The World According to Keitho

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First gigs

Posted by keithosaunders on October 2, 2010

I’ve dipped the proverbial toe into the Bay Area jazz scene.  In the past three weeks I’ve been to a few jam sessions and even played a handful of gigs.  It’s very strange starting over in a new city after having been in New York for so long.  When I moved to New York I was a comparative kid — just 24.  Now I’m a 50-year-old man, set in my ways.  I’m crusty and curmudgeonly –moldy and figgy. 

Even though work-wise I find myself in the same place I was two and a half decades ago, the situation is not entirely the same.  Back then I was callow and unsure of myself.  I was awed and not a little intimidated by the size and energy of the New York scene.  Now, after having been beaten, brutalized, and molded by New York, I find myself with a great deal of self-assurance.  I know what I can do and what I am capable of. 

The challenge is to check my ego at the door.  Nobody here owes me anything.  Hell, nobody even knows me.  I am aware of the cache that comes with being a “New York” cat, but in a certain sense there is a fine line one must walk.  It’s not right to come on too strong –“I played with so -and-so,” or “I played at [insert name of venue here].”  The New York brand can work for or against me. 

In New York you are amongst such a wealth of great talent, all striving for an increasingly smaller piece of the pie.  You endure a great deal of attitude and “vibing” from your fellow musicians.  You feel like you have to earn every morsel of a compliment.  I remember some jam sessions where I had to literally fight for a solo.  I would be comping for horn player after horn player; as many as 12 in one song.  Sometimes twenty minutes would go by before they were done spewing.  I knew that if I didn’t jump in within a split second after the last sax player was done I would miss my chance.  Once the bass player stops walking it’s all over — you’ll never get back in.  I remember sometimes I would have to scream out at the top of my lungs “I GOT IT!”       

At first glance the Bay Area scene does not feel nearly as cut-throat.  People have been friendly, yet guarded, which is understandable.  This scene has taken a big hit with clubs closing, or barely staying alive.  What do they need another pianist for?  At the same time people have been welcoming — I’ve been able to sit in at the sessions and have met some good players.

I’m happy with what has transpired so far.  I’ve found a couple of good sessions in San Francisco which has yielded hanging destinations for Sunday, Monday, and Thursday.  A few of these sessions have led to gigs — nothing that spectacular as of yet, but how good does it feel to be working again, no matter how little the pay, after a three-month layoff!   As I thought, the initial plunge was going to be the hardest.  Now that I’ve taken it things don’t look quite as dire.

Here is a photo taken of a big band gig I played in San Francisco last Sunday.  I’m in the back!

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One Response to “First gigs”

  1. Zapple100 said

    I always wondered how the jam sessions worked. Did you just ask them to sit in?

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