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Archive for December, 2010

Escape to New York

Posted by keithosaunders on December 30, 2010

I’m writing this from the Jet Blue terminal at LAX where I am laying over enroute to New York City to do my New Years gig. The day began at 4:20 AM in Kona, Hawaii, and, if I’m lucky, will terminate sometime tomorrow morning at JFK where my best friend (and occasional guest blogger) Jeff will meet me.

Travelling to and from the east coast during the winter months is a risky proposition at best. The blizzard of 2010 has given new meaning to the word crapshoot. Right now my flight is delayed 90 minutes but I would gladly sign for eight hours if it would put me in NYC in time for my gig.

In Hawaii I was blissfully unaware of the ongoing chaos in airports throughout the country. People are waiting as much as several days for their return flights to New York. Last night I was at a bar in Kona. The bartender, upon hearing I was going to New York subjected me to a healthy and enlightening dose of CNN and the Weather Channel. Suffice it to say that it put the fear of God in me.

Posted in New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Three-ring records

Posted by keithosaunders on December 28, 2010

Younger readers of this blog have not had the experience of playing a record so many times that the cover develops concentric indented circles.  My favorite records had three-rings, which was a sign of dozens, if not hundreds of playings.

Today while listening to my Pandora station, McCoy Tyner’s Four by Five came on.  Hearing it reminded me that the album that it comes from, The Real McCoy, is one of my favorite records of all time.  Recorded in April of 1967, it was McCoy’s first album for the Blue Note label — he had recorded several as a leader for Impulse — and it featured Joe Henderson on tenor, Ron Carter on bass, and the great drummer, Elvin Jones.

Henderson is simply amazing.  His time is impeccable and he effortlessly glides over the changes while meshing perfectly with the explosive rhythm section.  The album contains five striking originals by Tyner and is one of the great records of the post-Coltrane era. 

Listening to Henderson play on the Tyner composition got me thinking about the first Joe Henderson record I ever heard, Inner Urge.  The personnel is nearly identical to that of The Real McCoy; only the bass player, Bob Cranshaw, is different.  I had borrowed the record from my cousin and I was fairly sceptical as to whether I would like Henderson’s playing.  At that time, still in my late teens, I was certain that Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, and Hank Mobley had said all there was to say on the tenor.  By the second jaw-dropping chorus of Inner Urge I realized how wrong I was. 

This record was probably responsible for opening my ears to more music than any other.  Not only was I hearing Henderson for the first time, but (incredibly) McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones as well. 

I had no idea…

Once I accepted and embraced the fact that there was great music created after the be-bop era it opened up an entire new world for me.  Inner Urge was my gateway drug.  I had listened to Coltrane before, but now I felt brave enough to venture into the classic quartet material.  It would take me five or six more years to get to his later works, but I had enough to chew on for the time being. 

I also began listening to Wayne Shorter’s records as a leader, as well as his work with the Miles Davis quintet of the early to mid-60s.  Wayne is an acquired taste.  He’s like the oyster of jazz — you rarely like him the first time.  Once I got used to his thinner tone and his quirky time feeling, which is not so much in the pocket, but floating in and around the beat, he became one of my favorites.  Not to mention the fact that he is a masterful composer.  The three-ring record I own of Wayne’s is a 1964 work entitled JuJu. 

 I suppose it is no coincidence that all three of these dates featured Tyner and Jones.  They had such an empathy for each other that to my ears there is no finer rhythm section.  They are in complete agreement as to where the quarter note is and they compliment each other — McCoys pounding left hand fifths and Elvin’s fiery polyrhythms.  For this reason I have always felt a greater connection to the Coltrane quarter of the 60s over Miles more ethereal (but no less brilliant) quintet of the same era. 

I don’t know what the digital equivalent of a three-ring album is.  I suppose we have the ability to star our ipod tracks, but that idea never appealed to me.  I’m not ready for the American Idolization of my record collection.

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

Where are the good announcers of the NBA?

Posted by keithosaunders on December 26, 2010

I was watching a little of the Magic/Celtics game this afternoon on ABC and Hubie Brown was doing the color commentary.  When I moved to New York back in 1984 he was the coach of the Knicks.  His first two years he coached them into the playoffs but the next two, which led to his firing, were awful 24 and 23 win seasons.  These were the Knicks of Rory Sparrow, Michael Ray Richardson, and Trent Tucker.  I remember going to the Garden,sitting in the upper deck, and being able to hear Brown yelling at his players, exhorting them at the top of his lungs to pick and roll, foul, and play defense. 

Maybe he was a good coach but he is a terrible announcer.  Simply put he doesn’t shut up.  He fills every single second of dead air with his nasally, raspy, drone of a voice.  There is no such concept as ‘letting the game breathe’ when Brown is behind the mic.  He has a didactic way of intoning, as if he’s talking down to us. 

Outside of Marv Albert I cannot think of one good basketball announcer.  I used to love Walt Frazier who does color commentary for the Knicks.  There must be some other good local announcers that I am unaware of, but nationally they are either grating, like Brown, or generically bland. 

In baseball and football I can name several announcers that I enjoy listening to.  I am not a big hockey fan but I have watched enough games to know that they have a much higher caliber announcer than basketball does. 

So I ask you:  Who are they, and where are they?

 

Hubie Brown

Posted in basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Aloha

Posted by keithosaunders on December 24, 2010

I’m in Hawaii for Christmas.  Wasn’t there an Elvis song, Blue Hawaii?  Well that’s me this year; just me and The King.  I’m not going to waste your time describing what it’s like — you know the drill — tropical climate, the Leis, the Hulas, the Luaus, the one-armed, double-jointed stewardess.  Wait, did I go one too many?

A few points of interest are worth noting and then we’ll forget this ever happened.  After arriving at Kona Airport my sons and I drove one of the rental cars while my wife, ex-neighbor, and daughter took the other one.  Naturally, being guys, the  first thing we did was to check out the local radio stations.   First station,  reggae; second station, reggae; third station, smooth jazz; fourth station, reggae.  We even heard Christmas reggae music. 

“We wish you a reggae Christmas and a reggae New Year!” 

It’s a little too much, if you ask me.  There’s no jazz here, only of the smooth variety, and that’s not jazz, but Muzak to my ears. 

I don’t know how real sports fans live here.  Besides the fact that there are no pro local teams, with the earlier time zone the basketball and hockey games all begin at 2PM and are over with with by 9PM.  What do you do after that…listen to reggae? 

There is one perc, however.  This Sunday the Giants play a huge game in Green Bay against the Packers.  The game begins at 8AM Hawaiian time.  The way things are playing out I’ll be able to watch the entire game without disrupting my families’ plans.  I am da winnah.

Posted in basketball, football, life, music | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The war on Christmas: The gift that keeps on giving!

Posted by keithosaunders on December 23, 2010

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the ongoing war on Christmas.  Like Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a war with no end in sight.  Like a Bill Clinton speech it goes on and on, causing both liberals and conservatives to collapse in an irate heap at the side of the yuletide road. 

I thought that the WOC had died down until I came across this peach of an article in the Washington Post.  To summarize, Nina Totenberg, a legal correspondent from NPR’s All Things Considered,  was appearing on a show called “Inside Washington.”  During a discussion about tax cuts she threw in an anecdote:

“I was at — forgive the expression – a Christmas party at the Department of Justice,” she said, going on to explain how guests there were worried about the impact of spending cuts.

This [almost apologetic] reference to Christmas was red meat for conservative pundits and bloggers.  It was gold, for Christ’s sake!  Oops…pardon the expression. 

Then, the backtracking!  Totenberg defended herself by saying how much she adored the Christmas holiday and that her usage of the term ‘pardon the expression’ was ironic — that she was tweaking the Department of Justice. 

Well isn’t that just meta.   How many layers of irony do we have to cut through to follow these shows?  Come on, Nina, why not come clean and admit that you are at war with Christmas.  And while I’m at it, why do you hate America?

I thought that the War on Christmas ™ was yesterday’s news.  Wasn’t it three or four years ago when Bill O’Reilly went on a rampage against the politically correct ‘Happy Holidays’ crowd?  Apparently I was wrong.  The shrapnel from the Totenberg incident is spreading far and wide across this great, yet divided nation.

Now for a surprise.  I am officially entering the war…on the side of Christmas!  You know what?  It’s not that big of a deal to say Merry Christmas.  First of all, it’s anything but a religious holiday — Madison Avenue saw to that many years ago.  That said, it’s not a bad thing to have a day of the year where families get together and eat like Romans.  What’s the harm?  There ‘s corny music, great food, and plenty of alcohol.  

I’m a Jew who is not offended by Christmas.  Maybe if the Maccabees had a little more personality we would be fighting the War on Hanukkah.  So I say to you all from my podium at World of Keitho, Merry Christmas to one and all!

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

Sunday in the NFL featuring the Giants, Eagles, and 49ers.

Posted by keithosaunders on December 21, 2010

I actually have ties to all three of these teams.  I was born in Wilkes Barre, PA, about 100 miles north of Philadelphia, and had I grown up there I almost certainly would have been an Eagles fan.  I lived in New York City for 26 years and, like my father before me, I am an ardent Giants fan.  As of last August I became a resident of the Bay Area, and although I live in Berkeley, CA, which puts me in the middle of Raider country, the 49ers are considered a local team and we are subjected to, I mean, uh, presented with all of their games on television. 

The Giants suffered one of their all-time worst regular season losses, blowing a 21 point 4th quarter lead at home against the Eagles.  It was a game that featured over 100 yards rushing from quarterback Michael Vick, a successful Eagles onside kick, and a 65 yard game-winning punt return from Desean Jackson. 

The Giant punter, Matt Dodge, made a huge mistake by punting the ball directly to Jackson, who initially bobbled it, picked it up, and slashed his way through the Giants punt coverage like a rocket as the game clock expired.  I submit to you, however, that the real culprit is Giants coach Tom Coughlin.  On the Giant’s previous possession Eli Manning had thrown an incomplete pass on third down stopping the clock and setting up the punt.  The Eagles had no timeouts remaining and no way of stopping the clock.  The Giants should have run it on 3rd and even if they didn’t make the first down they could still have let the game clock wind down another 45 seconds before running a 4th down play.  That would have at least assured an overtime.  

This brings us to the 49ers, who in a bizarre twist of events are alive for a playoff spot while sporting a 5-9 record.  If the 49ers win their final two games and Seattle loses one of their final two games they will go into the playoffs as the leagues first sub .500 team.  Right now they are ranked 28th out of 32 teams in the Sagarin ratings yet they would go into the playoffs as the 4th seeded team.  Heck, they would even host a game on wild card weekend.

You’re probably thinking that this next paragraph is going to be about the injustice of the current playoff system and how there has to be changes made during the offseason.  No!  The NFL has gone 90 years without a team with a losing record being in the playoffs.  The chances of this happening on a regular basis are so remote as to be laughable.

I say we embrace the anomaly.  It’s quirky and will make for some intrigue.  So what if a Green Bay, Tampa Bay, or yes, even the Giants are shut out of the playoffs.  They all had their chances.  The Giants, of all teams, have no right to cry.  JUST PROTECT A 3 TOUCHDOWN LEAD!

Desean Jackson

Frank Gore

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

The NBA has some juice!

Posted by keithosaunders on December 19, 2010

This post’s subject contains words I thought I would never say, at least in this order.  For the first time in several years I am excited about the NBA —   regular season NBA!  In the past it would sometimes take me until the second round of the playoffs for me to become interested.  I’ve long thought of the NBA as something to watch after that Early May Mets/Brewers game.  For that reason I have watched a lot of the Western Conference playoffs.  The eastern playoffs were usually not as compelling, consisting of power forwards from Detroit and Boston banging and smashing each other into the double bonus. 

This year there is a lot to be excited about, and since I find myself in a new city bereft of steady gigs I have more time than ever to devote to ESPN, TNT, or whatever network happens to be showing a game.  (there are quite a few of them)  For starters, the Knicks got good again.  Well, they’re better.  They recently rattled off a startling 12 of 13 wins sending me into a frenzy of whining.  [“Why did I have to move this year?!”]  I was all excited that this week’s games–  ESPN was broadcasted Knicks home games versus the Celtics and the Heat on Wednesday and Friday respectively.  The Celtics game, which was decided on a Paul Pierce 13 footer with .04 seconds remaining, was tremendous, but two days the later the Knicks would be destroyed by the star-laden Heat.  For the moment they have been exposed as a sharp-shooting team that plays little defense.  But damn, they are fun to watch, and are at last relevant.  They should make the playoffs and are a team on the rise.

The kid on the Clippers, Blake Griffin, is a lot of fun to watch and should be a force for years to come.  If only the Clippers could ever have two or three good drafts in a row; they are the most hapless of organizations.  It would be great for the league to have both them and the Lakers good at the same time.  Do you remember, about 15 years ago, when the Clippers had all of these overweight players and were known as “The Phat Farm?”  Good times…

Blake Griffin

Oklahoma, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is a good young team that should be a force for years to come.  They’re probably not ready to challenge the Spurs or Lakers quite yet but they’re close.

The Spurs are amazing.  Manu Ginobili, at 35, is having his best season, and Tim Duncan, although he is not quite the player he once was, is still plenty good.  Throw in Tony Parker and Reggie Jefferson, and a great supporting cast and you have the team with the best record in the NBA.  I never liked the Spurs that much but that’s probably more to do with the fact that I’m an idiot than anything else.  They have been an unselfish team that has maintained a standard of excellence over the decades that few teams can rival.  Since they drafted David Robinson, over 20 years ago, there haven’t been many down seasons for this organization. 

The Celtics are another team that refuses to get old.  I have to give it up to Kevin Garnett, who is having a bounce-back season, as well as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.  Rajon Rondo, if he stays healthy, is one of the best point guards in the league. 

Then there is the Orlando Magic, who with todays trades with Phoenix and Washington, may have catapulted themselves, at the very least, into the conference finals.  They traded Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas and acquired Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu from the Phoenix Suns for Vince Carter.  Arenas, who was already having a comeback year with the Wizards, should be rejuvenated now that he is playing on a contending team.  Throw in Dwight Howard who is one of the most exciting players in the game, and away you go!

All of these watchable teams bodes extremely well for me in the upcoming dark period between the Super Bowl and opening day of baseball.  I’ve always dreaded this six-week trudge through the NBA and NHL midseason.  This year is different.  Bring it on!

Gilbert Arenas

Posted in basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

George McGovern

Posted by keithosaunders on December 17, 2010

And now, for a sorbet, a palette cleanser, let’s talk George McGovern.  I was 12 years old when the long-time senator from South Dakota won the Democratic nomination.  He would proceed to suffer the largest defeat ever by a presidential candidate, winning just 17 electoral votes to Richard Nixon’s 520.  Massachusetts and Washington D.C. were his only two electoral victories; he did not even win his home state.

McGovern was a war hero in World War Two; a pilot who flew many dangerous missions, was injured in battle, and was able to execute a difficult landing on a short runway with a damaged plane, thus saving his crew.

In the Senate he fought hard for migrant farm workers, as well as an expanded food stamp program, but most of all he was known for his staunch opposition to the Vietnam War.   As early as 1963 he had challenged the burgeoning U.S. involvement in the war.

The 1972 Democratic primaries found McGovern in a three-way race with Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama.  Wallace, who had run as an independent in the ’68 election, stated that he was no longer a segregationist and had become more moderate.  His campaign, however, was based upon a fierce opposition to desegregation busing and this turned out to be an issue that was harmful to McGovern.  Wallace siphoned off southern votes — McGovern did not win one county in Florida — and even took large swaths of votes in northern states.  So much so that by May he had a lead in votes, though not in delegates.

The all-important union support was slow to come to McGovern.  Much of the union leadership supported the Vietnam war, as well as opposed busing.  Their support, at least at the outset was more likely to go to Humphrey.

The election swung on a tragedy.  On May 15th Wallace was shot at point-blank range during a campaign appearance.  He was paralyzed from the waist down and had to withdraw from the campaign.     

McGovern was able to eek out a win in California and ultimately win his party’s nomination.  He chose as his running mate Tom Eagleton, a Missouri senator.  When it was revealed that Eagleton had undergone shock therapy for clinical depression McGovern accepted Eagleton’s resignation from the campaign.  Five prominent Democrats turned down the offer of the VP slot before the campaign settled on the U.S. ambassador to France, Sargent Shriver.

Given this comedy of errors it is no small wonder that Richard Nixon felt it necessary to gain an edge in the campaign by bugging the Democrat National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel.  This has to be considered paranoia’s finest hour! 

My take-away from this is that the issue of busing, though well-intentioned, was a disaster for the Democrats.  It virtually cost them the entire south which had long been a stronghold, as well as much of the industrialized north.  Blue collar workers who had voted Democrat for generations became Republicans practically overnight.

McGovern remained a senator until 1980 when he was defeated for reelection.  By this time the Reagan revolution was in full swing.  We will never know what kind of president he would have been.  Almost certainly the war would have ended much sooner, which would have saved thousands of lives. 

Because of his landslide defeat in 1972, as well as the demonization of the word ‘liberal,’ he tends to be remembered in a negative light.  In reality he was a good man; a great senator who opposed an unjust war and worked hard to improve the lives of the poor.  Things broke right for him to gain the nomination but the reality was that he, or any other candidate, for that matter, had little hope of defeating Nixon. 

Although I was only a boy, I remember watching his acceptance speech at that ’72 convention, and I recall the feelings of hope and possibility that were in the air for such a brief period of time.    

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

The Phillies, Heat, Celtics, Wall Street, and the consolidation of power.

Posted by keithosaunders on December 14, 2010

The Yankee fans won’t admit it but they are stunned and shattered by the Phillie’s drive-by signing of Cliff Lee.  They did not see this one coming.  In October, after the Texas Rangers eliminated the Yankees in the ALCS, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were rife with comments such as, “Cliff Lee will look great in pinstripes!”  It was as if the only way the fans could process the ignominy of losing to the small-market Rangers was with the comforting knowledge that they would soon usurp their best player.   They thought it was a foregone conclusion, and they thought so up until 9pm Monday night. 

Have you noticed this recent trend of super-teams?  A few years ago the Celtics somehow  finagled their way into a lineup that included Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.   More recently we saw the Miami Heat’s twin signings of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to compliment their resident star, Dwyane Wade.   Now the Phillies will possess what is possibly the greatest pitching staff since the 1970 Baltimore Orioles and the Koufax/Drysdale Dodger teams of the mid-60s. 

In the past great players were content to have teams built around them.  Lately we see them willing to share the spotlight — to coalesce.  They eschew the individual spotlight for the greater glory that comes with championships.  Some would call it selfless. I call it greed.  They are already rich beyond their wildest fantasies — the only thing left for them is a championship ring. 

While I’m glad that Lee didn’t end up on the Yankees, I’m not enamored with him.  I have no use for the type of player who is essentially a hired gun.  That’s why I never liked David Cone or Roidger Clemens.  They would go to a team, collect their ring, and move on.  Lee could have stayed in Texas and become a real hero.  Instead he chose the easy way:  to go a team of superstars and collect his ring a la LeBron.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he went to Philly instead of the Yankees.  At least Philly has only won a couple of times

I think you can draw a line from these powerful sports franchises to the way the American economy has seen its wealth consolidated among the top 1%.   Players are merging to form super-teams, much the way banks were merged to form mega-corporations.   

Hopefully this is just a trend.  Otherwise the Mets are screwed.

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

Remembering Donte’s

Posted by keithosaunders on December 12, 2010

I began learning jazz improvisation when I was 15, studying under a vibes player named Charlie Shoemake.  I had studied classical piano since the age of 7 and although I had accomplished quite a bit in that span of time, I had become frustrated and disenchanted with my playing.  In fact, I had stopped practicing. 

When I began learning jazz it felt like a great weight had been lifted.  Technically it seemed less demanding than classical music.  Aside from a little trouble reading the syncopated rhythms, I found it to be much easier than Bartok and Bach.  Later on, when I realized that I had to get my ideas across at breakneck tempos with drum and bass accompaniment, I would find it much more challenging.

After I had been studying for a year Charlie suggested that I hear some live music.  There was a club not far from where I lived called Donte’s which was a long-standing San Fernando Valley hot spot located in North Hollywood, about five miles from where I grew up in Van Nuys.  Underaged people such as myself could attend Donte’s owing to the fact that they served food which removed it from having a “bar” status. 

One spring night my dad drove my friend Daryl (a sax player) and I to Donte’s to hear my teacher’s band.  Many great Los Angeles musicians played there, as well as east coast cats passing through on tour. I was lucky to catch the last quarter of its 23 year existence before it finally closed in the late ’80s.  I saw Cedar Walton play there with teh saxophonist Bob Berg.  I saw the Harold Land and Blue Mitchell group, Bobby Shew, Ted Curson, Art Pepper, Warne Marsh, Lew Tabackin, and many more. 

Donte’s was close to where I lived and not too expensive.  It was a heady experience to be a teenager and hanging out at a jazz club.  It felt like I was a member of a private club in which the rest of the world knew next to nothing about.  Come to think of it, 30 years later it still feels that way; especially when you take into consideration the empty seats!

I still remember the personnel in the band I saw that first night.  Pete Christlieb was the tenor player: a fiery, yet melodic musician who played in the Tonight Show Band.  He also played one of the most famous sax solos ever on a rock record on Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues. 

Terry Trotter was the pianist.  After high school I went back to studying classical music, this time with Terry.  He had a relaxed, holistic apporach to his teaching and he was nothing less than inspiring, both as a teacher and a pianist.

Andy Simpkins was the bassist, and Dick Berk was on drums.  A few years later Dick and I would become very close friends playing dozens, if not hundreds of gigs in L.A.  I was the first pianist in his band, The Jazz Adoption Agency.  I was also the pianist at his wedding where I managed to screw up the changes to Easy To Love, which was the song that he and his wife marched down the aisle to.  How embarrassing.  Dick, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!

 Everything about Donte’s seemed cool to me.  From the dark lighting, to the leather booths, to the haze of the cigarette smoke.  The best part was the proximity of the audience to the bandstand. We were literally on top if the band in our front row table and you could hear the musicians joke to one another in a loose, nonchalant way.  Of course we couldn’t understand what they were talking about but that didn’t matter to us.  We loved that the musicians would interact with us; they would acknowledge our presence. They seemed like stars to us, yet here they were talking to us and even joking around or teasing us. 

The sound of it.  I hadn’t thought it would be loud, but it was.  We sat mere feet from the band and the music came at us with an urgency and vibrancy that, to my 16-year-old ears, had been lacking from my stereo.  It wasn’t the ear-splitting cacophony of arena rock, but it wasn’t chamber music either.  It felt substantial; like it had meat on its bones.

About a year later I would sit in with Charlie and the alto player Ted Nash.  Ted was Charlie’s best student and somebody I looked up to and he has gone on to have a great career in New York City.  I remember that even though sitting at the piano was only a few feet from my front row table, the sound and feel were completely different.  Between the bright presence of the sax, the cymbals, and the amplified bass, it felt like being in the middle of a tornado and it was difficult to get comfortable.  It was an entirely different feeling than practicing in my den or playing duets in Charlie’s studio.  Yet it was thrilling.  I’m sure that I overplayed and was every bit the callow 16 year old, but it didn’t matter.  I had gotten my feeet wet. 

Seeing Ted, as well as his pianist, Randy Kerber, who were both a year older than I, made me feel like with a lot of hard work I could be playing gigs as well.  At that time music seemed flush with possibility.  

Those first gigs that I attended probably had as much to do with my becoming serious about jazz than anything else.  I had the right teacher and now I had a place where I could hear and see the music performed, and occasionally sit in with the band.  The music was accessible, and soon it would be attainable.

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