The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘jazz piano’

How is this possible? Art Tatum

Posted by keithosaunders on December 15, 2017

Art Tatum was, arguably, not only the greatest jazz pianist of all time, but the greatest pianist period.  He is responsible for influencing Charlie Parker, who took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant that Tatum was appearing at merely to be close to the man. Tatum also had a profound effect on Bud Powell, hence every single subsequent jazz pianist.

Tatum, born October 13th 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, came of age in the swing era, a good ten years before the be-bop revolution.  Though he emerged in an earlier era,  his harmonic sense – his voicings, as well as re-harmonization of songs –  is as modern, if not more so than that of anyone who proceeded him.  His technique is flawless and he sounds just as comfortable at breakneck tempos (see Liza) as he does when he plays a ballad.

There are two facets of his playing that have always astounded me.  One is his impeccable time.  No matter how complicated and ornate a run he plays he never drops a beat.  His sense of pulse is a thing of wonder.

Then there is his gift of harmony.  It’s easy to be hypnotized by his Olympian technique, but listen a little closer and you will hear intricate re-harmonizations – chords that flow into one another with deft ease, sometimes on every beat. They are beautiful to behold, but difficult for the laymen (read 99.99 % of us) to grasp, and hence nearly impossible to assimilate.

Listen to Moon Song.  At 3:11 you’ll hear Tatum launch into one of his impossible runs, his right hand a whirling dervish, while his left hand stride solidly holds down the time.  He doesn’t complete the run until 3:18 at which point the audience breaks into spontaneous laughter.  They can’t believe he has stuck the landing!

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The exposition

Posted by keithosaunders on November 5, 2017

The hardest part of dating as a middle aged man, and the main reason I am not enthusiastic about dating, is the amount of exposition that goes into the first date.  It’s exhausting having to recount my life’s story with all of its layers and complexities. First of all, the breakup with my ex-wife doesn’t have a good narrative.  It would be one thing if one of us cheated or embezzled – now that’s a juicy breakup.  But no, we just grew slowly apart, split up, and remained good friends.

Then there is the career.  Yes, playing piano is my job, no I do not make tons of money, yes I’m talented, (you have to say you’re talented so she doesn’t think you’re a schlub, but you run the risk of coming off as arrogant) no, it’s not glamorous, yes I sometimes play gigs I don’t want to play.  Oh, and by the way, I work nights, often 6 or 7 a week, and I always work on New Years Eve.

What a catch!


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Posted by keithosaunders on December 1, 2011

When you’re a musician you’re always balancing your ego with your talent.  You’re thinking about the music — how can I make it sound as good as possible, how best to interact with the rhythm section, and, as a pianist and accompanist, how can I best compliment the soloist. 

Yet you crave validation and acceptance from the audience, as well as your peers.  It’s natural to do so, I suppose, but there are times when this need can play havoc with your head.

The other day I had finished the first set of my Sunday gig when one of the audience members introduced himself as a fellow pianist.  He complimented me, but only tepidly, and years of being in the jazz trenches had me realizing that he was sizing me up — taking my measure. 

He asked who I had played with when I had lived in New York.  I could have dropped some names — notable people who I had come into contact with during my 26 years there — but I preferred to mention those with whom I had played the most steadily — great players in their own right, yet not as widely known to people outside of the New York area.

I could tell he was unimpressed and he proceeded to give me a little of his background.  Somehow this morphed into a didactic lecture on the jazz schools that were Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Betty Carter group.  (not that they were real schools, just that playing with these masters was like being in school) 

He was going on and on, and suddenly I realized that this guy was talking down to me.  and he began to irk me.  Of course I knew about Art Blakey and Betty Carter — any jazz novice, let alone a veteran, would know this.  I began to lose patience with him and rather than have a blowup I decided to remove myself from the situation, excused myself, and went over to talk to another pianist.

I realized that I had walked into a trap.  This guy may have been a west coast musician, but he had the vibing acumen of a seasoned New Yorker.  

The punchline is that he sat in and brought down the house with a great solo on a blues.  I felt it was gimmicky, yet I couldn’t deny that he had talent.  Let’s face it, he cut me.   

I have to give it up to this guy, though.  It’s possible he woke me out of a stupor, because the next set, and the next night, I played with renewed intensity and fire.  I’ll be ready for this guy the next time I see him, if only to avoid talking to him.

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Hank Jones on practicing

Posted by keithosaunders on June 2, 2010

I just heard a replay of a great interview of Hank Jones done by Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.  The interview was done in 2005 when Hank was 87 years old.  He sounded sharp as a tack and if you didn’t know his age you might think he was in his 40s or younger.

Towards the end of the interview Terry asked Hank if he still practiced and he assured her that he did.  “I don’t see how anybody could do without practicing.”  She asked him what he practiced and he said that he ran scales and worked on material, both new and old.  He said “I try to be conversant with the piano.  You have to be on good speaking terms with the piano or the piano will rebuff you.”   

What a beautiful quote.  It’s no wonder he was the most elegant of pianists.  Even if I had never heard him play I would have realized that this was someone to be reckoned with.

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