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.
Posted in jazz, music, Uncategorized | Tagged: Bay Area, Club Deluxe, Haight Ashbury, jazz, jazz club, music, San Francisco | 5 Comments »
Posted by keithosaunders on December 12, 2015
Being a musician and trying to maintain a career gigging is akin to Charlie Brown trying to kick that football. Just when things are going well a club owner pulls it away.
On one hand the job rarely gets boring. I play in a different place with different people most every night of the week. If I have a bad night I can go home, practice the next day, wipe the slate clean and start over the next night.
The flip side is there is no job security. I have roughly a half dozen steady gigs, some of which are once a week, some twice a month, and others once a month. Any one of these gigs can end with hours notice. There are no contracts, no year-end bonuses, and certainly no severance pay. One year a dive bar back east in Queens called Brandy’s, where I had a steady Thursday, gave us a Christmas bonus of $20.00. It was about 15 years ago but I remember it distinctly because it was the only time it ever happened!
This particular subject is top of mind because my favorite gig – a jazz quintet at a bar in Haight Ashbury called Club Deluxe – is being cut back from twice a month to once a month. The gig is with some of my favorite Bay Area musicians and it’s a place that we can throw down hard in front of appreciative crowds. It was always a somewhat lucrative night — they charge a cover at the door and the place is usually packed.
Due to a strange twist of fate, however, our pay has recently risen by approximately 30%. The club fired the old doorman and it turned out he had been skimming off of the band. For years we went home from that gig thinking it had been a good night monetarily. Little did we know they should have been great nights. So here we are with a defacto raise – something that happens to mus
icians with the regularity of alternate leap years – and *now* they cut us back?! COME ON! But that’s the way it goes in the Charlie Brown-esque world of the jazz musician. Gigs come and go. Somehow the music preservers.
Posted in jazz, Uncategorized | Tagged: Bay Area, Brandy's, Charlie Brown, Club Deluxe, Haight Ashbury, jazz, New York City, Peanuts, Queens, San Francisco | 4 Comments »
Posted by keithosaunders on August 17, 2015
Saturday was a hellacious day for me but ultimately a good one. I taught three lessons and played three gigs. I was moving from 10AM until I finally got home from my last gig shortly after 2:00 AM.
The final gig was at a Haight bar called Club Deluxe. I was playing with a great band consisting of Patrick Wolfe and Mike Olmos on tenor sax & trumpet, Eric Markowitz on bass, and Hamir Atwal on the drums. This meant we were hitting hard. Even though my body was tired from working/teaching all day there was no letting up. You have to have respect for the music and when you’re working with great musicians your pride won’t allow you to be buried. In short, there’s no phoning it in in jazz! (no crying either)
During the last final set, Jeff Burr, who is a great guitar player, sat in. During the trumpet solo I decided to lay out and just listen for a few choruses. Burr was there so there was still a chordal instrument while I wasn’t playing. I sat there and allowed this torrent of sound to wash over me. I wanted to experience the music from a different perspective. The bass player was to my immediate left, the trumpet right in front of me and the guitar player to my right. It was like being in a musical washing machine. I guess that’s why gentlemen prefer washing machines!
This is a perspective that the audience doesn’t get to experience — being right in the center of the music. Sure in a club the band is directly in front or to the side of the audience, but it isn’t all around them.
That was my Saturday night.
Posted in jazz | Tagged: Club Deluxe, Eric Markowitz, gig, Hamir Atwal, jazz, jazz gig, Jeff Burr, Mike Olmos, Patrick Wolfe, trumpet solo | Leave a Comment »