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Archive for February, 2016

Miles’ Prestige transition

Posted by keithosaunders on February 29, 2016

Miles Davis had one of the most fascinating careers in jazz.  He came to New York in 1945 to study at Julliard but soon connected with Charlie Parker and joined his quintet.  The first few recordings Miles made with Bird are the only ones on which he sounds a little tentative. He would soon find his voice and by the time he recorded Birth of the Cool in 1949 he was on his way to becoming one the most influential jazz musicians of all time.

Davis is the antithesis of John Coltrane, whose playing was in a constant state of flux. Miles playing in 1950 – his choice of notes, his warm, personal sound, and his attack –  is not all that different than in 1990.  it was the bands around him — the sidemen he chose – who evolved, keeping Davis’s sound fresh. That’s why hardly any Miles record sounds like the other, yet all are instantly identifiable.

Last week I listened to a box set of all the recordings Davis did on the Prestige label; these took place between 1951-56. Miles sounds great throughout and there are sessions with Milt Jackson, Horace Silver,  a quirky (even for him) Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

In 1955 Miles, at the urging of George Avakian, an executive at Columbia records, put together his first great quintet. This consisted of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.  Miles first choice for tenor was Sonny Rollins who was busy with other projects.

Before he could sign with Columbia records Miles had to fulfill his obligations to Prestige which he did in the form of marathon recording sessions in 1955 and 56.  These sessions yielded some of the greatest sides known to jazz:  Workin,’ Cookin,’ Steamin,’ and Relaxin.’

I spent the better part of the week listening to the earlier Miles Prestige sides but when I got to the ’56 recordings the difference was stark and immediate.  The quintet has a kinetic energy that is missing from the earlier recordings.  As good as the pre-1956 musicians were they didn’t have the infectious chemistry that Garland, Chambers, and Philly Joe did.  Coltrane is not yet the master improviser he would become a mere couple of years later, but it’s fun to listen to him trying new ideas, stumbling, getting up, and succeeding.  He swings his ass off even though he’s not fully formed.

Check it out!

Serpent’s Tooth 1953 w Sonny Rollins and Bird on tenor!

Woody’n You 1956 w the classic Quintet

 

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Off to the races

Posted by keithosaunders on February 26, 2016

Every Tuesday and Thursday I teach beginning piano for three hours at after school programs at a pair of schools in Orinda. (Orinda is located in the Bay Area — it’s in Contra Costa county and is approximately 8 miles east of Oakland.)  The kids are cute and I have a good time with them.

At the Tuesday school I have to pick the individual kids up at an after school room and walk them all the way across the school to the music room.  My first student, Devon, is a kindergartner who one day challenged me to a race. I accepted figuring it would be a good workout since I had missed my morning jog.

After Devon’s lesson I went back to the after school room to retrieve my next student who happens to be his sister.  She noticed that I had raced her brother so she insisted on racing me too.  After we came back from her lesson she told the next student to race me, and on it went until now all five students insist on racing me every week.

Devon is only five or six years old and since I believe, given optimum conditions, I can take him, I go all out.  He wins anyway, but not by much.  His sister, however, is really fast and I have no chance.  She destroys me. By the time it gets to the third student, who is a little slower, I’m too tired to go full on so she beats me by an even wider margin.  With the fourth student I’ll occasionally employ Ben Hur tactics, edging her into the wall, or yelling, ‘Look over there! but she’s spry and fends off my attacks as easily as a club owner denies giving a musician a raise.

By the time it gets to the fifth and final student I’m so beaten down that I merely pretend to race while the kid tears off into the distance at top speed.  I’ll call out for effect, “HERE I COME!  I’M GAINING ON YOU, WATCH OUT,” as I limp along wondering when piano teaching became an extreme sport.

 

 

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Bud Powell: The greatest.

Posted by keithosaunders on February 24, 2016

I had an interesting conversation with a sax player at my gig last night.  He said that years ago he had gone to see Stan Getz and that between tunes Getz began talking about the great pianist, Bud Powell.  He asserted that a strong case could be made that Powell could be considered the most important jazz musician of all time.

Even I, who considers Powell my most important influence was slightly taken aback by this statement.  Charlie Parker looms as an enormous presence in jazz, and although we can’t equate the harmonic and rhythmic revolution that was bebop with one man, it is generally accepted that Bird, with his prodigious technique and dense harmonic lines was the prime catalyst.

The thing is that if you agree that Bud was every bit the harmonic equal of Bird, it becomes not so much a question of who played better, but who was the first to invent the language.  We may never know this but one thing Getz pointed out which I am in complete agreement on is that Bud wrote some of the most forward-thinking songs of all time.

Of course Bird wrote great songs as well, most of which we study and play to this day.  Yardbird Suite, Ornithology, Scrapple From the Apple are  the first three that come to mind but I could rattle off another two dozen if I had to.

While Bird’s songs defined and codified an era, Bud’s compositions looked towards the future.  Un Poco Loco was one of the first songs to combine Afro-Cuban rhythms with the new sound of bebop — its extended montuno solo section presaged modal music by a good ten years.  Dance of the Infidels is an altered 12 bar blues with a herky-jerky melody that somehow manages to appear fluid.  Check out its whole tone intro.  Bud wrote haunting ballads such as Dusk in Sandi, and his brilliant reworkings of standards such as Autumn in New York and Everything Happens to Me asserted an infectiously personal and passionate voice.

Bud Powell remains a giant among giants.

Dance of the Infidels

Dusk in Sandi

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Table-stand night

Posted by keithosaunders on February 19, 2016

table standBack when lived in New York my buddy, Taro Okamoto (a drummer) and I used to often ride together to gigs. Once while we were loading up the car after the gig he asked me, “What’s your number?” He meant how many pieces of equipment do I have to load. He had 6 pieces of gear to remember, I had/have 4.

I always load in the same order: keyboard, amp, cart, & stand – from heaviest to lightest. Yesterday, for some reason, I decided to load the stand first, but instead of putting it directly into the car I laid it against the passenger side and went back to my apartment to get the rest of my equipment. (you see where this is going)

When I arrived at the 7 Mile House Sports Bar & Grill for my gig with Peppe Merolla I opened my hatch and I found that the stand was not there. In a moment I realized where it was — lying on the sidewalk on Buchanan st in Albany. I sprang into action calling the other band members asking if they had a stand and could they bring it. Ollie Dudek brought one but it was a little rickety and wasn’t going to support that much weight.

So it was table-stand night for me. It was embarrassing but funny thing, it was the best damn sound I ever had. I’m wondering where I can buy a restaurant-grade table.

I left the gig with a good feeling until I realized…I had forgotten my jacket. D’oh! And so it begins…old age.

 

(All’s well that ends well!)
street stand

 

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Sayonara Scalia

Posted by keithosaunders on February 18, 2016

And just like that the Supreme Court has a chance to become a moral, humane body.  The Republicans will do their best to obstruct but they are a beaten party, their power waning faster than Nazgul’s after the ring was thrown into Mt Doom.

There is precedent to stall a Supreme Court appointment. In 1969 it took a Democratic Congress 391 days to appoint Harry Blackmun after Abe Fortas retired.  Bring it on, I say, because the next president will be a Democrat.  Wait a minute, what’s that I see in the distance?   Why it’s the clown car pulling up to the TV studio, and out pour the Republican candidates for president!

Scalia was proof that intelligence and education do not equate to morality.  He was a virulent racist and homophobe who wrote that African Americans belonged at ‘slower track,’less advanced  Universities.

He, like his fellow right wing Justices was an abomination.  He promoted states rights, which is thinly veiled code for white’s rights, and he was anti abortion, gay rights, and gun control.  He was a strict constitutionalist until it meant going against the document, which he did in Bush v Gore.   He, along with the four other right wing justices, voted in favor of allowing Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris’s previous certification of George Bush as the winner of the primary to stand, thus giving him the presidency.  This would lead to the deaths of thousand of Iraqis, as well as the severe erosion of civil rights, continued degradation of financial regulations, and ultimately the great financial collapse of 2007.

There are people in power of great intelligence who are amoral and inherently evil.  Scalia was one of these people and it is of utmost importance to this country that we replace him with someone with courage and moral integrity.  Appointing Justices is the most important thing a president does.  A vote for oompa-loompa Trump or batshit-crazy Ted Cruz is a vote for the further erosion of civil rights.

 

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Dr Seinfeld

Posted by keithosaunders on February 12, 2016

NY

This morning I read a post over at Verdon’s blog which reminded me of a story that my Dad used to tell my brother and I  — this was one of his classics and we always loved when he would retell it.

When my father was a teenager and young man living in Forest Hills, Queens, his family had this dentist named Matty Seinfeld whose office was on the ground floor of the building they lived.  Dr Seinfeld, no relation to Jerry,  was a yuge (in the spirit of Trump) NY Giants fan, while my Dad was a died in the wool Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

Dr Seinfeld would have my Dad’s mouth full of instruments while maintaining a running commentary on the greatness of the Giants.  My Dad would have us in hysterics as he imitated Seinfled using this nasally, high-pitched, whiny voice:  “Goahdon, Tauhmson, Mize, wow what powah!”   All this while my Dad was splayed nervously in the chair praying that Dr Seinfeld wouldn’t remember that he was a Dodgers fan and ‘accidentally’ slip.

 

 

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Super Bowl post mortum

Posted by keithosaunders on February 9, 2016

I didn’t care for this game that much.  Sure Denver’s D is one for the ages and they were awe-inspiring, but the game had no flow.  Peyton Manning was underwhelming and well past his prime.  I could have quarterbacked the Broncos to a victory with that defense.

The game was played in Santa Clara and as I was driving over the Bay Bridge on my way to my gig in San Francisco I could see the blimp way in the distance to the south.  I was driving during halftime and San Fran was like a ghost town.  Least traffic ever.

Cam Newton is taking a beating for walking out of his post game press conference.  There had been a huge to-do the week before the game in the press and on social media about Newton’s flashy persona and how it was unprofessional.  (Full disclosure, I had to google dabbing)  This was an overreaction and had the whiff of racism.  There have been plenty of white quarterbacks who celebrate touchdowns, and in the end, who cares?

But with the press conference, I believe Cam had to step up and endure the 10-15 minutes of inane questions.  If you’re going to be a gloating-gloater when you succeed then you have to be graceful in defeat as well.

And with that we enter the dark days of sports.  For the next two months there is nothing but excruciatingly dull mid-season basketball and hockey.  I can’t get excited about pitchers and catchers and spring training.  It does nothing for me.  I’ll see you all on Sunday, April 3rd.

P.S.  OK, I know about the NCAAs but I DON’T CARE.

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Your obligatory Super Bowl post

Posted by keithosaunders on February 6, 2016

I feel guilty about my lack of enthusiasm over Sunday’s big game but for whatever reason I just can’t seem to get excited over it.  Part of the reason is that I have an early starting solo piano gig that’s going to interfere with me seeing the fourth quarter.  Fortunately I have a good line of sight from the piano to the TV but I’m a little farther away than I’d like to be which will make identifying the holding calls tough.

The game is being played in Santa Clara which is 40 miles south of where I live. This is where the 49ers moved two season ago — a corporate designer stadium monstrosity. From all counts Levi’s Stadium has a nightmare parking situation which can take hours to enter and exit.   Route 101 is a tough artery to deal with in the best of circumstances but one can only imagine how much worse it will be tomorrow.  Throw in the post 9/11 security and you couldn’t pay me enough to attend this game.  I’ve heard that there are people who flew in from out of town that aren’t able to go to the game but are going to local Santa Clara bars so that they can be close to the action.  I pity these dullards.  Stay at home and watch from your couch, for crying out loud.  Santa Clara has no ambiance!

All of the Super Bowl festivities, whatever they are, have taken place in San Francisco which has made it tough for the working stiff musician to get into town for his gigs. (I live across the bay in a town just north of Berkeley called Albany)  Tonight I’m gigging in North Beach which is a part of San Francisco that is only a 20 minute walk from the a Bart station.  Tomorrow, however, I’m working in a part of San Francisco not serviced by Bart so I’ll have to drive.  I’m hoping that everyone will already be ensconced at the TV of their choice by the time I have to leave.

And there you have it:  My Super Bowl post.  My prediction:  Carolina 28 Denver 7.

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Farewell to Iowa

Posted by keithosaunders on February 3, 2016

NC

And with the ceremonial tossing of the coins we bid a fond adieu to those wacky ethanol-loving folks in the Midwest for another four years.  I can’t say we’ll miss them.  Why a state without a major sports franchise has so much importance in choosing our president I’ll never know.  Here’s an idea:  Why not flip a coin to see which state primary gets to go first?  Give California a shot.  WE DON’T VOTE UNTIL JUNE 7th!

Hillary may have won the coin tosses (really?  6 for 6?) but no matter how you spin it the victory went to Bernie Sanders who battled his corporate mainstream rival to a virtual tie. If that many Iowans will vote for a ‘socialist’ this does not bode well for Clinton in the long game.

At this point we owe it to ourselves to vote for the candidate that is in our best interests and not the one who is the safest bet.  Clinton has been on the worng side of just about every issue that is important to me.  She supported the Iraq war – one of the greatest debacles in American history –  she opposed gay marriage, and her husband’s administration, with its loosening of regulations,  helped to facilitate the financial crash of the late 200os.

Furthermore, Hillary recently came out and said that there is no chance the American people will ever have a single payer health care system.  I don’t want to hear those words. Ever. It’s bad enough we have a draconian health care system (even with with ACA which is an improvement over what we had) but to hear there is virtually no chance that every American will be able to afford health care is an abomination.

The issues that Sanders is concentrating on – income disparity, affordable education for all, and an awareness that we have to do something about climate change – resonate with me, and they are resonating with a large amount of Americans.  If I was Hillary Clinton or any of the myriad proto-fascist Republican candidates I’d be concerned.

 

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