The World According to Keitho

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Archive for the ‘jazz’ Category

Sippin’ at Bell’s

Posted by keithosaunders on September 4, 2018

Here is an unconventional blues from Miles Davis called Sippin’ at Bells.  It comes from his very first session as a leader in 1947 and the band featured Charlie Parker (on tenor!) John Lewis – piano, Nelson Boyd – bass, and Max Roach on drums.

The other tracks are the original Milestones, (Miles would write a second Milestones ten years later – a modal tune based on two chords) Little Willie Leaps (based on the chords of Bronislaw Kaper’s All Gods Children Got Rhythm), and Half Nelson.  All four of the tunes on this date ended up becoming jazz standards.  Jazz musicians throughout the world know them and continue to play them.

Sippin’ at Bells, a 12 bar blues,  is notable for it’s unique, substitute chord laden progression.  Miles begins the song with an F major 7 (instead of a dominant 7) and if that is not radical enough, he immediately diverts to the key of Eb in measure two, using Fm7-Bb7.  In the fifth measure, instead of using the usual IV dominant 7, Davis employs a IV major 7, a striking diversion from the norm.

In 1949 the pianist Bud Powell would record his original, Dance of the Infidels.  Its chord progression is almost identical to that of ‘Bells,’ although its melody is completely different.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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Happy birthday

Posted by keithosaunders on August 24, 2018

When I was young I fell in love with jazz music.  I studied, practiced, jammed, and gigged.  I was precocious and thought I was much better than I was.  Harmonically, rhythmically, and technically I was callow – less than the player I am today.  I didn’t care.  There was joy and abandon in my playing and the optimism that is the domain of the young.

When I was young I went on dates.  I had infatuations, rejections, romances, and breakups.  There were no dating aps — I  was judged on my poise and insouciance in the moment.  Sometimes I fell flat on my face and other times the stars aligned for great successes.  It didn’t matter – there was time.

When I was young if I wanted to go to a ballgame my greatest worry (living in New York) was whether or not there would be a rain out.  The cost was not prohibitive, the game, though slow, was not marred by interminable booth delays or a revolving door of relief pitchers.  I was not made to feel like a criminal upon entering the stadium.  There was joy in the experience.

So begins my 58th year.  Bring it on.

 

Image result for Keith Hernandez

Keith Hernandez – my favorite Met.

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How is this possible? Art Tatum

Posted by keithosaunders on December 15, 2017

Art Tatum was, arguably, not only the greatest jazz pianist of all time, but the greatest pianist period.  He is responsible for influencing Charlie Parker, who took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant that Tatum was appearing at merely to be close to the man. Tatum also had a profound effect on Bud Powell, hence every single subsequent jazz pianist.

Tatum, born October 13th 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, came of age in the swing era, a good ten years before the be-bop revolution.  Though he emerged in an earlier era,  his harmonic sense – his voicings, as well as re-harmonization of songs –  is as modern, if not more so than that of anyone who proceeded him.  His technique is flawless and he sounds just as comfortable at breakneck tempos (see Liza) as he does when he plays a ballad.

There are two facets of his playing that have always astounded me.  One is his impeccable time.  No matter how complicated and ornate a run he plays he never drops a beat.  His sense of pulse is a thing of wonder.

Then there is his gift of harmony.  It’s easy to be hypnotized by his Olympian technique, but listen a little closer and you will hear intricate re-harmonizations – chords that flow into one another with deft ease, sometimes on every beat. They are beautiful to behold, but difficult for the laymen (read 99.99 % of us) to grasp, and hence nearly impossible to assimilate.

Listen to Moon Song.  At 3:11 you’ll hear Tatum launch into one of his impossible runs, his right hand a whirling dervish, while his left hand stride solidly holds down the time.  He doesn’t complete the run until 3:18 at which point the audience breaks into spontaneous laughter.  They can’t believe he has stuck the landing!

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Busy weekend

Posted by keithosaunders on November 12, 2017

This was one of those impossible weekends where I found myself with seven gigs on my calendar:  Two on Friday, a triple-header on Saturday, and two more on Sunday.  With six of the seven out of the way I can see the finish line ahead, but will still will have to power through a three hour solo piano gig in San Francisco.  (the fewer musicians around me, the harder I have to work)

Saturday morning’s gig – a one hour lecture/demonstration for toddlers and grade school kids proved to the hardest and most frustrating gig.  We were teaching kids about the fundamentals of music and jazz improvisation.  The leader was a trumpet player who gives me lots of work, but who happens to be an extremely unpleasant individual.  He’s one of those people who lectures you didactically nonstop (the lecture/dem gig was right in his wheelhouse) and enjoys arguing.  Everything goes one way, however — outward bound.  I’m pretty sure he’s on the spectrum somewhere.

He was particularity unpleasant during the rehearsal, stopping me every few seconds over minutia until it was all I could do not to pack up my keyboard and leave.  I toughed it out, however, and finished the gig without incident.

The thing is, you can’t blame people for being themselves.  This trumpet player can’t help being an asshole.  He was born this way.  He’s a miserable individual and its unfair and unrealistic to expect him to act out of his comfort zone.  No, I blame myself.  I’m the one who accepted the gig knowing full well what I was getting into.  If I accept future gigs with him I should expect more of the same.  Hopefully, in the words of Nancy Reagan, I’ll just say no.

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The dating blues

Posted by keithosaunders on October 31, 2017

I began to gig in jazz clubs in my late teens back when I lived in Los Angeles.  I had decided to eschew college in pursuit of a career as a jazz musician – a decision that has netted me upwards of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.  I was having a great time practicing 5-6 hours during the day and gigging at night.

One unfortunate byproduct of this situation was that I was invariably the youngest person in the club by over ten years.  Not being in the cocoon of college made it difficult to find a girl close to my age to date.  Where was Tinder when I needed it?!

Fast forward 40 years and all of the practice paid off.  I’m gigging most nights, and I play at an extremely high level.  However I’m now often the oldest person in the club by over 15 years.  Somewhere up in heaven Rod Serling is having a good laugh.

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We get requests

Posted by keithosaunders on October 17, 2017

Part of the craft being a solo pianist at a restaurant is taking and fielding requests.  I take a certain amount of pride in knowing a lot of tunes – hundreds, if not over a thousand – and as long as I know the song reasonably well I will play it, regardless of how corny it is or how much I don’t like it.  I’m grateful for requests; one of the hardest parts of doing a three hour solo gig is thinking of songs to play.  When I don’t know a song I’m always a little embarrassed, even though I realize that it’s impossible to know every song ever written.

A few weeks ago, however, I received a request that was as original as it was inane.  Someone asked me to play video game music.  I must have looked puzzled because the person quickly added, “You know, like Super Mario Brothers.”

This time, instead of stammering out an apology, I decided to try a new approach. I reached into my backpack, pulled out my new Smith & Wesson M & P9 Shield, fired a few rounds into the kitchen (taking care to avoid hitting the chef) and calmly set the gun down on the piano.

“Now,” I replied, “what was it you wanted to hear, some Bud Powell?  That’s what I thought you said.”

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Scrapple From the Apple

Posted by keithosaunders on August 30, 2017

Last night I played a gig at a bar in the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco called Club Deluxe.  The band, which plays at Deluxe every Tuesday,  is led by a great saxophonist named Smith Dobson and includes Eric Markowitz on bass and Jimmy Gallagher on drums.  These are some of my favorite musicians.

Last night we paid tribute to Charlie Parker on the 97th anniversary of his birth.  I went live on Periscope for one song – Scrapple From the Apple.  Unfortunately there was no ideal placement for the phone so the only band member you’ll see will be me.  But you can hear everyone and I feel it’s a great representation of what we do.

Click through for some nice licks.

https://www.pscp.tv/w/bHW-fDFlVmpZZG9xTU13S0x8MWRSSlpubm1WelFKQhPbfhROCU-Ev8Rg2eXOHrLkvC6q3-OwlN31nAAQdrNK

 

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Happy Bird’s Birthday!

Posted by keithosaunders on August 29, 2017

Today should be a holiday.  It is the birthday of one of the most important musicians of all time — Charlie Parker.  He was born on this date in 1920 which means had he lived, he would have been 97.  As it was he died at the tragically young age of 34.

He left us, however, with an ample discography, as well as this snippet of video footage of him playing live with Dizzy Gillespie.  They perform Tadd Dameron’s Hot House.

I would strongly recommend to anyone who has not heard of Charlie Parker, to Youtube him.  Your mind will be blown.

The New York radio station WKCR, as they do every year, is broadcasting a marathon Bird broadcast until tonight at midnight.  I highly recommend this.

https://www.cc-seas.columbia.edu/wkcr/#

In this dismal age of dangerous politicians and natural disasters why not take a few minutes to explore the beauty that exists in this world.  Happy Charlie Parker day.

 

 

 

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Keystone Korner

Posted by keithosaunders on July 10, 2017

This past weekend I took part in a 45th anniversary of the great, long-gone San Francisco jazz club called Keystone Korner.  The North Beach club was in existence from 1972 until 1985 – not terribly long by jazz club standards – but long enough to make an indelible imprint on the Bay Area jazz scene.  During its time it played host to the greatest names in jazz – from McCoy Tyner to Stan Getz, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, and Horace Silver.

This weekend’s celebration featured such luminaries as Azar Lawrence, Gary Bartz, and Charles MacPherson, all of whom still sound great.  I played in the host band, led by tenor saxophonist, Mel Martin.

It was a bittersweet weekend.  I realized that the era of local jazz clubs hosting top touring musicians for six night stints (at affordable prices) is long gone. Sure, New York still has the Village Vanguard, but you would have to practically float a loan to attend it more than once a month.

Furthermore, the Vanguard is very much the exception.  Many cities, San Francisco being one of them, no longer have clubs devoted exclusively to jazz.  Corporate arts centers such as SF Jazz and Lincoln Center help, but do little to foster the sense of a local jazz community.   Not only that, they will rarely host an act for more than a couple of nights.

We have to enjoy our few remaining jazz clubs while we have them.  One day we’ll only have youtube and our memories.

Image result for keystone korner

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My jazz camp adventures

Posted by keithosaunders on July 3, 2017

I have just returned from a week long stint spent as a teacher and performer at a jazz camp in La Honda, California.  La Honda is located deep in the Santa Cruz mountains –  a beautifully  scenic place.  I had a great time teaching, playing, and connecting with old and new friends.

The last day, however, my friend, Michelle, and I had a little disagreement. Nothing that serious, but, well, let me just tell you about it…

We were eating breakfast when I casually mentioned how much I hate scat singing and that no one should be allowed to do it.  Michelle responded, “I don’t give a fuck what you think.” As I was preparing my carefully worded response, Michelle removed some nun chucks from her backpack (that she happens to carry) and cracked me across the knee caps. As I was doubled over on the ground in the fetal position, crying like a little girl, I could hear the sound of a switch blade opening and before I had time to apologize, or beg for mercy, Michelle had slashed open my nose – just like Roman Polanski did to Jack Nicholson in Chinatown!

She stuck me in a wheel barrow and wheeled me to the camp nurse, who told me that she had never seen someone so severely injured at jazz camp. The silver lining is that now my photo hangs on the wall of fame at the jazz camp infirmary.

jazz camp woods

 

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