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The King and I

Posted by keithosaunders on November 27, 2016

I have a confession to make:  If you take me to a Rodgers and Hammerstein play I will cry. I’m currently 3-0, and unless they remake State Fair and somebody takes me to it, this is a record that figures to stand.

You wouldn’t think that a cynical, disillusioned jazz musician would be this soft, but plop me down in a theatre with the orchestra and the lighting, and have a classically trained vocalist strike up If I Loved You and there’s only one possible outcome:  I’ll be bawling like a baby before the end of the first chorus.

The worst was back in 1994 when my wife took me to see Carousel.  There is a song called The Soliloquy, in which the main character, Billy Bigelow,  ponders what it will be like to be a father to a boy or girl.  At that time my wife was 8 months pregnant and it was as if Bigelow was a conduit for my hopes and fears.  You’d better believe it was go-time for the water works.  Fellow audience members were slipping on the wet floor while exiting.

I have yet to see Oklahoma or the Sound of Music but the chances are that the wind wouldn’t be the only thing that was coming behind the rain –  my tear drops would be right behind.  Either way, wear a raincoat.

 

Image result for the king and I review

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Singer’s choice

Posted by keithosaunders on July 30, 2016

Imagine that you are a singer living in a world that has known composers such as Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Richard Rodgers. Now imagine that between these (and other) composers that there are hundreds, if not thousands of great songs to choose from. Finally, imagine that from this wealth of repertoire you select Van Morrison’s Moondance.

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Report from the front lines

Posted by keithosaunders on July 24, 2016

Do you think being a working musician is easy?  Do you?!  Well let me tell you something, IT’S NOT!

Yesterday’s gig was a  corporately booked gig — a private party for a rich swell who lives in a mansion in Lafayette, California.  It was an outdoor event so I need my keyboard and amp.

I arrived at the scheduled time, an hour and a half before the gig.  Our set up was in his back yard but getting there involved taking my equipment down a long, steep, incline.  (the house was recessed into the hill) I had my keyboard and amp on my hand truck, as usual, and I figured I would walk backwards down the hill keeping my equipment in front of me so that I could brace it against gravity.

Wrong.  The path was made out of this ultra smooth, polished gravel.  My shoes, being somewhat new, had no traction.  Down I went in a slow motion face-first fall, my pitiful life flashing before my eyes. With my left hand I held onto my dolly for dear life, while with the right hand I braced my fall.  I landed flat on my stomach and my dolly ended up on its side.  I tried to get up but it was no use.  I would still be lying there today if the drummer and guitarist hadn’t happened by at that moment.

It took a bit of doing to get both myself and my equipment at an upright angle but finally I was righted and I was able to locate a set of stairs to access the backyard.  Did I mention it was 91 degrees outside and I was wearing a suit?

It was a long gig with short breaks.  There’s not enough time to detail the hilarity that ensued but I will say that I really enjoyed the music and the musicians that I played with.

How’s that for a happy ending?

 

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At last I can sleep

Posted by keithosaunders on June 23, 2016

Well we can all rest easy.  A judge has ruled that the 7 minute Led Zeppelin leviathan, Stairway To Heaven, was not plagiarized from another band’s song.  In 1968 Zeppelin, then just starting out, were on the road with a group called Spirit who performed an instrumental number – Taurus –  that was suspiciously similar to the acoustic guitar opening to Stairway to Heaven.

It’s not a stretch to think that Jimmy Page may have consciously or sub consciously stolen the riff.  After all he shamelessly “borrowed” several other blues riffs from artists such as Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Stairway to Heaven is unique no matter how you look at it.  No other Zeppelin song is quite like it in the way it takes its time building intensity. From the solo acoustic guitar opening, to the screaming heavy metal final minute and a half, it’s almost, but not quite through-composed. (Its verse repeats several times)  It’s a good song but it’s a stand alone.  We like Zeppelin for their riff heavy, hard grooving rockers such as Dazed and Confused, Living Loving Maid, and Black Dog.  You tolerated the folky Going to Californias to get to the Misty Mountain Hops.

For that matter, where is Spirit’s lawsuit against Emerson Lake and Palmer?  ELP had an entire record called Taurus!  If Spirit wants they can always use my law firm, Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe.

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Let it Be

Posted by keithosaunders on May 27, 2016

let it be

A couple of weeks ago I was on a break at my gig.  As I was sitting at the bar I noticed that the club was playing the Beatles final record, Let It Be.  (It’s actually their 2nd to last record, having been recorded several months before the 1969 release, Abbey Road, but it was the final record to be released –  early in 1970.)

I was listening rather intently and gradually I began to realize something:  Let It Be is essentially a steaming pile.  It’s as if the Beatles through a bunch of paint against a wall and whatever stuck was what they would release.  Add in the fact that they basically hated each other by then and you have one unhappy product.  Lennon already had one foot out the door and Harrison actually quit in the middle of the sessions.  (The other members cajoled him into coming back after a few days)

Yet…the album has some really good moments.  Forget the title song, which has become a standard.  Actually, don’t forget it. — it’s a good song with a nice guitar solo to boot.  For me, though, what’s always attracted me to this record is the bare bones, stripped down aura of I Dig a Pony, One After 909, and I’ve got a Feeling.  They’re fun to listen to and suggest that the boys had come through their psychedelic period with their love for classic rock n roll intact.  Across the Universe, over produced as it was, is a lovely song, and Get Back is great too.

Even John Lennon, for all of his cynicism about the Beatles, didn’t hate it.  He had this to say in a 1970 Rolling Stone magazine interview in defense of the album’s producer, Phil Spector:  “He was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it.” 

Well…it’s sort of positive.

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Who put these #%& snakes in the #%$ piano?

Posted by keithosaunders on March 6, 2016

Folks it’s the end of the weekend and I’m all Trumped out so I’m giving that topic a rest for the time being.

As a freelance musician my office changes from night to night.  More importantly my work station, that is to say my piano, also changes.  Every once in a while I get a beautiful instrument; for instance, a seven foot Steinway with great action and a beautiful tone.  This makes my job so much easier — it’s like driving a Lexus versus a Yugo.  (Full disclosure, I’ve never driven either)

Most of the time I’m stuck with a dog, or at best a dowager. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  A lousy piano takes preference over me having to schlep my keyboard, even though my keyboard remains in tune in perpetuity. At this point my back’s comfort takes preference over my ear’s.

I pride myself as being the kind of pianist who can make any instrument, no matter how bad, sound good.  I almost never complain about the piano because what’s the point?  If I don’t like it I should shut up and bring my keyboard.

But…

There are times when I’m playing a solo, the music is groovin,’ I’m working through dense lines, building up energy – I’m in a good mood, almost a state of euphoria – when BAM I hit a high G that sounds like a cat in heat.

It’s like I’m the lead in a movie starring opposite Marilyn Monroe when all of a sudden her character gets killed off and replaced with another love-interest…played by Irene Ryan, the actress who played Granny in the Beverly Hillbillys.

It’s times like those that I feel like Samuel L. Jackson:  “I’M SICK AND TIRED OF THESE MOTHERFUCKIN’ OUT OF TUNE NOTES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKIN’ PIANO.”

 

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Night at the office

Posted by keithosaunders on January 30, 2016

Being a musician is a strange career.  Often times the easiest part of our job is the playing. Most of us have been practicing our instrument – honing our craft – every day of our life since the time we were kids.  (in my case since I was 8) We have logged more hours in pursuit of our quixotic profession than any doctor or lawyer.  By the time we go to work in the evening the execution should be like turning the ignition key in a car.  Sure, there are nights where our playing is less than inspired and we may clam a few notes or forget a some chords, but for the most part we play at an consistently high level.

From where I sit the difficult part of our job is maintaining our concentration amidst what are often less than ideal performing conditions.  What we do requires a heightened sense of listening which can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but daunting in a room full of screaming bar patrons.

I often play this gig at a crowded dive bar in the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco – Club Deluxe.  For the most part I love this place.  It is integral to the Bay Area jazz scene, providing a space for musicians in a city that is practically bereft of jazz clubs. The vibe at Deluxe is usually good and although people are often noisy there is enough positive energy (and free beer!) to make for a fun night.

Last night, however, was rough.  The place was unusually busy for a Thursday and it was packed with inebriated 20-something tech people.  Sitting directly across from the band was a trio of loud, drunken dudes.  It’s one thing to deal with the white noise of a jam packed bar — it becomes a background din and you can deal with it.  But when you have people in close proximity screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, not only is it jarring but it becomes like nails on a chalkboard.

Three hours into the gig the frat boy alchys were still there and louder than ever.  As we were beginning our final set our bassist could take it no longer and he asked them to move.  One of the dullards said something snide and our bass player, giving his best dead-eyed Clint Eastwood stare, said, “Get the fuck out.” At that point I stood up and flanked the bass player.  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking  – I’ve never been in a bar fight and I’m pretty sure I would get my ass kicked – but I was ready to go to war with these louts.  Somehow the sax player was able to de-escalate the situation and the drunks ended up leaving.  But the whole thing left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth.

The good thing about the music business?  Tomorrow is another gig.

 

 

 

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Starman

Posted by keithosaunders on January 11, 2016

DD

I’ve been thinking about Diamond Dogs.  This was the first David Bowie record to be released after I had started listening to him. (Ziggy and Aladdin Sane already felt like ancient history even though they were only one and two years old) I remember counting down the days until DD came out and finally taking it home, playing it and loving it instantly.

There was this strange dichotomy with Bowie – here was this effeminate androgynous person who appeared more alien than human, yet his music was as muscular and substantial as anything heard before or since. Growing up in the staid, conforming, tract-home infested San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, listening to Bowie felt simultaneously thrilling and subversive.

Less than a year after Diamond Dogs Bowie would  help kick-start disco with Young Americans and I summarily rote him off.  This  was convenient for me since I had begun studying and playing jazz and wouldn’t listen to rock music for another three years.  When I did get around to checking out rock again my brother played me the Eno-produced records that Bowie had made in the interim – Low, Heroes, and Lodger – and they blew my mind.  Scary Monsters came out a few months after I had rediscovered him and it was like a satisfying coda to the frenetic and schizophrenic seventies.  Soon Bowie would don a suit and tie for the conservative 80s only to reemerge in the 90s as a cutting-edge post-punk industrial rocker.

Bowie is the most important pop artist we’ve lost since John Lennon.  He was like a rock version of Miles Davis.  He stayed relevant and innovative no matter how old he got and he influenced every generation that was lucky enough to have heard him.
 It’s a sad day.

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Night at the Museum

Posted by keithosaunders on December 6, 2015

A great musician, Phil Woods, once said, “They don’t pay us to play, they pay us to show up.” He’s right.  The easiest part of what we do is to play the gig.  Often times, as in tonight, the most difficult part is to show up.

Tonight’s gig was at an affair at a museum in downtown San Francisco.  Getting into town over the Bay Bridge from the East Bay where I live is never easy, particularly on a Saturday late afternoon, but throw in holiday traffic and you’ve got a recipe for aggravation.

I always say give me a gig with parking and a piano and I’m a happy camper.  Tonight I had neither, which meant loading my keyboard and amp into the car, driving to an inconvenient loading dock, unloading, and to top it off, a 30 minute trip driving around the block to a parking lot in bumper to bumper traffic.  There was even traffic inside of the parking lot where I slogged my way up 7 stories to the last available spot on the roof.

I walked back to the gig only to discover that I had to walk around to the back of the museum to check in with security.  I ended up in line behind a group of caterers which led to a 15 minute wait while the attendant methodically copied down info from everyone’s drivers license.  Finally I was allowed into the building where I set up and waited an hour before the start of the gig.

After that, however, everything went smoothly.  The client was extremely nice offering us drinks and food, and the musicians were good.  All in all it was a tiring day, but not a bad one. All the same, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s gig – also in San Fran –  which is walking distance from a BART station and contains an upright piano.

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A Baptist Beat

Posted by keithosaunders on August 15, 2015

I found a video of me playing with bassist, Dylan Johnson, at a house concert in San Luis Obispo.  I had forgotten that this was up there when I happened to stumble across it tonight.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself.  I’m playing a tune by one of the great unsung saxophone heroes of jazz — Hank Mobley!  It’s called A Baptist Beat. (don’t tell anybody I’m Jewish)

Hey!  Are you looking at my bald spot?!  What do you want from me I’m almost 55!

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