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Archive for the ‘jazz’ Category

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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Audrey

Posted by keithosaunders on October 28, 2016

Lately I’ve been fascinated with how Bud Powell deals with the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, 11th, & 12th bar of the blues. He goes out of his way to find the major 7th. It’s almost like a giant ‘fuck you’ to the blues but it works, and some levels it’s bluesier than what we’re used to hearing. It’s a personal and striking statement.

I believe that generation – Bird, Monk, Dizzy et al – thought of those bars more as major chords (or 6th chords) than dominant 7ths. The next generation – Horace, Wynton Kelly, Mobley, D Byrd – played over dominant changes, but not the be boppers. (at least to my ears) The exception would be the slow blues, which Bird was a master at. I don’t know how much the Kansas City influence v Bud’s New York upbringing plays into that.

I recently transcribed this solo — it’s amazing as all of Bud’s solos were, but this one I found to be unusually quirky and great. After all these years of listening to him I still can’t believe how effortlessly he stays in the center of the beat even with all of that double time.

 

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I get requests

Posted by keithosaunders on October 17, 2016

I have a solo piano gig in San Francisco which I do every Wednesday and Sunday.  From time to time people will request tunes and I’ll do my best to fulfill them no matter how corny they may be.  My unofficial data tells me that Billy Joel’s, The Piano Man is the most requested song while Dave Brubeck’s Take Five is a close second.

Earlier tonight 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 around for the back of my trousers, took at out my new Glock 19, fired a few rounds into the kitchen (taking care to avoid hitting the chef) and 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.”

 

Image result for glock 19

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September weekend

Posted by keithosaunders on September 26, 2016

It’s late September and we’re well into the Bay Area’s yearly Indian Summer.  The days have been hot and sunny while the evenings are cool (ish) and fog-free.

The weekend’s gigs were a mixed bag – mostly good.  On Thursday I received a last minute call for a late Friday night (10:30-1:30) gig at a new jazz club in San Francisco.  At 9:30 PM Friday I boarded the gig mobile (Mazda minivan) and the weekend’s festivities were underway.

I arrived to find a nice looking restaurant/bar with a downstairs jazz club.  It was intimate, with a small stage and exposed brick walls.  The only trouble was that it was packed with puke-faced millennials who were more interested in their phones and their fancy mixed drinks than the music.

Worse than that, the band didn’t gel, due mostly to a weak bass player who played way too loud, as well as on top of the beat, making it impossible to find a pocket.  The result was that I overplayed and soon fell into a funk.

During the break the awkward moments kept coming.  It was one of those crowded clubs with nowhere to stand or sit.  The band had dispersed and there was no one to talk to.  I  didn’t feel like drinking – I already sounded bad enough – so I just stood around looking like the mamaluke of the year until it was time to reconnoiter upstairs for dinner.

The restaurant served us some nouveau cuisine – I had thought that these small portioned, tricked out presentations had gone out with the 80s.  Was this old-veau cuisine?

During dinner the bass player chatted me up, probing for my life story.  She managed to discover that the reason I had moved to the Bay Area from New York City was because my wife (now ex) had recieved a job offer.  “I guess that your musician’s salary wasn’t going to make it,” she opined. Needless to say this comment went over like a turd in the punchbowl.  I shot her the Keitho ray and she responded she responded sheepishly with, “Sorry if I touched a nerve.”

The dinner was mercifully short owing as much to our schedule as the minisscule portions. Then it was announced that this young pianist from Minnesota was going to sit in for a couple tunes along with a bass player.  (a good one this time) The piano player was great and he proceeded to cut me.

By now I was thoroughly dusgusted with the entire situation.  When it was my turn to resume playing I was fired up enough to find my good stuff and I played well the rest of the evening. (I’m a good mad player.)  In the end I was kind of glad that the other piano player (who turned out to be a nice guy) gave me a goosing.

The gig went overtime, of course, and I stumbled out of there around 2am. The rest of the weekend’s gigs went much better but this post is already too long.  On to this week’s gigs!

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