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Archive for the ‘jazz’ Category

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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The mind of a musician

Posted by keithosaunders on June 17, 2017

Have you ever wondered how the jazz musician’s creative process works?  The other night I played Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower at a jam session.  Here then is play by play on what went through my head as I played this piece.

D minor
good groove
not as bad as I thought
D minor
2nd 8
liking it
bridge
groovin’
d minor
hey watch that voicing
d minor
groove
d minor
pretty chick in the front
d minor
why are they in the bridge?
ok back on
groove
d minor
wonder how the mets are doing
groove
d minor
d minor
d minor
thank god there are no words to this
d minor
g sus b9 over D
groove
d minor
do I have to do laundry
d minor
will this solo ever end
d minor
this couldn’t be more monotonous
d minor
d minor
except if the rhythm section went into double time samba
d minor
d minor
twice as long d minor
Ok here it comes..
I’m ready
bridge bridge bridge bridge bridge
GOD DAMMIT THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE BRIDGE
d minor
d minor
I’m in hell
d minor
shoot me…

 

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The decline of western civilization. Part 36: The talk show

Posted by keithosaunders on May 12, 2017

How low have we suck as a society?  There was once a time – in my lifetime, in fact – when you could turn on your television, tune to ABC, and see a top jazz pianist demonstrating the difference between the styles of Nat King Cole and Erroll Garner.

Dick Cavett was urbane to a level which bordered on pretentiousness, but he was able to stay out of the way of his guests, allowing them to shine.  Johnny Carson was a master at this too. Carson loved jazz and had musicians as guests, but you wouldn’t have seen such depth to the interview.  It would be miles above today’s standards, however.  By the way, I had no idea Oscar Peterson was so glib.  He’s the greatest jazz musician guest of all time!

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Music has gotten too loud

Posted by keithosaunders on March 18, 2017

Music is too loud these days.  I played an early gig at a bar in the Haight and after we were off there was a band with a singer, sax, trumpet, hammond organ, bass, and drums.  They were pretty obnoxious overall, but even worse they were loud as hell.  Even the horns were miked.  It was god awful.  It’s acoustic music.  There’s no need to pummel the patrons over the head.

Just a terrible job out of them.

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Burned by daylight savings time

Posted by keithosaunders on March 12, 2017

It’s not fair to be a musician with a Sunday brunch gig on the first day of daylight savings time.  After a late Saturday gig you are robbed of a precious hour of sleep before waking up at what is really 7:30 to play for Sunday brunch.  The humanity!

One of my first steady gigs back when I first moved to New York, 30 + years ago, was at a boxcar diner with an upright piano crammed into one side called, The Empire Diner.  It was a four hour gig – from 11pm-3am – and it paid thirty dollars plus a meal.  (Eventually it went up to thirty-five)

A couple of times I played the late set on New Years eve which was from 2am-6am.  It paid double scale!  After those nights I felt so prosperous  that I would spring for a cab ride home – from 10th Ave & 22nd st all the way to the Upper West Side on Broadway and 109th st.

Us late show pianists actually caught a break during the change from standard time to DST.  At 2:00am , when the clocks  jumped ahead to 3:00, we would say, “Welp, time to clock out!”

Conversely, in the fall, when the clocks moved back an hour, the place expected us to play for an extra hour.  I would try to sub that night out, or conveniently forget about the time change.

Enjoy the extra light, everyone, we have made it through the dark days of winter.  Now if we can only make it through the dark days of the Trump administration.

 

Image result for empire diner

 

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The jazz woo

Posted by keithosaunders on March 7, 2017

Alcoa presents: The Jazz Ethicist…with Keitho!

Dear J.E. When is the proper time to employ the jazz ‘woo?’

Curious Yellow

Dear CY,

Good question! First of all, whatever you do, do not use it on the bandstand. Horn players, when they are not soling, should effect an insouciance with head cocked at 45 degree angles, looking passively into the audience, occasionally snapping on the 2 and/or the 4.

NOW. During the break you will be talking about great musicians with your fellow band members. For example, someone one will say, “Herbie was killing it on Speak Like a Child!”

Now is your chance.

With a barely audible, yet excited 2 second falsetto, you proclaim, “Ooooh!”

Note: The W in ‘woo’ is silent – if you say ‘woo’ you’ve blown it and will be instantly ostracized from the herd.

I hope this helps.

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The art of the humblebrag

Posted by keithosaunders on February 28, 2017

Last night’s jam session was packed with people.  The establishment was going out of business and somehow this attracted jazz ghouls, suddenly smitten with nostalgia for a place that they were loathe attend during its run.  As a result the session went an hour overtime so that every last singer, sax player, and whistler could be accommodated.

When we finally finished the last “act,” a Danish accordion player who played Baby Elephant Walk in 5/4, I breathed a sigh of relief, and stood up from the piano when all of a sudden an audience member starting yelling, “LET’S HEAR ONE MORE FROM THE BAND!”  Of course the crowd cheered and hooted and the marathon night dragged on for another 15 minutes.

Now I love music as much as the next guy (probably more, since I actually play it for a living) but after having played for two hours straight I was ready for some Netflix.  Enough is enough, people.  If you really liked this club you would have patronized it during its heyday.

But let me tell you something, when a guy screams at the band to play one more song, it’s not about his love of music or his appreciation of the band.  It’s about injecting himself into the conversation.  It’s all about ego.  Look at me – I love these guys, I love music so much, I’m so hip.

The art of the humblebrag.

 

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Just another night at the office

Posted by keithosaunders on December 7, 2016

There are so many louts at our gigs that it’s hard not to go all Stockhomy and start liking them.  When your office is a dive bar expectations had better be low or you could go crazy from frustration and aggravation.

At last night’s gig there was ultra loud couple sitting in the booth right across from the band. This guy must have been the funniest thing since Sid Caesar because every ten seconds there would be an ear-piercing cackle from his date. He had this nasal voice that could penetrate the loudest decibel, like a knife slashing through butter. We could have been Led Zeppelin and you would have heard this guy.

Needless to say they stayed the entire night. After the gig I noticed they were making out in the booth so I decided to give them a taste of their own medicine. “GET A ROOM,” I screamed. Then I approached them: “How do you like it when I intrude on your business?”

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It’s all music

Posted by keithosaunders on November 16, 2016

If you’ve never heard a live recording of bebop music when it was in its prime in the mid 40s then you’ve never really heard it.  There is an immediacy and an electricity about it that does not fully emerge in the studio recordings.  Don’t get me wrong; anything that Bird ever recorded is nothing short of outstanding, but to get the complete picture you must check him out live.

This is top of mind because as I write this I’m listening to a compilation of live radio broadcasts of Bird on a disc entitled, The Complete Live Performances.  The host of the broadcasts is the New York disc jockey,  Symphony Sid.   Sid had a hipster way of speaking (“Blow Bird, blow!“) which I’ve always gotten a kick out of.  It sounds to my ears, however, that he got under the skin of the musicians whom he revered.

On one of the tracks Sid says to Bird, “Can I get a few words about the sides you did with Machito? [In the late 40s Parker recorded The Afro Cuban Suite with Cuban percussionist, Machito]   It sounds like you’re trying to bring bop to a larger audience – make it more commercial.”   Bird responds in an affable, yet slightly condescending tone, “Well, if you say so, Sid, it’s all just music to me.”

Birds response – it’s all music – is revealing in that it implies that he was more interested in making great music than leading a bebop revolution.  The modern musicians of the 40s knew they were onto something special and that they had made breakthroughs, both harmonically and rhythmically.  We know that Bird was influenced by Lester Young and Art Tatum, but he also loved classical music and was influenced by Igor Stravinsky.  There were a myriad of influences that effected modern jazz music, among them the Cuban music that Bird had played with Machito, and later on his own Verve date.

I’ve always distrusted fellow musicians who blithely announce that they’re going to play a bebop song.  It’s a diminutive term – as if you’re choosing from categories on a menu. Sure, it is useful for describing a brief jazz epoch, but in the end, if you are going to become a jazz musician, you are going to have to grapple with the genius of Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and all those that came before and after them.

It’s all music!

 

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