The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

Troubling Times

Posted by keithosaunders on March 2, 2016

The Trump stuff is starting to get a little scary. He’s like a cartoon character — a buffoon – and it’s hard to take his platform seriously.  After all, other than promising to build a wall, or make Mexico build a wall, he really hasn’t said anything. If you go by his history he’s even a little more liberal than his hapless opponents.

No, what’s worrying me are his followers.  Trump’s jingoistic, xenophobic banter has brought to the surface a virulent racism in this country, so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve progressed at all since the 1950s.

Coded racism has long been a staple of Republican (and even Democratic) candidates.  One need look no further than patron saint, Ronald Reagan launching his 1980 campaign at the Neshoba County fair, a few miles away from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town associated with the 1964 murder of civil rights workers.  There, he used the term, states rights, a kind of code for tacitly approved racism.

But with the ascendance of Trump there is no longer a need for code words.  He can vilify Muslims and Mexicans, thus empowering rednecks across the land to speak their minds.  And I’m not just referring to the South.  There were plenty of racists in the New York metropolitan area six years ago when I lived there.  Drive ten miles in any direction from Manhattan and you’ll see what i mean.  Long Island and New Jersey are cesspools.

Even here in the Bay Area, one of the most liberal places on the planet, you can find racism.  A singer with whom I worked with just last night friended me on Facebook.  No sooner did I accept her request than I saw that her page was littered with racist posts.  One showed a pair of four or five year old African American boys teasing and hitting a white girl, with the implication that violence starts at a young age.  She also compared these children to Palestinians.

By itself the post is merely ignorance.  In light of the violence and bile we have seen at Trump rallies, however, it’s unsettling.  What level of racism would be unleashed should this man somehow gain the White House?



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Posted by keithosaunders on October 17, 2015

mets hatSomewhere on a lonely, deserted, slab of rock in the desolate radiation-infused paradise in the middle of the San Francisco Bay that is Treasure Island there exists a lone, abandoned Mets cap. But this is no ordinary bit of refuse. This is a cap with the power to see a little team from Flushing known as THE METS on a journey through the baseball post season. It is a journey that has only one possible ending; a trip down the canyon of heroes on a different island. The island in which my brain has been spattered. All over. Manhattan.

So to all you Cubbies fans who have waited 107 years for a title. I say to you, what’s one more year? For it is the pride, the power, the Treasure Island radiation, that is going to insure the inevitable. Oh yeah, folks.

It…is…GO TIME!!!!!

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One night in East Rutherford

Posted by keithosaunders on January 23, 2011

The date:  January 22nd, 1987.

The location: East Rutherford, New Jersey

The weather:  Blizzard

My friend and occasional guest blogger, Jeff, had tickets to the new Jersey Devils game versus the Calgary Flames.  It was a midweek night game and the plan, as per usual, was to meet him in Washington Heights at 5PM.  Jeff lives in the Bronx and at that time worked in Manhattan, while I was living in Brooklyn.  Rather than go back to the Bronx, which was out-of-the-way, Jeff had parked uptown very close to the entrance to the George Washington bridge. 

By the time five o’clock rolled around there was already a foot of snow on the ground and it was still coming down hard.  Jeff and I were young and fearless and we weren’t going to let a little weather stand in the way of  seeing the Devils and Flames bang and smash each other into submission.

Jeff had snagged the all-time classic blizzard parking spot.  He was at the end of the street facing downhill so he didn’t have to dig out of his spot — all he had to do was ease into traffic, make a right turn and we were on the bridge crossing the state line.  Once we hit the Jersey Turnpike the traffic came to a dead halt.  It was practically white out conditions and it was rush hour to boot. 

We inched along wondering if we would miss the start of the game.  We arrived at Byrne Arena an hour and a half later —  a half hour after the scheduled start —  but we soon discovered that the game was being delayed since many of the players were stuck in the same traffic!

When we entered the arena we found that we had it practically all to ourselves.  There were only 334 people who showed up!  An announcement was made inviting us to sit anywhere we pleased so we moved up to the front row behind the Flames penalty box.  The anthems were dispensed with due to the late start and the banging and smashing commenced.

I’ll never forget the strange feeling of being inside of a 20,000 seat arena with so few people inside of it.  It was like being at a practice.  The sound of the players being checked into the boards reverberated throughout the building like thunder and we could hear the players shouting at each other. 

At one point  the Flames designated goon, Nick Fotiu, received a five-minute major penalty.  As the PA announcer said, “five minutes,” Jeff waved the Daily News at him and asked him if he’d like to read the paper while he’s in there.  He actually turned around and threw a menacing glared our way.  It was scary so we moved up a few rows and kept a lower profile.

On the way home the snow had stopped after depositing two feet and the temperature had dropped into the teens.  There were abandoned cars that had spun into snow banks all over the Turnpike.  When we reached my house in Brooklyn the lock on my front door had frozen so Jeff climbed in through one of the unlocked windows and was able to open the door from the inside.

While we were at the game someone from the Devils P.R. office had circulated a sign in sheet asking us to fill out our address.  Two weeks later we received Devils t-shirts in the mail that said, “The 334 Club”  I wore mine for years until it disintegrated —  I believe Jeff still has his.  Four years ago. on the 20th anniversary of the blizzard, the Devils honored the 334 fans who attended that infamous game by giving us free tickets and inviting us to a post game banquet.  Jeff and I attended that game. 

Here I am 24 years later in Berkeley, California, where it was 67 degrees today.  It’s hard to believe that I attended a game in a blizzard at a time when the Devils were perennial cellar dwellers.  I’m glad I did.

Posted in sports, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Play me, I’m Yours

Posted by keithosaunders on July 2, 2010

A few weeks ago Bkivey asked me what I think of the art installation which has brought 60 pianos to public spaces in New York City.   The pianos, painted in bold colors, are surprisingly inviting — they practically scream out, “PLAY ME!”   

The timing of Bkivey’s request involved a two-part coincidence.  I had arrived home from a gig with a bass player friend of mine, Bim Strasberg, who had just been telling me of the art exhibit.  THis was the first I’d heard of it.  Bim had mixed feelings.  He liked the idea of the pianos being there but wasn’t thrilled with the idea of people walking by and banging on it. 

Part two of the coincidence took place a few hours later in the evening when I was taking my dog for her late-night walk.  Our route takes us by Gantry Park, which is a waterfront park on the Queens side of the East River overlooking the east side of Manhattan.  As we were walking by the park I noticed one of the pianos in the plaza.

It was an old Spinet, barely in tune with a thin tone.  It was missing a hammer on the D an octave above middle C.  You can imagine what the outside elements , especially being next to a body of water, does to a piano.  It had a plastic tarp to protect it from the elements but the tarp had been thrown, or blown onto the ground. 

This was right up my alley!  Nobody can play an out of tune, rickety old piano like me.  You have to be able to deal with these warhorses if you are going to be a jazz pianist in New York.  I have just described the condition of 70% of the pianos in jazz clubs.

And wouldn’t you know it but  I couldn’t resist sitting down and playing a few tunes.  How often was I going to be able to play music with the Manhattan skyline as my backdrop?  It was a warm, balmy night and even though it was already one in the morning there were still a few people out and about.  One couple was dancing and another sat a few feet behind me making out. 

 Before I knew it a half hour had passed and I decided to stop.  I sat down a few feet from the piano and watched as others passed by and took her for a spin.  In the day time the Gantry Park piano is hardly ever vacant.  People are drawn to it like investment bankers to a Yankee game.  There is something cathartic about the instrument being available for all, to play or to listen to.  Sure it receives its fair share of abuse, but that cacophony of the pounding blends in just fine with the urban landscape.  It’s OK….in moderation.

Posted in music, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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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So you want to be in show business?

Posted by keithosaunders on May 8, 2010

Last night’s gig is a good example of life in the trenches as a musician.  Every six months or so my trio plays at a restaurant on Long Island that has jazz.  The place has great acoustics, serves us a nice meal, and is generally offer a pleasant experience.  The problem is that getting there involves a 40 mile drive into the teeth of Friday rush hour traffic. 

I had a double on the Island yesterday; a lunchtime gig with a singer in the afternoon saw to it that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic.   The bass player and drummer, however,  rode together and experienced the usual Expressway slog and arrived 15 minutes before gig time.  There isn’t much parking on the street but for years we have parked in an adjacent post office lot with no problems. 

You can probably already tell where this is going, but on the first break we discovered that there was a padlocked gate on the post office lot.  The drummer’s car had been locked in!  Fortunately I had parked on the street otherwise we all would have had to sleep in our cars. 

Needless to say this put a damper on the rest of the evening.  The poor drummer had to deal with the stress of not knowing whether or not his car would still be there  the following day.  If the car was indeed towed there would almost certainly be an accompanying ticket.  It doesn’t take a math major to factor in our paltry salary versus a steep towing fine and ticket.  As usual, the jazz economics are bleak.

After the gig  — a  good one,  all things considered — I gave the bass player and drummer rides home to Manhattan and Brooklyn respectively, before returning to my apartment in Queens.  I managed to get four hours of sleep before picking the drummer up and driving back to the Long Island post office.   The good news is twofold:  First of all, and most important, we were able to retrieve the drummer’s car with no more trouble than a stern talking to from the post office manager.  Finally:  We now have conclusive evidence that it is possible to drive 40 miles into Long Island in 40 minutes.  As long as you leave at 7:30AM.  
   Now I have to drive two hours upstate.  Why did I have to go into show business?

Posted in jazz, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Leaving New York

Posted by keithosaunders on April 27, 2010

I never thought it would ever happen.  I figured I would live here the rest of my life.   A friend of mine  told me that once you make it past the five-year mark you become an official New Yorker.  I made it past the first five years.  In that span I endured two muggings, vandalism, theft, threats from roommates, a fair amount of vibing from fellow musicians, and the non-stop mishagos that comes with living in the big town. 

And it was great.

I played with some of the best musicians in the world, and I met some of its great characters.  I hung out until all hours of the night.  Got drunk at the West End trying to meet college co-eds, invariably failing and staggering home.  There I saw Bob Berg play an electrifying sax solo and not get paid at the end of the gig.  I saw Benny Green execute one of the coolest sit-ins ever at Sweet Basil when in mid-tune he replaced Larry Willis.  I saw Woody Shaw at the old Star Cafe almost deck a guitar player who was pestering him.   I saw Elvin Jones at Fat Tuesdays play John Bonham licks.

I lived in Manhattan in a room a little larger than a walk in closet.  I lived in Brooklyn in a house with four roommates, one of whom stole from me and threatened to beat me to a pulp.  A few years later I would move back to Manhattan’s Upper West Side where I lived in an apartment nicknamed “the dungeon” by my first cousin for the amount of direct sunlight it received:  two minutes a day. 

I played at great venues and I played at dives.  In the early years I gigged at a McDonald’s where I had to climb over a steel railing to get to a piano that was encased in a loft suspended 15 feet above the restaurant.  I worked at Princess Pamela’s Little Kitchen when the East Village was still dangerous.  I accompanied a blues singer who would verbally abuse her yuppie clientele.  I was fired for asking for a five dollar raise. 

I worked at the Empire Diner on 10th avenue from 11PM-3Am on Saturday nights where I would meet my future wife.  A few months after we began dating we drove across country in a Nissan Stanza that had a sun roof which we nicknamed the Stanzaterium; a drive we will reprise this August.

I played at the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note, The Village Gate, Sweet Basil, Fat Tuesdays, Birdland, Lincoln Center, and Smalls.  I never played at Carnegie Hall.  Didn’t practice enough. 

I met my best friend in the upper deck of Shea Stadium between games of a Mets/Cubs double-header.  Together we attended a myriad of sporting events.  We saw game I of the 1996 World Series, a game which the Yankees lost by 11 runs to the Atlanta Braves.  Little did we know that game would be one of only three Series games that the Yankees would lose in the next six years. 

While I lived here the Mets won one World Series and played in another.  The football Giants won three Super Bowls (!) and the Knicks, though they made the playoffs almost every year in the 1990’s, made the finals only once, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games.  Most improbably, in 1994 a few days after my first-born arrived, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 44 years.

My three children, unlike me, are native New Yorkers.  Just as I did, they will have started out on one coast only to emerge on another.  Unlike me, however, they carry the cache of being from New York.  They are savvy city kids who will not be easily rattled and are much greater equipped than I to deal with this move.

Now I find myself in the unenviable position of starting over.  This fall, and for the foreseeable future I will be living somewhere in the Bay Area.  I do not know any musicians there and I have no gigs.  Part of me is relishing this new challenge.  After all, I knew only one musician when I moved to New York 26 years ago.  All I ask is for a good bassist and drummer, a few laughs,  and the occasional gig to get me started.  I know it can work — there are great musicians all over the world.  There will be some where I’m going.  Just got to find them.

Posted in jazz, music, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , | 12 Comments »