The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘music’

Report from the front lines

Posted by keithosaunders on July 24, 2016

Do you think being a working musician is easy?  Do you?!  Well let me tell you something, IT’S NOT!

Yesterday’s gig was a  corporately booked gig — a private party for a rich swell who lives in a mansion in Lafayette, California.  It was an outdoor event so I need my keyboard and amp.

I arrived at the scheduled time, an hour and a half before the gig.  Our set up was in his back yard but getting there involved taking my equipment down a long, steep, incline.  (the house was recessed into the hill) I had my keyboard and amp on my hand truck, as usual, and I figured I would walk backwards down the hill keeping my equipment in front of me so that I could brace it against gravity.

Wrong.  The path was made out of this ultra smooth, polished gravel.  My shoes, being somewhat new, had no traction.  Down I went in a slow motion face-first fall, my pitiful life flashing before my eyes. With my left hand I held onto my dolly for dear life, while with the right hand I braced my fall.  I landed flat on my stomach and my dolly ended up on its side.  I tried to get up but it was no use.  I would still be lying there today if the drummer and guitarist hadn’t happened by at that moment.

It took a bit of doing to get both myself and my equipment at an upright angle but finally I was righted and I was able to locate a set of stairs to access the backyard.  Did I mention it was 91 degrees outside and I was wearing a suit?

It was a long gig with short breaks.  There’s not enough time to detail the hilarity that ensued but I will say that I really enjoyed the music and the musicians that I played with.

How’s that for a happy ending?

 

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Who put these #%& snakes in the #%$ piano?

Posted by keithosaunders on March 6, 2016

Folks it’s the end of the weekend and I’m all Trumped out so I’m giving that topic a rest for the time being.

As a freelance musician my office changes from night to night.  More importantly my work station, that is to say my piano, also changes.  Every once in a while I get a beautiful instrument; for instance, a seven foot Steinway with great action and a beautiful tone.  This makes my job so much easier — it’s like driving a Lexus versus a Yugo.  (Full disclosure, I’ve never driven either)

Most of the time I’m stuck with a dog, or at best a dowager. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  A lousy piano takes preference over me having to schlep my keyboard, even though my keyboard remains in tune in perpetuity. At this point my back’s comfort takes preference over my ear’s.

I pride myself as being the kind of pianist who can make any instrument, no matter how bad, sound good.  I almost never complain about the piano because what’s the point?  If I don’t like it I should shut up and bring my keyboard.

But…

There are times when I’m playing a solo, the music is groovin,’ I’m working through dense lines, building up energy – I’m in a good mood, almost a state of euphoria – when BAM I hit a high G that sounds like a cat in heat.

It’s like I’m the lead in a movie starring opposite Marilyn Monroe when all of a sudden her character gets killed off and replaced with another love-interest…played by Irene Ryan, the actress who played Granny in the Beverly Hillbillys.

It’s times like those that I feel like Samuel L. Jackson:  “I’M SICK AND TIRED OF THESE MOTHERFUCKIN’ OUT OF TUNE NOTES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKIN’ PIANO.”

 

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Night at the office

Posted by keithosaunders on January 30, 2016

Being a musician is a strange career.  Often times the easiest part of our job is the playing. Most of us have been practicing our instrument – honing our craft – every day of our life since the time we were kids.  (in my case since I was 8) We have logged more hours in pursuit of our quixotic profession than any doctor or lawyer.  By the time we go to work in the evening the execution should be like turning the ignition key in a car.  Sure, there are nights where our playing is less than inspired and we may clam a few notes or forget a some chords, but for the most part we play at an consistently high level.

From where I sit the difficult part of our job is maintaining our concentration amidst what are often less than ideal performing conditions.  What we do requires a heightened sense of listening which can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but daunting in a room full of screaming bar patrons.

I often play this gig at a crowded dive bar in the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco – Club Deluxe.  For the most part I love this place.  It is integral to the Bay Area jazz scene, providing a space for musicians in a city that is practically bereft of jazz clubs. The vibe at Deluxe is usually good and although people are often noisy there is enough positive energy (and free beer!) to make for a fun night.

Last night, however, was rough.  The place was unusually busy for a Thursday and it was packed with inebriated 20-something tech people.  Sitting directly across from the band was a trio of loud, drunken dudes.  It’s one thing to deal with the white noise of a jam packed bar — it becomes a background din and you can deal with it.  But when you have people in close proximity screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, not only is it jarring but it becomes like nails on a chalkboard.

Three hours into the gig the frat boy alchys were still there and louder than ever.  As we were beginning our final set our bassist could take it no longer and he asked them to move.  One of the dullards said something snide and our bass player, giving his best dead-eyed Clint Eastwood stare, said, “Get the fuck out.” At that point I stood up and flanked the bass player.  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking  – I’ve never been in a bar fight and I’m pretty sure I would get my ass kicked – but I was ready to go to war with these louts.  Somehow the sax player was able to de-escalate the situation and the drunks ended up leaving.  But the whole thing left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth.

The good thing about the music business?  Tomorrow is another gig.

 

 

 

Posted in jazz, music, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Night at the Museum

Posted by keithosaunders on December 6, 2015

A great musician, Phil Woods, once said, “They don’t pay us to play, they pay us to show up.” He’s right.  The easiest part of what we do is to play the gig.  Often times, as in tonight, the most difficult part is to show up.

Tonight’s gig was at an affair at a museum in downtown San Francisco.  Getting into town over the Bay Bridge from the East Bay where I live is never easy, particularly on a Saturday late afternoon, but throw in holiday traffic and you’ve got a recipe for aggravation.

I always say give me a gig with parking and a piano and I’m a happy camper.  Tonight I had neither, which meant loading my keyboard and amp into the car, driving to an inconvenient loading dock, unloading, and to top it off, a 30 minute trip driving around the block to a parking lot in bumper to bumper traffic.  There was even traffic inside of the parking lot where I slogged my way up 7 stories to the last available spot on the roof.

I walked back to the gig only to discover that I had to walk around to the back of the museum to check in with security.  I ended up in line behind a group of caterers which led to a 15 minute wait while the attendant methodically copied down info from everyone’s drivers license.  Finally I was allowed into the building where I set up and waited an hour before the start of the gig.

After that, however, everything went smoothly.  The client was extremely nice offering us drinks and food, and the musicians were good.  All in all it was a tiring day, but not a bad one. All the same, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s gig – also in San Fran –  which is walking distance from a BART station and contains an upright piano.

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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

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The song remained the same

Posted by keithosaunders on October 29, 2010

Last night I took the family for a Thursday night dinner at a local Nepali restaurant.  It was a cute neighborhood restaurant with a friendly waitress and good, simple food.  

There was a song playing in the background that I took to be Nepali folk music and it had a catchy little refrain.  About ten minutes into our meal I began to notice that the refrain of the song had come back around.  It was then that it began to dawn on me that the song had never ended.  Of course once you notice something like this you can’t ignore it, and for me  it became the focal point of the evening.  Either this song was on some kind of loop, or it was one of the longest songs ever written —  it lasted for the duration of our stay at the restaurant. 

The song had lyrics, but since they were in Nepali I couldn’t tell whether they were repeating or if the composer’s attitude was, “Fuck it, I’ve got a lot to say, I’m writing more verses.”  I’m betting that the composer was paid by the note and is known as the Charles Dickens of song.  I used to think that Bob Dylan’s music was wordy until last night.  Now, as far as I’m concerned, he’s the king of brevity.  John Coltrane himself never took a solo this long.   

The question I have is why would you do this to your customers?  Even if you go on the assumption that most people are not as attuned to a restaurant’s background music as a musician, it still makes no sense.  After a while — and I was there for the better part of an hour — even the most tone-deaf among us are going to begin to notice that something is askew.  It was like a chinese water torture of music.  If I had to hear that song for another minute I’m sure I would have confessed to the murder of JFK.   

That melody is burned into my soul and if I live to be 105 I will never forget it.  But wouldn’t you know it, as we were leaving the restaurant the song ended and a new one began.  Needless to say I didn’t stay to hear how that one turned out.

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Comeback format of the year? Vinyl!

Posted by keithosaunders on July 7, 2010

Readers of this blog know that in August I am moving to the Bay Area.  I am currently undergoing the painful process of possession triage.  Some people enjoy the cleansing of old clutter, but I am a pack-rat at heart.  It was all I could do to throw away my major league baseball standings board.  You know, the one with the magnet logos of all of the teams.  I haven’t actually used it in over 10 years but that’s besides the point.

This weekend my wife asked me what I was going to do with my record collection.  This question loosely translates to “I wish you would get rid of them.”  Just because I haven’t actually owned a turntable in 15 years doesn’t mean I will never listen to my albums again.

My period of musical awakening came in the early 70s.  Like most of my generation, I have a very strong memory of listening to albums while growing up.  Some were played so often that there were as many as three indented rings in the cardboard cover.   

It took me a while to make the change over to CDs.  Let’s face it, though they were easier to store, they never really replaced albums.  They were so small that we hardly bothered to read the liner notes.  I stopped knowing the name of songs — in fact most of my jewel boxes ended up cracked or lost. 

 For the past eight years my records have been stored under a table in our upstate house.  This weekend, as I was looking through them, I realized that I could not throw them away.  If I sold them to a collector I could probably make 100 dollars.  It would cost 5 times as much to replace them, and the fact is that many of them, being out of print, are irreplaceable. 

The solution?  I’m leaving my CDs behind.  Once we are settled it will be my project to find a turntable and receiver so that I can rediscover my old records.  Thanks to the ipod I rarely listen to CDs.  Ironically they are much more expendable than my records since I can always download anything that I am missing.  In this respect it is fitting that I am moving back to California.  It is the birthplace of my record collection.  Time for their rebirth!

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The best buy for your buck? A drummer!

Posted by keithosaunders on June 22, 2010

This anecdote is brought to you by a drummer friend of mine, Taro Okamoto. He plays on my current CD, Lost In Queens, and is one of my favorite musicians.

A while back, a friend Taro’s needed him to facilitate the rental of a drum set.  The friend was arriving from Japan to play a gig, as well as a recording session and wanted to pick up a drum set in New York rather than have to bring his own. 

Taro called several music store only to find that the going rate for renting drums was $250.00.  There was an additional charge of $100.00 for cartage — $50.00 per trip to have the drums delivered and picked up from the venue.  

Now this is embarrassing to admit but most jazz gigs pay much less than $350.00   It would have been much cheaper for his friend to have hired a drummer and told him not to play, just to bring the drums!

$375.00                                                                                                                               Much cheaper!

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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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