.  I found the children to be engaging and enthusiastic, and talented.  And it was this routine — Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 3-6 — that gave shape to my week and framed the year. 

I looked forward to the beautiful fall colors on the residential, tree-lined Yonkers streets, as well as the plethora of flowering trees each spring.  In the winter months the darkness would descend like a blanket on my room barely an hour after my arrival.  During December I enjoyed the Christmas lights that the neighborhood residents put up.  By the time of our annual recital in June my room would be bathed in light the entire day and I would have every window open.  No air conditioning here.

I loved seeing these kids grow up before my eyes; some I have had as early as pre-K.  I have seen them, as if in fast motion, speed through elementary and middle school, to emerge as confident, if not cooler-than-thou high school students.  (my school goes from Pre K-12th grade)

One of my students learned a Bach Minuet.  It was a little too advanced for her, but she had the fortitude of a Samurai and she literally willed herself to accomplish this daunting task.  At recital she played it without one  mistake. 

There was one student who had the same sense of humor as I.  Many lessons we would spend cracking each other up.  She had the kind of laugh — from the belly — that was so infectious that the more she laughed, the more I laughed, and vice-versa. 

One little girl liked to count off her own pieces by saying “One, two…one, two, KICK IT!”  Another student was obsessed with the Darth Vader theme, and still another loved the Pink Panther.  If they liked a song I usually tried to teach it to them. 

Those that I taught my first year are starting college now.  Just as I remember all of my music teachers from my youth I hope that they will remember me.

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

The art of the 100 pitch start

Posted by keithosaunders on June 3, 2010

At some point in baseball  — maybe it was Tony LaRussa – somebody decreed that 100 pitches was the magic number for EVERY single pitcher.  I don’t buy it. They didn’t take Gibson or Carlton out automatically.  The last time I looked they had long, successful careers.  Not all arms are created equal.  Some tire after 90 pitches and some can go well over 120.

There’ are few closers that have a shelf life as long as Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.  Most of them are average at best.

Here’s an idea. It’s pretty radical, but humor me. Suppose your ace pitcher, who is arguably one of the two or three best pitchers in the game pitches eight innings of shutout ball. Let’s say the pitch count is 105 pitches.  Now please don’t laugh because what I’m about to say is going to sound radical.  OK, here comes the funny part. Are you ready?

You leave him in for the 9th.

Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I have to stop drinking this early in the day.

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