The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘New York jazz’

Summer in the city

Posted by keithosaunders on July 17, 2011

Another great week spent in New York.  What a town!  I can’t believe I lived here for so many years. 

I had three gigs this week, and when I wasn’t gigging I was hanging out in the city, mostly at my favorite club, Small’s.  I’ve got long hair and a goatee now and everyone says that I look like a Californian.  Of course this belies the fact that I often had this look during my New York years.  Back then it would have bothered me to have been mistaken for a Californian, as if there was an inherent put-down in such a comment.  These days I don’t care; in fact, I’m amused by it.  Listen, there’s no denying it any longer..I am a Californian.

Musicians have been very welcoming to me since my return.  They seem genuinely happy to see me and curious about what my life in the Bay Area is like.  For my part, it feels great to be able to feel at home on both coasts.  Something that never occurred to me in all of my New York years, was that it is possible to actually like both places.  The inclination is to belittle the opposite coast.  I’m guilty of it —  there are jokes to be mined, for crying out loud!  But at this point, from where I stand, it’s a waste of energy.

A highpoint of my stay has been sitting in for one tune at the late night jam session at Small’s in the Village.  I was hanging out at the bar during the regular gig.  After the band finished I was getting ready to head to the subway to go back to the Bronx when I noticed that there was no piano player to start the session.  I figured, what the heck, I’ll play a tune.  A sax player began the first few notes of Oleo by himself, and boom, we were off. 

There is something about the energy of New York musicians that is at a different level than all others.  I lived here for 26 years, and after a while you can’t help taking it for granted.  But being away from it for a year and jumping back into the pool is an amazing experience the momentum is both startling and infectious.  

I didn’t know any of the musicians — they were all young guys — but it felt great to be in there with them, holding my own, and enjoying the energy.  The best part, for me, was the realization that even though I no longer live in new York, I haven’t lost that energy — that fire.

I played one tune, and ceded the piano bench to a young woman sitting in the front row who was patiently waiting her turn.  I went home on the subway, which slogged its way up the 2 train tracks, and arrived in the Bronx an hour and a half later, none the worse for wear.

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Provincialism

Posted by keithosaunders on May 11, 2011

I grew up in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley in a town called Van Nuys.  When I lived in L.A. I thought it was a the center of the world.  I thought it was a glamorous place full of hip movie stars, and great musicians. 

As I got into my teen years and was exposed to, and began playing jazz, I began to wonder about the wider world, in particular, New York City.  Both of my parents grew up in New York.  My father had great memories of his childhood there, and he vividly described what it was like to grow up in New York during the pre and post World War II era.

I got into my late teens and began hanging out with the great drummer, Dick Berk.  He had lived in New York in the early ’60s, and he would spend hours regaling me with stories of all the great musicians he had hung out with and played with.    

New York was like a mythical place to me, filled with jazz clubs, great sports teams, colorful characters, jazz musicians, and places to hang out until all hours to the night.  What could be better?

There was one problem.  Almost everyone else I talked to hated New York.  I was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was a crime-ridden, rat-infested, over-priced hell-whole, and that I should have my head examined for wanting to live there.  When you recall some of the films of the 1970s — The Out of Towners, Taxi Driver, and Mean Streets — you can see why it had a bad reputation.  Of course, most of the people I knew had never been to New York, but that didn’t stop them from badmouthing it.

Furthermore, they told me, the people were rude, unfriendly, and unwelcoming.  When I responded that I wanted to experience the greatest jazz scene in the world, I was told to grow up — that there was no future in jazz.

To be continued…

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