The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘musicians’

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?


Posted in jazz, music, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The art of the jam session

Posted by keithosaunders on October 4, 2010

Zapple asked: I always wondered how the jam sessions worked. Did you just ask them to sit in?

While there is no pat answer there is a certain routine to most jam sessions.  For those of you who don’t know, the a jam session is an informal gathering of musicians who do not necessarily know each other.  You never know who you will play with and how the music will sound — it’s part of its charm, frustration, and excitement.  I have played with some incredible musicians just by happening to be on the bandstand at the right time — Roy Hargrove Jr., Joe Lovano, Jeff Tain Watts, and Esperanza Spaulding are a few who come immediately to mind. 

On the other hand, I have played with some real nut cases in my day.  There have been singers who don’t know their keys and can’t stay on pitch anyhow, sax players who play ten minute solos before stopping in the middle of the chorus, and anal trumpet players who shout out instructions on when, where, and how to play during their solos.  Just as in daily life, you meet all kinds of people.

I found that what works best for me is to go in with an open mind and a sense of humor.  I’m not looking to have the deepest musical experience, but I am delighted when things click.  More often than not I have a good time at jam sessions.  The beauty of it is, unlike a gig, you can leave whenever you want.  

You have to realize that jam sessions are like networking sessions for musicians.  It’s where we go to meet people and to showcase our abilities.  In this sense there is a certain pressure to perform.  In my younger days I was more nervous about playing good at sessions.  These days I’m more philosophical — I”ve done a lifetime of work practicing at home and playing at gigs.  If things don’t click instantaneously it’s not my fault.  In fact, usually it’s not anybody’s fault.   

The thing about music is that it’s impossible to quantify what combinations of people will or will not work.  You can put five great musicians together and the results can be less than spectacular.  The chemistry might not be right — maybe the drummer and bass player don’t agree on the time, which could make the soloist uncomfortable.  You never know what you’re going to get.

Jam sessions are really a horn player’s game.  They saunter into the club with their horn, take it out of the case, and sit in.  After they’ve had their fill they put the horn back in the case and leave.  They’re like musical Lotharios.  They have their way with the rhythm section and leave. 

If you’re a pianist, bassist, or drummer, jam sessions are a different story.  You can end up waiting a long time before getting called up to play.  For me this is the hardest part of going to jam sessions, for the longer I wait to play, the more I drink and the worse I’ll sound.  As I said before, you never know who you’re going to play with.  I could wait 45 minutes to play and end up with a mediocre drummer, or a bass player made surely by a parade of endless horn solos.  It’s a crapshoot to say the least.

For the most part, however, jam sessions work.  They work because in the end you have a group of like-minded people.  These are folks who comprise an increasingly miniscule portion of the population — jazz lovers.  So I say to you:  Let’s celebrate our musical differences and let the chips fall where they may!

…and at last, the answer to zapple’s question:  There’s usually a sign-up list.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in jazz | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The view from the piano bench

Posted by keithosaunders on June 10, 2010

With the impending move to San Fran my mood has taken a turn to the south.  It’s hard enough trying to rent our apartment while organizing our move west, but all of a sudden, in an ironic twist of fate, I’m having my busiest June ever gigging almost every night.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this plethora of gigs.  Just that it will be hard to go from crazy-busy to sitting by the phone.  

That being said, here is a small sampling of my hit parade of gripes.  Think of it as a premier in how-to-deal-with-muscians 101.   

The majority of songs that I play are 32 measures long.  Sure, there’s the odd Cole Porter 64 bar marathon such as In The Still of the Night, but for the most part the songs are fairly concise.  I am almost never more than 31 bars from a natural ending point.  Now let me ask you something:  Why in the world would you want me to stop in the middle of a song, when in mere seconds I can reach the end?  Are you a fan of resolution?  If so, then LET ME FINISH!  I’ll be happier, and you may not believe this, but so will you.   

Now here’s something:  Even though the area around my piano is lacking four walls, a desk, and a phone, this space constitutes my office.  What would you do if I walked into your office while you were on a business call, and made a request to invest in penalty-free annuities?  I thought so.  Look.  You can talk to me.  I’m not a delicate genius that requires absolute silence while I’m playing.  (Keith Jarrett)  You just need to find the right time to do so.  Here’s an idea to get started:  Between tunes.   

Finally:   If you insist on talking to me while I’m playing please do not be offended if I do not talk to you.  You see, contrary to what you may believe, my fingers are actually moving in a prescribed order — I’m not just wiggling them in time.  Making music requires concentration.  If you frame your question so that a simple yes or no will suffice, then sure…I’ll answer or nod.  But if you come over in the middle of a song to discuss quantum mechanics, don’t get your hopes up.  

My office

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