The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Dick Berk’

Provincialism

Posted by keithosaunders on May 11, 2011

I grew up in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley in a town called Van Nuys.  When I lived in L.A. I thought it was a the center of the world.  I thought it was a glamorous place full of hip movie stars, and great musicians. 

As I got into my teen years and was exposed to, and began playing jazz, I began to wonder about the wider world, in particular, New York City.  Both of my parents grew up in New York.  My father had great memories of his childhood there, and he vividly described what it was like to grow up in New York during the pre and post World War II era.

I got into my late teens and began hanging out with the great drummer, Dick Berk.  He had lived in New York in the early ’60s, and he would spend hours regaling me with stories of all the great musicians he had hung out with and played with.    

New York was like a mythical place to me, filled with jazz clubs, great sports teams, colorful characters, jazz musicians, and places to hang out until all hours to the night.  What could be better?

There was one problem.  Almost everyone else I talked to hated New York.  I was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was a crime-ridden, rat-infested, over-priced hell-whole, and that I should have my head examined for wanting to live there.  When you recall some of the films of the 1970s — The Out of Towners, Taxi Driver, and Mean Streets — you can see why it had a bad reputation.  Of course, most of the people I knew had never been to New York, but that didn’t stop them from badmouthing it.

Furthermore, they told me, the people were rude, unfriendly, and unwelcoming.  When I responded that I wanted to experience the greatest jazz scene in the world, I was told to grow up — that there was no future in jazz.

To be continued…

Posted in jazz, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Super Bowl memories!

Posted by keithosaunders on February 2, 2011

It’s that time of year again.  A time of renewal and a time to reflect.  Without further ado I give you…Keitho’s Super Bowl sagas!

Before 1977 I wasn’t that interested in sports so my memories from that period are not specific enough to cite.  I remember Miami kicker Garo Yepremian trying to throw a pass after a botched field goal attempt in Super Bowl VII.  I also recall that the Mary Tyler Moore show used Super Bowl VIII — the Dolphins vs the Vikings — as  part of the plot for one of their episodes.   Most of the games in those days were one-sided affairs and were anti-climactic.  On the other hand, there wasn’t nearly as much hype around the games. 

Enough preamble, let’s get started.

Super Bowl XI — Pasadena

Raiders vs Vikings

I was there!  My Uncle Ernie got tickets and I went with my Dad, cousin R, and Ernie.  We parked in the driveway of the home of the L.A. District Attorney, John van De Kamp, who was friends with my uncle and lived walking distance of the Rose Bowl.  Our seats were a few rows in front of O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris who were sitting next to each other.  We also saw Cary Grant.  After the game we found that Ernie’s car was parked in by another friend of the D.A.’s.  My cousin, who had an impatient streak, ended up keying the guy’s car.

Super Bowl XII — New Orleans 

Cowboys vs Broncos

I watched this one in my Van Nuys living room with my Dad and my girlfriend.  The game was a rout but my girlfriend impressed us by knowing the names of the Broncos skill position players.

Super Bowl XIII — Miami 

Steelers vs Cowboys

Once again we were couch side at Casa Saunders although that year I was sans girlfriend.  Present were my Mom, Dad, brother, and cousin.  This was the brother of the cousin who keyed the car at SB XI. 

Super Bowl XIV — Pasadena

Steelers vs Rams

I was playing a gig at a club in Malibu called Pasquale’s with the drummer Roy McCurdy.  Rather than miss most of the game driving to the gig the band decided to arrive early, rehearse, and watch the game at the club-owner/bass player’s apartment, which was located above the club.  It was an exciting game but too bad the Rams lost.

Super Bowl XV — New Orleans

Raiders vs Eagles

The Eagles?!  I remember watching this one at home with my immediate family.  A terrible game but Philly was crazed with success from a few months earlier when the Phillies won the World Series for the first time in their history.  That being said they still await their first Super Bowl win.

Super Bowl XVI — Pontiac, MI

49ers vs Bengals

I missed this one because I was working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.  I was upset because it turned out to be an exciting game and up until that year there hadn’t been that many compelling Super Bowls. 

Super Bowl XVII  — Pasadena

Redskins vs Dolphins

I only saw the first half of this one because I had a gig with drummer Dick Berk in Seal Beach which is way he hell down in Orange County, CA.  I remember listening to the second half on the radio and hearing John Riggins break off that long run for the deciding score.

Super Bowl XVIII — Tampa

Raiders vs Redskins 

For some reason I don’t have visceral memories of this one.  I probably was gigging with Berk again.  All I know is that Marcus Allen dominated.  This was the last Super Bowl I experienced while living in L.A.  It’s odd that I don’t remember this one too well since the Raiders had moved to L.A. by then.  You’d think it would have been a big deal for the city finally to have been a champion after all of the years of disappointment with the Rams. 

Super Bowl XIX – Stanford

49ers vs Dolphins

My first Super Bowl as a New York resident found me back on the west coast.  I was on the road with the saxophonist Richie Cole and we watched that game at his friend’s house on Whidbey Island somewhere off of the coast of Seattle.  The Marino era had dawned but unfortunately it would be his first and last Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XX — New Orleans

Bears vs Patriots

Daaaaaaaaa Bears!  Not much memories of this game other than the Bears dominance.  I was living in Brooklyn and must have watched the game at my Aunt and Uncles apartment on Jay St, which was near Brooklyn Heights.

Super Bowl XXI — Pasadena

Giants (!) vs Broncos 

New York had not yet come down from the high of the Mets improbable Series victory three months earlier.  Unlike Philly, New York was able to pull off the daily double and went on to claim the first of their three Super Bowls.  I watched the game at my cousin Judy’s in Rockville Center Long Island with her family, my Aunt Ellie, Uncle Herb, and my best friend Jeff.  After the game Jeff drove us all home which entailed making stops in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.  I tried to get him to go to Brooklyn first but he was having none of it.  After all, it was my family. Why should I get dropped off first?  This typical show of magnanimity on Jeff’s part prompted my Uncle to utter the now famous comment, “Jeff, you’re a prince.” 

To be continued…

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Sunday in the NFL featuring the Giants, Eagles, and 49ers.

Posted by keithosaunders on December 21, 2010

I actually have ties to all three of these teams.  I was born in Wilkes Barre, PA, about 100 miles north of Philadelphia, and had I grown up there I almost certainly would have been an Eagles fan.  I lived in New York City for 26 years and, like my father before me, I am an ardent Giants fan.  As of last August I became a resident of the Bay Area, and although I live in Berkeley, CA, which puts me in the middle of Raider country, the 49ers are considered a local team and we are subjected to, I mean, uh, presented with all of their games on television. 

The Giants suffered one of their all-time worst regular season losses, blowing a 21 point 4th quarter lead at home against the Eagles.  It was a game that featured over 100 yards rushing from quarterback Michael Vick, a successful Eagles onside kick, and a 65 yard game-winning punt return from Desean Jackson. 

The Giant punter, Matt Dodge, made a huge mistake by punting the ball directly to Jackson, who initially bobbled it, picked it up, and slashed his way through the Giants punt coverage like a rocket as the game clock expired.  I submit to you, however, that the real culprit is Giants coach Tom Coughlin.  On the Giant’s previous possession Eli Manning had thrown an incomplete pass on third down stopping the clock and setting up the punt.  The Eagles had no timeouts remaining and no way of stopping the clock.  The Giants should have run it on 3rd and even if they didn’t make the first down they could still have let the game clock wind down another 45 seconds before running a 4th down play.  That would have at least assured an overtime.  

This brings us to the 49ers, who in a bizarre twist of events are alive for a playoff spot while sporting a 5-9 record.  If the 49ers win their final two games and Seattle loses one of their final two games they will go into the playoffs as the leagues first sub .500 team.  Right now they are ranked 28th out of 32 teams in the Sagarin ratings yet they would go into the playoffs as the 4th seeded team.  Heck, they would even host a game on wild card weekend.

You’re probably thinking that this next paragraph is going to be about the injustice of the current playoff system and how there has to be changes made during the offseason.  No!  The NFL has gone 90 years without a team with a losing record being in the playoffs.  The chances of this happening on a regular basis are so remote as to be laughable.

I say we embrace the anomaly.  It’s quirky and will make for some intrigue.  So what if a Green Bay, Tampa Bay, or yes, even the Giants are shut out of the playoffs.  They all had their chances.  The Giants, of all teams, have no right to cry.  JUST PROTECT A 3 TOUCHDOWN LEAD!

Desean Jackson

Frank Gore

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Remembering Donte’s

Posted by keithosaunders on December 12, 2010

I began learning jazz improvisation when I was 15, studying under a vibes player named Charlie Shoemake.  I had studied classical piano since the age of 7 and although I had accomplished quite a bit in that span of time, I had become frustrated and disenchanted with my playing.  In fact, I had stopped practicing. 

When I began learning jazz it felt like a great weight had been lifted.  Technically it seemed less demanding than classical music.  Aside from a little trouble reading the syncopated rhythms, I found it to be much easier than Bartok and Bach.  Later on, when I realized that I had to get my ideas across at breakneck tempos with drum and bass accompaniment, I would find it much more challenging.

After I had been studying for a year Charlie suggested that I hear some live music.  There was a club not far from where I lived called Donte’s which was a long-standing San Fernando Valley hot spot located in North Hollywood, about five miles from where I grew up in Van Nuys.  Underaged people such as myself could attend Donte’s owing to the fact that they served food which removed it from having a “bar” status. 

One spring night my dad drove my friend Daryl (a sax player) and I to Donte’s to hear my teacher’s band.  Many great Los Angeles musicians played there, as well as east coast cats passing through on tour. I was lucky to catch the last quarter of its 23 year existence before it finally closed in the late ’80s.  I saw Cedar Walton play there with teh saxophonist Bob Berg.  I saw the Harold Land and Blue Mitchell group, Bobby Shew, Ted Curson, Art Pepper, Warne Marsh, Lew Tabackin, and many more. 

Donte’s was close to where I lived and not too expensive.  It was a heady experience to be a teenager and hanging out at a jazz club.  It felt like I was a member of a private club in which the rest of the world knew next to nothing about.  Come to think of it, 30 years later it still feels that way; especially when you take into consideration the empty seats!

I still remember the personnel in the band I saw that first night.  Pete Christlieb was the tenor player: a fiery, yet melodic musician who played in the Tonight Show Band.  He also played one of the most famous sax solos ever on a rock record on Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues. 

Terry Trotter was the pianist.  After high school I went back to studying classical music, this time with Terry.  He had a relaxed, holistic apporach to his teaching and he was nothing less than inspiring, both as a teacher and a pianist.

Andy Simpkins was the bassist, and Dick Berk was on drums.  A few years later Dick and I would become very close friends playing dozens, if not hundreds of gigs in L.A.  I was the first pianist in his band, The Jazz Adoption Agency.  I was also the pianist at his wedding where I managed to screw up the changes to Easy To Love, which was the song that he and his wife marched down the aisle to.  How embarrassing.  Dick, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!

 Everything about Donte’s seemed cool to me.  From the dark lighting, to the leather booths, to the haze of the cigarette smoke.  The best part was the proximity of the audience to the bandstand. We were literally on top if the band in our front row table and you could hear the musicians joke to one another in a loose, nonchalant way.  Of course we couldn’t understand what they were talking about but that didn’t matter to us.  We loved that the musicians would interact with us; they would acknowledge our presence. They seemed like stars to us, yet here they were talking to us and even joking around or teasing us. 

The sound of it.  I hadn’t thought it would be loud, but it was.  We sat mere feet from the band and the music came at us with an urgency and vibrancy that, to my 16-year-old ears, had been lacking from my stereo.  It wasn’t the ear-splitting cacophony of arena rock, but it wasn’t chamber music either.  It felt substantial; like it had meat on its bones.

About a year later I would sit in with Charlie and the alto player Ted Nash.  Ted was Charlie’s best student and somebody I looked up to and he has gone on to have a great career in New York City.  I remember that even though sitting at the piano was only a few feet from my front row table, the sound and feel were completely different.  Between the bright presence of the sax, the cymbals, and the amplified bass, it felt like being in the middle of a tornado and it was difficult to get comfortable.  It was an entirely different feeling than practicing in my den or playing duets in Charlie’s studio.  Yet it was thrilling.  I’m sure that I overplayed and was every bit the callow 16 year old, but it didn’t matter.  I had gotten my feeet wet. 

Seeing Ted, as well as his pianist, Randy Kerber, who were both a year older than I, made me feel like with a lot of hard work I could be playing gigs as well.  At that time music seemed flush with possibility.  

Those first gigs that I attended probably had as much to do with my becoming serious about jazz than anything else.  I had the right teacher and now I had a place where I could hear and see the music performed, and occasionally sit in with the band.  The music was accessible, and soon it would be attainable.

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