The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Giant Steps’

At the Movies: Whiplash

Posted by keithosaunders on October 30, 2015

It’s time for At the Movies!  Now here’s your host, that connoisseur of the cinema, your favorite arbiter of taste…KEITHO.

5,6, ladies, I finally saw Whiplash and the verdict is in: It’s an instant classic. Let’s start with the countoff. When I’m sight-reading a complicated uptempo 7/4 chart there’s nothing that sets me more at ease than a random two beat countoff. Smooth.

The band director, Fletcher, must have an internal metronome akin to a Swiss watch as he is able to discern the slightest variation in tempo. Never mind that the tune is grooving like a Def Leopard concert the day after Mardi Gras. No, in the jazz world that Whiplash posits, tempo is the be all and end all. You speed up two ticks and there’s just the remedy – a chair hurled directly at your head will improve your focus.

Midway through the movie we get to see Fletcher at one of his own gigs. (he’s a pianist)  With all of his passion and Full Metal Jacket style fire and brimstone he must be playing something burning like a DOUBLE TIME SWING Giant Steps, or at least an 11/4 version of Stella by Starlight, right?  Nope. It’s a bossa nova!  A watered down one at that. It must be one of his originals.

I shouldn’t make fun. Watered-down bossa and all, Fletcher has snared himself a gig at Lincoln Center and he’s hired our protagonist hero, drummer Miles. But wait! He only hired him so to exact revenge and he has sent him onstage without a chart! The only thing is…it’s Fletcher’s gig. Who is he spiting?! FLETCHER IS THE LEADER, NOT DRUMMER MILES. Miles is going to get other gigs regardless of whether or not he makes the hits on some non-grooving poor man’s Buddy Rich chart. Hell, he’s playing at Fat Cat next week with better musicians.

Rating: 5 Stars

And that does it for At the Movies w Keitho. Remember to tip your waiter and go METS.

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Enough with the kinder

Posted by keithosaunders on September 26, 2015

I suppose it was inevitable that as Facebook and the humblebragging that goes along with it have become ubiquitous so have videos of children precociously doing or saying adult things.  Today I saw a video of a young European girl playing the drums along to Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog. She had all of John Bonham’s fills down and you can tell she was coached thoroughly and that she was probably a quick study.  Except that it doesn’t matter.  All it proves is that she has above average concentration.  She didn’t create anything and to be honest she didn’t even groove.

I saw a video of two pre-teens dancing a sensual mambo.  They were resplendent in Cuban drag and they had all the steps down.  Impressive?  Not to me.  In fact I found it a little creepy having these two youngsters ape a sex-infused dance.

Then there are the pre-teen jazz musicians.  Listen to that kid wail on Giant Steps.  Wow!  But here’s the thing:  An important facet of improvisation is telling your story – it is the musical equivalent of your life’s experience.  What experience does a 10 year old have?  I would hope not much!

Parents, we know what you’re trying to do.  Congratulations, you have a ‘gifted kid.’ Now that your passive aggressive humblebrag is complete, how about tamping down your zeal and letting your kids be kids.

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No country for young men

Posted by keithosaunders on March 2, 2011

I’ve been watching the Academy Awards for over forty years and in that span it was the rarest of years when I didn’t finish the show by uttering these words: 

Worst Oscars ever. 

This year was no exception.  The Academy tried to appeal to a younger demographic by tapping James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host, but they ended up with a humorless show that self-conscious and contrived.  

I was fortunate in that I had to pick up the family at the airport and ended up taping the broadcast.  I fast-forwaded through all the songs, technical awards, and boring speeches, which was practically every one.  Colin Firth….give me a break!   And those hosts…I wanted to slap them, especially Franco.  What was he on?  Then they bring out Billy Crystal for five minutes and he killed.  I would have preferred a holographic Bob Hope as my host.  At least *he’s* funny.  Even ninety-four year old Kirk Douglas had a cute bit as he teased and stalled his way to announcing the winner of the best supporting actress category.

It was difficult to tell whether Franco was stoned or if he was simply too cool for the Oscars.  He had a detached, wooden air about him, and at times he resembled a deer-in-headlights.  Hathaway did her best to inject some life into the broadcast, but let’s face it, Lucille Ball she aint.

Here is my suggestion to the Academy:  Forget the young demographic —   they’re not watching television anyway — and find yourself a senior citizen to host the show.  When the generations that were born in the 1930’s through the ’50s dies off you’ll be left with a humorless bunch of dime store hipsters that mistake cynical irony for comedy.   

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With the close of this year’s awards season I would like to recap some of the lesser known awards shows.

This year the Spammy Award went to Amir Gtkondo of the Security and Safe Deposit company in Ghana, for his generous offer to make me a partner in his inheritance.

The Jammy award was given to bassist Chris Amberger, Bay Area bassist extraordinaire, who sat in on a breakneck-tempoed Giant Steps with a pianist and bassist who had no interest in laying down any discernible time.

Finally, this year’s Traffy Award was awarded to the Long Island Expressway, for a record 60th straight year!    

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Giant Steps

Posted by keithosaunders on March 9, 2010

Giant Steps is a fascinating album.  It was a breakthrough album for John Coltrane whose frenetic sheets of sound took up residence in its impossibly difficult title track.  The Giant Steps chord changes, which some say are based on the bridge of Rogers and Hart’s Have You Met Miss Jones, would dominate the album, as well as the several record dates that would proceed it.  It is remarkable to hear Coltrane cutting through those changes as if they were butter, particularly on Countdown, a duet with drummer Arthur Taylor for three-quarters of the track. 

Giant Steps is an uptempo song divided into two eight bar sections, the first of which features two disparate changes per measure.  The second eight bar section is a series of ii-V-i progressions resolving in three different keys.  The song is challenging to say the least — a harmonic minefield — and even those with the technique to execute at this tempo have a difficult time making a personal statement. 

Coltrane recorded Giant Steps just one month after his work on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, an album noted for its scarcity of chords and moody ambience.  [Kind of Blue was recorded on March 2 and April 22, 1959 while Giant Steps was recorded May 4 and 5, 1959]  

I  have always felt that the songs on Giant Steps served as etudes — vehicles for Coltrane’s obsession with these angular chords.  In the subsequent dates, particularly on Coltrane’s Sound (not released at the time) and My Favorite Things, Coltrane was able to discover the soul in these changes.  His playing became more lyrical, and if it can be believed, even more confident.  

These Atlantic dates, recorded in an 18 month period between April of 1959 and October of 1960, were Coltrane’s farewell to playing over standard 32 bar song chord progressions.  Few players before or since could equal his mastery of harmony, as well as his lyricism.  When he found the drummer and pianist that fit his sound it was if his concept and playing came into alignment.  In the later Atlantic dates you can hear him straddling both hard bop and model music.  In the fall of 1961 at the Village Vanguard things would change for everyone.

Giant Steps

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