The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘gig’

Busy weekend

Posted by keithosaunders on November 12, 2017

This was one of those impossible weekends where I found myself with seven gigs on my calendar:  Two on Friday, a triple-header on Saturday, and two more on Sunday.  With six of the seven out of the way I can see the finish line ahead, but will still will have to power through a three hour solo piano gig in San Francisco.  (the fewer musicians around me, the harder I have to work)

Saturday morning’s gig – a one hour lecture/demonstration for toddlers and grade school kids proved to the hardest and most frustrating gig.  We were teaching kids about the fundamentals of music and jazz improvisation.  The leader was a trumpet player who gives me lots of work, but who happens to be an extremely unpleasant individual.  He’s one of those people who lectures you didactically nonstop (the lecture/dem gig was right in his wheelhouse) and enjoys arguing.  Everything goes one way, however — outward bound.  I’m pretty sure he’s on the spectrum somewhere.

He was particularity unpleasant during the rehearsal, stopping me every few seconds over minutia until it was all I could do not to pack up my keyboard and leave.  I toughed it out, however, and finished the gig without incident.

The thing is, you can’t blame people for being themselves.  This trumpet player can’t help being an asshole.  He was born this way.  He’s a miserable individual and its unfair and unrealistic to expect him to act out of his comfort zone.  No, I blame myself.  I’m the one who accepted the gig knowing full well what I was getting into.  If I accept future gigs with him I should expect more of the same.  Hopefully, in the words of Nancy Reagan, I’ll just say no.

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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.

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Escape to New York

Posted by keithosaunders on December 30, 2010

I’m writing this from the Jet Blue terminal at LAX where I am laying over enroute to New York City to do my New Years gig. The day began at 4:20 AM in Kona, Hawaii, and, if I’m lucky, will terminate sometime tomorrow morning at JFK where my best friend (and occasional guest blogger) Jeff will meet me.

Travelling to and from the east coast during the winter months is a risky proposition at best. The blizzard of 2010 has given new meaning to the word crapshoot. Right now my flight is delayed 90 minutes but I would gladly sign for eight hours if it would put me in NYC in time for my gig.

In Hawaii I was blissfully unaware of the ongoing chaos in airports throughout the country. People are waiting as much as several days for their return flights to New York. Last night I was at a bar in Kona. The bartender, upon hearing I was going to New York subjected me to a healthy and enlightening dose of CNN and the Weather Channel. Suffice it to say that it put the fear of God in me.

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A salute to New York drivers.

Posted by keithosaunders on June 22, 2010

I was driving home from my gig last Friday, a birthday party which was held at the Four Seasons restaurant on the east side of Manhattan.  The bass player was with me, and as I was pulling onto the 59th st Bridge all of a sudden a cab cut directly in front of me from the right.  I couldn’t move to the left hand lane since there was a car directly to my side.  I had to brake, swerve, and accelerate, all within the span of a second.  The bass player calmly noted “You’ve got your New York chops.” 

The truth is that maneuvers such as this happen every time you drive in New York.  We don’t look at it as a big deal.  It’s reality.  When I’m driving downtown on 7th Ave I expect the cab on my right to dart in front of me to pick up that fair.  He, in turn expects me to squeeze in front of him in because my lane is ending due to construction.  He’s looking out for me, I’m looking out for him.  No big deal.  Sure, sometimes we have close calls.  That’s what the horn is for.  We use it liberally. 

I haven’t yet moved to the Bay Area (still seven weeks to go) but my wife and I recently spent a weekend there looking for homes.  During that time I had my re-introduction to west coast  driving, and let me tell you, I do not have my California chops yet.   

In New York when I want to change lanes, one of two things occurs.  Either the person to my left speeds up and passes me, or he slows down and lets me in.  Either way is fine with me.  I just want to change the damn lane.  In Cali the drivers jealousy guard their lane.  They will not budge one inch and I found myself having to force the issue by squeezing in.  inevitably they would become upset and shoot me a scowl or give me the finger.  Apparently one must plan for his lane changes well in advance.

The other thing that bothered me about the driving habits out there was how often the light would change and the driver would not notice.  And you don’t honk there — it’s simply not done!  So you just sit and stew waiting for the driver to wake up.  Here in New York we would be all over the horn.  “Cmon!  Move it!”  The driver at the light might respond with a hearty “Aw, blow it out your ass!”   But you know what?  It works.  In the end everyone is happy — no bottled up aggression here.

Just this morning I witnessed an all-time classic New York driving move.  It was executed by my wife’s 91-year-old great-uncle Ralph.  I drove my mother in law and her friend up to Ralph’s place in the Bronx where he was waiting to drive the three of them up to another friend’s house in Westchester.  I pulled over alongside the curb, and I don’t know why, but Ralph pulled his car out of his driveway facing the wrong way.  He was pulled over a few feet from my car but he was facing the oncoming traffic!  How did he do it?  Why  did he do it?!  These are mysteries better left for the ages, but I’ll tell you this:   I tip my cap to Uncle Ralph.  He executed the move perfectly, with confidence and conviction.  I couldn’t have pulled it off.  It takes a native New Yorker to have the wherewithal and the moxie.  Take that, California!

[Ralph’s car is facing the white SUV.]

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It’s gigging season

Posted by keithosaunders on June 14, 2010

This is the storm before the calm — my final busy period in New York before the approaching gig-drought in my new home, San Francisco.  I am so busy now that I even have doubles on Monday and Tuesday.  My only day off this week is Wednesday and this is the way I like it.  I would gladly work a 50 hour week if those 50 hours were gigs. 

This is the busiest it’s been in quite a while.  Last year the economy was in the tank so nobody was that busy.  I’m getting the feeling that things are beginning to loosen up and there are more gigs happening.  At any rate it feels great to be this busy and I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever be this busy again.

I played a couple of parties this weekend and ended up eating as if I was going to the electric chair.  At Saturday’s gig, a 50th birthday party, we were invited to partake of the crab meat and jumbo shrimp before the music even started.  Let me give some advice to prospective party hosts:  Don’t invite musicians to eat shrimp and crab meat unless you have an enormous supply. 

As it turned out this host had an enormous supply.  We could have spent the entire evening by the crab bowl if it weren’t for the appearance of…roasted pig!!  Believe me when I tell you that you have yet to taste a more tender, succulent entre.  It was a real party enhancer, if I do say so myself.

With all of this it’s hard to imagine that we actually managed to get in four sets of music.  By the end of the night we were happily exhausted.  Then came the moment of indecision inherent in  such gigs:  Overtime?   

The bass player and I had each had a previous gig so we were not in the mood to stay any longer.  But you never say no to overtime since you can always use the extra cash.   We were beginning to pack up when along came our host who proceeded to bellow “YOU CAN’T LEAVE!  STAY!  HAVE A DRINK!  CMON, WE’RE HAVING FUN!” 

I thought about staying, but I had a 30 mile drive home and I knew that if I stayed I was going to drink, and I didn’t want to risk being pulled over.  At some point the host and his friend said they would make it “worth our while.”  This is great on its face, but it really means nothing to us.  Someone, either the host, or the leader of the band, had to say “We’ll play for another hour for X amount of dollars.”  Otherwise we can find ourselves in a situation in which a four-hour gig turns into a 6-hour gig for not that much more money.

I know what you’re thinking:  These guys ate and drank like kings — how can they be so ungrateful?!  That’s fair if, in fact, we were personal friends of the host.  The truth is that we are going to play the gig whether we eat or not.  It is wonderful when the host is generous, such as the other night, but that still can’t detract from our professionalism, and the bottom line is that we must be fairly compensated for our service.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a grey area.  We are constantly balancing our business sense with our desire to ‘do the right thing.’  In the end we could have stayed, but we didn’t.  Our host had received more than a fair price and we played for an ample amount of time.

And everything turned out alright.  There was a guest who was a rock/folk guitarist who ended up entertaining the remaining folks, and I’m sure it was a nice contrast to the jazz standards that we had played. 

Our leader was in a tough position because he was a personal friend of the host.  I can understand why he wouldn’t want to ask for more money, while at the same time respecting our need to get home.  It all worked out well, however, and it was a good night. 

Since these gigs are among my last in New York I have a feeling that they will tend to be a little more resonant to me.a t least for the time being.  I”m going to try to keep documenting them and to let you know what the experience is like.  The chances of me leaving another city in which I have resided for 26 years is extremely remote.  This is a huge time for me.

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The first gig

Posted by keithosaunders on May 16, 2010

Lately, because of  my impending move, I have been thinking a lot about ‘lasts’ —  my last Spring, my last days of teaching, even my last trip to Roosevelt Island where my kids have been a part of a theatre group for the past several years.  This led me to think about some firsts.  With this in mind I’m going to write a few words about my first gig in New York City.

I moved to New York in April of 1984 but it wasn’t until that summer that I got called for my first gig.  A singer named Judy Niemack called me to play with her as part of her trio at a bar in Brooklyn.  She was extremely talented and easy to work with.  The bass player was Joel Forbes, a great player, and the drummer, Taro Okamoto, would become a good friend and band-mate several years later in the Richie Vitale Quintet, as well as the drummer in my current trio. 

We played at a joint in Brooklyn called Cousins.  Thankfully it no longer exists, but it managed to stay open long enough for me to grow to hate it.  And believe me, it didn’t take too many gigs for this to occur.  Cousins was a crowded neighborhood bar in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn that  had jazz five or six nights a week.  Nobody there really cared for the music which made you wonder why they went to the trouble to have it.  The patrons loudly conversed over the music and the surely employees and managers barely tolerated the musicians.  It was all we could do to get the bartender’s attention to order a coke.  In those days I didn’t drink that much on gigs so I can’t remember what their drink policy was.  They probably charged us double.   I do recall playing there once when there was a prize-fight on TV.  The large screen was positioned directly in front of the bandstand.  We kept on playing and they kept on not listening.

I can’t recall that much of the actually gig except for the fact that I felt uncomfortable not knowing anybody.  I didn’t play that well, but I wasn’t terrible either.  After the gig I got a ride back into Manhattan and we all stopped in at an Upper East Side club called Gregory’s where Judy’s boyfriend, a pianist named Tardo Hammer was playing a duo gig.  Tardo is also someone I would know throughout my entire time in New York and he is one of the best pianists in the city. 

I have a gig with my trio in midtown coming up at the end of July.  I don’t expect to leave town until the second week of August, but wouldn’t it be something if my first and last gig had the same drummer?

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One night at Small’s

Posted by keithosaunders on May 13, 2010

There are less than three months remaining in my 26 year stint in New York City.  To this end almost every gig I do is a last of some sort.  On Tuesday I had my last trio gig at Small’s, the popular Village basement club which, for the past 17 years has been home base to some of the city’s best musicians.  These are people I have had the pleasure of knowing, hanging out with, as well as playing with.  To name a few:  Joe Magnarelli, Sasha Perry, Neal Minor, Grant Stewart, and Chris Byars.

Small’s has a vibe to it.  It is a serious vibe — the unspoken sentiment is that if you gig there you had better be dealing.  At times it can feel clubby, or clique-ish, but no more so than other jazz clubs in New York.  Overriding all is the feeling of reverence and respect for the music that has existed at Small’s since its inception.   It is a comfortable place with excellent acoustics and I have felt at home there for the past several years.

All of this is a long preamble to stating how important it was for me to have a good last gig there.  I needed to take a positive memory with me out west because I know that may well be quite some time before I find another club that I care about so much. 

Tuesday was one of the rare nights that I was able to execute my ideas with a fluid connection between trio, audience, and myself.  I felt that I had all the chops I needed, but I also felt the ability to leave space and not to overplay.  There was little of the self-consciousness that can sometimes invade my playing when I am concerned with extraneous distractions, and I was able to interject my personality into the music. 

As is the case with my playing I always can find places for self-criticism and the other night was no exception.  The difference was that I felt that what came out of the piano was a true representation of where I am at musically and emotionally.  I was comfortable in my skin and I liked what I played — what more could I ask for?

I owe a great part of this feeling of comfort to the musicians that I was performing with.  Bim Strasberg, Taro Okamoto, and I have been playing as a trio for the past six years and we not only get along personally, but musicially.  Not having to worry about the hookup is a luxury.  

There’s something about having a working band that I have always loved.  I like the ease of calling tunes and the sense of camaraderie.  That’s not to say that great things do not occur with musicians that you only play with sporadically.  Sometimes the newness of the hookup can provide electricity and freshness.  But if I have my choice I will always opt for a working band. 

 In New York I am a small fish in a big pond — the biggest pond, in fact.  In Smalls I am also a small fish.  Almost every pianist who plays there is a motherfucker.  Although I am not the biggest fish, I take great pride in being among these marvelous musicians.  I am one of them.  If it took 26 years to feel this way, well it was worth the wait.  

Tuesday was a good night.

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Compromising Position

Posted by keithosaunders on February 28, 2010

This week I’ve been playing the after hours gig at Dizzy’s with the Richie Vitale Quintet.  The gig consists of one set beginning at midnight during the week, and 1AM on the weekends. (last night we didn’t begin until 1:45)  What a pleasure it is to play five nights in a row.  You can spend the first night getting used to the sound of the room and not feel that you have to play everything you know in 60 minutes.  

Since  the headline act is the Christian McBride big band the piano is pushed all the way to the left edge of the stage,  As a result the bench is closer to the keyboard than prefer. I feel like one of those Florida seniors driving his Cadillac with the seat pushed all the way up to the dashboard.  It’s actually somewhat nerve-wracking since the chair is so close to the lip of the stage.  If I were one of those pianist who bounced around I would be in grave danger of taking a tumble.  Can you picture the opening of the new, modern Wide World of Sports?  Instead of the skier careening down the mountain you would see me in slow motion falling head-over-chair off the stage.

I prefer to sit back from the piano so that my forward momentum carries me towards the instrument — this setup has me in the Bill Evans position.  There’s nothing I can do about it so I’m making the best of it.  At one point I decided to go with the flow and I moved even closer to the piano — so much that my upper body was over the piano lid almost into the strings.  I was up in that piano’s kitchen, practically having sex with it.  I know this because as I was playing I could hear embarrassed laughter coming from the audience.  I didn’t care — I was in the moment, humping that Steinway 8 to the bar.

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