The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘gigs’

Vestibules now!

Posted by keithosaunders on January 3, 2017

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting and night

Folks, here is concrete photographic evidence of a clear and present danger in the Bay Area: An alarming lack of vestibules.

When people observe jazz in their overcoats they are not enjoying the music – they are counting the minutes until they can be reunited with their heater. Head colds and gig-related illnesses are predicted to spike in future years.

Stop the madness. #vestibulesnow!

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Your obligatory Super Bowl post

Posted by keithosaunders on February 6, 2016

I feel guilty about my lack of enthusiasm over Sunday’s big game but for whatever reason I just can’t seem to get excited over it.  Part of the reason is that I have an early starting solo piano gig that’s going to interfere with me seeing the fourth quarter.  Fortunately I have a good line of sight from the piano to the TV but I’m a little farther away than I’d like to be which will make identifying the holding calls tough.

The game is being played in Santa Clara which is 40 miles south of where I live. This is where the 49ers moved two season ago — a corporate designer stadium monstrosity. From all counts Levi’s Stadium has a nightmare parking situation which can take hours to enter and exit.   Route 101 is a tough artery to deal with in the best of circumstances but one can only imagine how much worse it will be tomorrow.  Throw in the post 9/11 security and you couldn’t pay me enough to attend this game.  I’ve heard that there are people who flew in from out of town that aren’t able to go to the game but are going to local Santa Clara bars so that they can be close to the action.  I pity these dullards.  Stay at home and watch from your couch, for crying out loud.  Santa Clara has no ambiance!

All of the Super Bowl festivities, whatever they are, have taken place in San Francisco which has made it tough for the working stiff musician to get into town for his gigs. (I live across the bay in a town just north of Berkeley called Albany)  Tonight I’m gigging in North Beach which is a part of San Francisco that is only a 20 minute walk from the a Bart station.  Tomorrow, however, I’m working in a part of San Francisco not serviced by Bart so I’ll have to drive.  I’m hoping that everyone will already be ensconced at the TV of their choice by the time I have to leave.

And there you have it:  My Super Bowl post.  My prediction:  Carolina 28 Denver 7.

Posted in football, San Francisco, Super Bowl, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Jazz sick days

Posted by keithosaunders on November 15, 2013

As I mentioned in my previous post the past two years has been a boom time for me. I keep waiting for the work to slow down but improbably it continues. It has been my credo to take most any gig offered – that is to say I will not turn down work merely to allow myself a day off. Of course a gig has to pay a minimum amount, but this being the jazz business if I told you what that amount was, suffice it to say you would be shocked. And not shocked in the way you would be if you learned what Johnny Depp pays his accountant. Let’s just say if I told you I’d probably have to kill you.

But the thing about being freelance is there are no sick days. I’ve played gigs with fevers colds, flus, and thrown backs. (Have you ever played a thrown-back gig? HAVE YOU?!) If you cancel the gig, which of course is the sensible thing to do, you’re not guaranteed that you will make up the salary down the line. On the other hand, if you employ warrior mentality and solider on, you could end up prolonging your illness.

This week I was sick with a bad cold and I ended up sitting the difference. After giving my students the option of canceling on Tuesday (which they declined) I ended up canceling my Wednesday night gig and a Thursday afternoon lesson, retaining my Thursday night gig which actually paid well. Now I feel fit as a fiddle for my weekend gigs. Just don’t hug me.

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Furniture store!

Posted by keithosaunders on November 8, 2011


The great one

The sports world has been so great lately that I have neglected the musical side of this blog.  Here then is a post dedicated to the gigging portion of my life.

Things have been very busy here in the East Bay — in fact, this past month has been one of the busiest periods of my life.  I’ve been working between 4-6 gigs a week and the phone has been ringing off the hook.  I am guardedly optimistic about my future here in the Bay Area.  The word guardedly must be used as a qualifier for all things musical in this fickle economy, but for now I seem to be in demand.

Of course some gigs are more glamorous than others, and when it comes to deciding whether of not to accept a gig, years of a ‘feast or famine’ lifestyle have practically eradicated the word no from my vocabulary.  Still, even I have my limits, so when it came to the nude-tap-dancing-while-on-fire engagement, I politely declined.

I do enjoy the variety of work I get, however, and thanks to my ability to see the humor in life, I have a pretty high threshold of zanyness.  Last week I played a gig at a furniture store, of all places.  It was in a tony section of San Francisco, not far from the Presidio.  I was in a trio that played jazz while the swells walked around deciding which high-priced furniture to buy for their townhouses. 

The women were all Betty Drapered out, which is to say they were extremely overdressed for walking around a furniture store.  Many of them wore backless gowns, or eye-catching red dresses.  

As for the men, at one point I looked around and spotted a Charles Nelson Reilly lookalike.  He was a dapper middle-aged man with horn rimmed glasses wearing a tweed coat.  At one point I was going to pick him to block but I thought better of it.

‘The store supplied me with an antique, faux-sheepskin chair, which was very uncomfortable.  It was one of those chairs in which you sank deep into the cushion — in other words, a bad chair.  With my bad back it made for a somewhat painful evening.  At one point I leaned back in the chair and the back of it splintered.  You could hear that cracking noise, which next to glass breaking, is the sound I dread hearing the most. 

I was envisioning having to work off this priceless Ming chair, to the point where it bankrupted me.  Years later one of you would happen to spot me on skid row with an unkempt beard and a bottle of ripple in my hand.

Keith!  What happened to you?!          

I would respond in my drunk voice:  “I had a gig in a furniture store.  It ruined me!”  

Me in 15 years

Posted in jazz, music | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Keitho presents: Conversations with singers

Posted by keithosaunders on April 6, 2011

Singer:  Is this Keitho, the piano player?

Keitho:  Yes it is…

Singer:  Are you available to do a gig tomorrow night?  I’m not home and don’t have my book in front of me.  I may have already gotten someone, but are you available?

Keitho:  No, I’m not.  I’m already gigging.

Singer:  Darn it!


The question is, was she upset because she really wanted me on the gig, or that she missed out on a chance to double-book?  It’s a question worthy of Talmudic scholarship.

Posted in music | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Show and tell

Posted by keithosaunders on March 22, 2011

Here are some odds and ends while we come up for air from the weekend’s basketball bacchanal.  It was a rainy week in the Bay Area, complete with thunderstorms and golf ball-sized hail.  Coming home from a gig on Friday night the streets appeared as if they were coated with an inch of snow.  It was the remnants of a brief hail storm.  (Aren’t all hail storms brief?  I’ve never heard of an extended one, with the exception of the apocalypse)  A lot of people were outside checking out the ice-coated streets.  I heard that someone was seen skiing down the main drag.   I took this photo from my garage as I was unloading my keyboard.

  There was a Supermoon on Saturday night.   The moon was at its closest point to Earth while it was full, thus the fancy moniker.  We didn’t get to see it since it rained all weekend, but I found this photograph online taken by someone fortunate enough to be in good weather.



Finally, here is a photo I took on a break during a gig I played in San Francisco last Wednesday.  I was at a restaurant on the Embarcadero, a main thoroughfare which runs along the edge of the bay.  This was one of the few times during the week that it stopped raining, and it made for a nice photograph.   It looks like there is a rainbow in the photo, but it’s not —  just some nice cloud formations.   

Posted in San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

First gigs

Posted by keithosaunders on October 2, 2010

I’ve dipped the proverbial toe into the Bay Area jazz scene.  In the past three weeks I’ve been to a few jam sessions and even played a handful of gigs.  It’s very strange starting over in a new city after having been in New York for so long.  When I moved to New York I was a comparative kid — just 24.  Now I’m a 50-year-old man, set in my ways.  I’m crusty and curmudgeonly –moldy and figgy. 

Even though work-wise I find myself in the same place I was two and a half decades ago, the situation is not entirely the same.  Back then I was callow and unsure of myself.  I was awed and not a little intimidated by the size and energy of the New York scene.  Now, after having been beaten, brutalized, and molded by New York, I find myself with a great deal of self-assurance.  I know what I can do and what I am capable of. 

The challenge is to check my ego at the door.  Nobody here owes me anything.  Hell, nobody even knows me.  I am aware of the cache that comes with being a “New York” cat, but in a certain sense there is a fine line one must walk.  It’s not right to come on too strong –“I played with so -and-so,” or “I played at [insert name of venue here].”  The New York brand can work for or against me. 

In New York you are amongst such a wealth of great talent, all striving for an increasingly smaller piece of the pie.  You endure a great deal of attitude and “vibing” from your fellow musicians.  You feel like you have to earn every morsel of a compliment.  I remember some jam sessions where I had to literally fight for a solo.  I would be comping for horn player after horn player; as many as 12 in one song.  Sometimes twenty minutes would go by before they were done spewing.  I knew that if I didn’t jump in within a split second after the last sax player was done I would miss my chance.  Once the bass player stops walking it’s all over — you’ll never get back in.  I remember sometimes I would have to scream out at the top of my lungs “I GOT IT!”       

At first glance the Bay Area scene does not feel nearly as cut-throat.  People have been friendly, yet guarded, which is understandable.  This scene has taken a big hit with clubs closing, or barely staying alive.  What do they need another pianist for?  At the same time people have been welcoming — I’ve been able to sit in at the sessions and have met some good players.

I’m happy with what has transpired so far.  I’ve found a couple of good sessions in San Francisco which has yielded hanging destinations for Sunday, Monday, and Thursday.  A few of these sessions have led to gigs — nothing that spectacular as of yet, but how good does it feel to be working again, no matter how little the pay, after a three-month layoff!   As I thought, the initial plunge was going to be the hardest.  Now that I’ve taken it things don’t look quite as dire.

Here is a photo taken of a big band gig I played in San Francisco last Sunday.  I’m in the back!

Posted in music, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hall of shame: A gig that will live in infamy

Posted by keithosaunders on July 25, 2010

And now for one of my all time gigging lowlights.  The year was 1993.  America had just elected a president from Hope, Arkansas, gas was $1.16 a gallon, and a little corner of the internet known as the World Wide Web was born at CERN.  In sports, the Dallas Cowboys romped over the Buffalo Bills in Superbowl XXVII while the Chicago Bulls completed their first 3-peat of the decade with a 4 games to 2 victory over the Phoenix Suns. 

Back in those halcyon days I played in a club date band led by an eccentric drummer named Ronnie Allen.  Club date, of course, is a misnomer.  East coast musicians refer to any gig that is an affair — wedding, bar mitzvah,  or party —  as a club date.  West coast musicians call these gigs casuals, (equally misnamed) while Canadians call it “jobbing.”

Ronnie was a nice enough guy but he was a nickle and dimer.  Your check would arrive in the mail [late] and it would invariably be five or ten dollars short.  You would have to call him and ask him to make up the difference, which he would, but in the meantime you had expended a lot of needless energy. 

Ronnie had these corny catch phrases that he would employ at the end of various songs.  If it was a lively tune he would shout out, “That was better than a Jane Fonda work out!”  After a latin song he would say “Schaeffer is the one beer to have when you’re only having one.”  In Spanish.  If you were playing a 50s song he wanted to make sure that you knew what the ending was.  Right before the completion of the song he would look at you and scream in rapid fire, “Bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah!”  This was his universal signal to play a triplet ending.  He looked like a Mongolian psychopath but it seemed to work for him.  Suffice it to say there was nary a dull moment around Ronnie.  You couldn’t turn around without finding him beside you, telling you what to play or do next.

All of this was fine.   These were his gigs, and apart from shorting us on the money he could do with them what he pleased.  As it happened I was on a gig with Ronnie and his big band on October 23rd, 1993, the day that the Philadelphia Phillies played the Toronto Bluejays in game 6 of the World Series.  

We were at a private club in Princeton, New Jersey playing a black tie affair for their alumni association.  By the way, don’t think that this is impressive.  As a musician you have to wear a tux at almost every club date you play.  All it means to us is that it will be harder for to get at the hors d’oeuvres since the uniform brands us as band or waiter.   

Upstairs from where we were playing there was a lounge with a TV tuned to the Series game.  During our breaks we would go upstairs and watch what we could until we had to retreat back to the bandstand.  In the 7th inning the Phillies fought back from a 5-1 deficit to take a 6-5 lead.  I can recall seeing most of this comeback on one of our breaks. 

On our final break we went back upstairs to see if the Phillies could close it out to force a game 7.  God did I want them to hold on to that lead.  I would have been able to watch the deciding seventh game from the comfort of my living room sofa without a bandstand in sight.

The Phillies brought in their erratic closer Mitch Williams to pitch the 9th.  He allowed a walk and got the next hitter to fly out before giving up a single to Paul Molitar.  Each pitch seemed to take minutes to deliver.  I stood in silent agony and endured endless meetings at the mound with catchers, infielders, and coaches.  I knew that our break was close to ending — I was just praying that Ronnie would let it go just two more minutes.  Just…two…more….minutes….

“Gentleman.  It’s time to grace the bandstand.”


Couldn’t he, just this once, have taken a longer break?  We went downstairs and played to an empty room.  The entire party was watching the game.  Of course they were.  WE WERE ONLY 35 DAMN MILES FROM PHILLY!! 

So I’m thinking OK, Saunders, you missed the end of the game.  Fine.  Be cool.  Just let Williams get the last two outs.  Just go down nice and easy, Toronto.  Like the man says, “nice and easy does it every time.”  Just two outs.  Niiiiice and eaaaasy.  Easy does i….

Just then people began streaming down the stairs and I’m thinking, please God, no….please…

“What happened?!” I screamed at a passer-by. 

“Joe Carter just won the game with a two run homer!  It’s the greatest ending of a World Series ever!!”

And there you have it.  I missed it.  To this day I can’t hear the name Joe Carter without grinding my teeth.  My best friend has since given me a video tape of the game, but 17 years later I am unable to bring myself to watch it.  I’m not there yet.  

But you know, as much as I would like to, I cannot blame Ronnie.  You can’t fault a guy for doing his job.  These days, if I was leading a band I would do the same thing.  Notice how I say these days.  In those days I would have lost the gig before missing an ending of a World Series game.

Posted in baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Business, pleasure, or both?

Posted by keithosaunders on April 9, 2010

The music business is a strange one.  Leaving out Broadway shows and symphony orchestras, most of our gigs are freelance affairs which are most often one time engagements done without contracts.  On any given night there is nothing standing in the way of a club owner paying the band other than his conscience.  Yes, there we have small claims court, but this is a lot of trouble and expense to go through to collect one night’s pay.  Even if the court rules in favour of the musician, collecting the money is no easy feat.

So we take our lumps while developing an admittedly unscientific, but surprisingly accurate risk/reward analysis before accepting a gig.   The more you improve as a musician and the more gigs you play, the better  situations you find yourself in and you can minimize the amount of drama.  You pick your fights and you realize, that like parking tickets, the occasional shortage of money is inevitable.

Then there are the grey areas worthy of Talmudic study.  Because we tend to get along personally, as well as musically, there can be a blurring between business and friendship.  For example, say a club owner decides to short the band 50% because of a low turnout.  The leader wants to go with it so that he can get a return engagement.  You, as a sideman have agreed to a certain price and think that the leader should hold out for the full amount.  Arguing is almost always futile and leads to bad blood.  I believe that at this point the sideman has only one recourse and that is to not accept the next gig, in effect quitting the band.  You have to weigh your principles against the future earnings that will almost certainly be lost. 

There are so many factors.  How much do these gigs pay?  How often are they?  How close are you with the band and how much enjoyment do you get playing the gigs?  Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s better to suck it up and take one for the team. 

I have quit gigs and felt terrible, and at other times I have  felt that I did the right thing.   I once had a steady Thursday night with a jazz quintet at a dive bar.  The piano was horrible beyond belief.  To this day it remains one of the worst pianos I have ever played.  I’ll never forget — it was a Young Chang that was finished with a gumball-blue lacquer.  It was perennially out of tune and had an action that was so heavy it required chops of steel.  There were, however, some positives to the gig.  The joint became a kind of Thursday hangout and great musicians used to stop by and sit in with the band.  Joe Lovano, (sometimes playing drums!) would play, and  Ralph Lalama, one of the best saxophonists in the world, was in the band. 

It wasn’t the worst spot in the world to be for a young pianist who had only lived in New York a few years.  After two years of battling with the piano I couldn’t stand  it any longer.  For a while I was lugging a keyboard and amp to the gig  — up and down subway steps — and that was even worse.  So I quit.  Looking back I think I should have stuck with it because the pluses outweighed the minuses. 

On the other side of the coin I used to work with what we East Coast call a “club date” band.  This is a euphemism for wedding band.  The leader kept us very busy with gigs, but he constantly lowballed us, paying as much as 30% too little.  True, the gigs paid 3 times as much as jazz gigs, but they were way under scale for these kind of affairs.  In that situation you can be assured that somebody is making money.  The fact that the leader was making hundreds more than me, yet refused to pay me a small percentage more than what I was making led me to quit that gig.  Even though I lost out on a large quantity of work I felt better about myself —  not the least because I was no longer degrading myself musically —  and I would eventually end up in better situations.      

Sometimes I look at salaried people and I am envious.  They are free of the barter system that we musicians are entrenched in.  This feeling usually lasts until the next gig.  By the middle of the first tune I’m thinking “Now what was I mad about?”

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