The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

Dead [bad] presidents

Posted by keithosaunders on March 16, 2017

I’m imagining an Albany, California town meeting 100 years ago.  One of the city council members opens the meeting by stating, We’ve got to come up with a theme for naming our streets.  What could it be?  What to do?  Then the mayor snaps his finger and shouts, I’ve got it, we’ll name the streets after our nation’s worst presidents!

Thus modern Albany was born.  For starters I live on Buchanan St. James Buchanan was the only president to remain a bachelor his entire life.  Not only that, he was the only president from Pennsylvania. (my home state, incidentally)  During his inauguration he vowed to be president for only one term. That’s like me promising not to play at Carnegie Hall. Buchanan was the last president before the Civil War.  Nuff said.

Moving west to east we have Fillmore St. Millard Fillmore, our last Whig president, emerged from poverty out of the Finger Lakes in New York State.  The Whigs would evaporate after Fillmore’s term and morph into the ‘No-nothings’

Did I mention how Fillmore gained the presidency?  That would be the next street over – Taylor St.  Fillmore was Zachary Taylor’s vice president. Taylor died 14 months into his term from a digestive ailment brought about by consuming copious amounts of raw fruit and iced milk.

That’s about all the time I have today for bad presidential memory lane.  I didn’t even get to Polk St.  Now enjoy this photo of Harvey Keitel.


Image result for bad lieutenant

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Happy St Patty’s Day

Posted by keithosaunders on March 17, 2016

There is no more moronic of a holiday than St Patrick’s Day. It starts when you’re a little kid in grade school and your forced – coerced – into wearing green. What is that? Training for Hitler (Trump) youth? ‘Hey you little bastards, get your conformity on!’ When I was a kid you would get pinched if you forgot to wear green, because what’s a holiday without sadism, am I right? Pogrom, anyone?

 As an adult, St Patty’s day is an excuse to get your daytime drunk on. Ah, there’s nothing like puking before 12 noon. Good times. In New York, or wherever the hell else they hold parades, (Ireland, I guess) it’s another excuse for homophobia.  This is a holiday that serves no purpose.  Let’s eliminate it and replace it with Nat King Cole Day.

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Posted by keithosaunders on August 4, 2015

I forgot how daunting writing can be.  When I started this blog I was nearly 10 years younger, and before that I had kept a blog on another site for several years.  I stopped blogging shortly after moving to California in 2010 and gave it another go in 2013.  That stint lasted two posts owing to the fact that at that time I was sans laptop and wireless; it’s tough to update on a cell phone, 4G or not.

California was not good for my marriage but it has been good for me work-wise.  I gig 5-7 nights a week and my teaching studio is thriving.  Put that all together and it means I can survive, assuming I avoid an automobile accident and/or serious illness. I am happy here and I have met some musicians who I really enjoy playing with.  I’m lucky in that regard.

The other day I did a gig with one of my favorite drummers, Ron Marabuto.  We had a long drive and on the way home we fell into a conversation about the old days in New York.  We barely overlapped in our time there — Ron lived there in the mid-70s through the mid 80s while I moved there in 1984.

We both agreed that real New Yorkers are indescribable to those who have never lived there. The native New Yorkers were what I remember most fondly from my time there.  Not the gentrifying strivers who move to New York fresh off of there Phi Beta whatever degrees from Ohio St or UCLA.  The people who grew up there.  These are the ones that can quote the Honeymooners as if it’s talmud.  These are the folks who will take you to Sheepshead Bay, or treat you to the best pizza in the North Bronx.

After Ron dropped me off I found myself waxing nostalgic for the old days.  There was something about being in my early 20s and living on my own for the first time in my life — well it was heady stuff.  The world was rife with possibility.

By coincidence I came across a video of a gig I did in Zagreb Yugoslavia in 1985 with Richie Cole.  I hadn’t realized this video exited and seeing and hearing my 24 year old self was jarring to say the least.  (though I did have a nice porn stash) I remember that Zagreb was the first stop on the tour and that my luggage had been lost during the flight.  It never did catch up to me —  we were moving from town to town in Europe, barely staying anywhere for more than one night. Consequently I only had the clothes I wore over on the plane as well as a few things I was able to buy once we got to Switzerland.

I remember being very tired and jet lagged after a long flight but I forced myself to stay up and walk around the town since I didn’t think I’d ever get back there.  (I was right) Yugoslavia was still a nation and it remains the only communist country I’ve ever visited, albeit commie-lite. I remember the band being interviewed for either radio or television and that we were raucous and irreverent – possibly due to the jetlag, but more likely due to being 20-something snot nosed jerks.  We played the concert on fumes and got drunk afterwards.

The bass player is Ed Howard and the drummer is Victor Jones.

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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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Provincialsm: Full circle

Posted by keithosaunders on May 17, 2011

I stayed for 26 years — long enough for me to feel more like a New Yorker than a Californian.  It got to the point where California barbs no longer phased me.  Sometimes I would even join in. 

Moving to San Fran was a homecoming of sorts.  Though I grew up in Los Angeles, 400 miles to the south, the Bay Area felt inexorably like California.  Every once in a while I would catch a whiff of something — a flower, the air, I’m not sure what — that would take me back to my youth. 

At first everything felt so novel to me that I hardly missed New York at all.  When I began going to clubs and sitting in, the caché of being from New York helped.  People here may not necessarily like New York, but they respect it.  Finally, all of those years of dues-paying had begun to pay off.  I am rarely, if ever intimidated on the bandstand.  My playing is aggressive, and tempos never faze me. 

At first I felt guilty about saying that I was from New York, because after all, I am really from California, and if you want to get technical, I was born in Pennsylvania.  The truth is that I’ve lived in New York longer than California, so why not?  Besides, in the interest of full disclosure, I almost always mention that I grew up in California. 

I have tried very hard not to cop an attitude about being from New York, first of all, because I don’t want to alienate people, and second of all, I remember how much that same attitude pissed me off back in the day.

While I haven’t experienced an anti-New York bias anywhere near the anti-California bias of New Yorker’s, there was a noteworthy incident last week.  I was on a gig up in Sonoma County.  It was one of those nights — I didn’t like the club, the music wasn’t hooking up, and by the fourth hour I found myself in a foul mood.  A friend of the bass player’s resembled Dick Cheney, and possessed a quiet, yet contrarian manner.  I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it seemed that whatever I said he would find a way to disagree. 

When he made a back-handed comment about New York City I reached my boiling point.    There was something about the matter of fact way he said it, as if to imply that putting down New York is the most natural thing in the world.  I fixed him a steely eyed look and quietly responded, “That’s funny that you say that, because almost everyone in New York hates California.  They consider it lightweight.”

“Really?!”  He stammered.  I could tell immediately that my little retort had hit home.  The thing is, I’ve lived half of my life in both places.  I am perfectly positioned to put any of these motherfuckers in their place, regardless of the coast! 

Now, as my trilogy comes to a close, I will leave you with these parting words:  This provincialism business exists everywhere.  Forget about it.  New York, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, Japan…we’re all a bunch of insecure assholes. 

 And you know what?  The East Bay rules!      

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Posted by keithosaunders on January 6, 2011

How strange it is for me to associate home with the Bay Area but that is indeed the case.  This afternoon I flew home to the west coast for the first time in 27 years.  The trip to New York was a good one, both work-wise and personally.  I got to spend some great time with my friend Jeff in the Bronx as well as see other friends and former colleagues. 

It’s bittersweet, however, as I return to a life bereft of gigs.  In New York I was working three to five nights a week as well as teaching.  Here I have had to start from square one in a jazz scene that is not as busy as New York’s.  It is daunting to say the least.  Still I look forward to the few gigs I have, as well as getting back into hanging out and meeting new people.     

I have to say that San Francisco kicks ass when it comes to airport transportation.  It’s a quick walk through the terminal to the elevated air train.  From there it’s a five-minute ride to the BART station which gets me to within two miles of my home.  In New York you have a choice between a 40 dollar cab ride, for which you’re going to have to wait on a long line, or an air train that takes you to a subway station in Jamaica Queens.  It’s confusing, cumbersome, and unpleasant. 

So put that in your crack pipe and smoke it, New York!

Posted in New York City, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

You can’t go home again: Part 2

Posted by keithosaunders on January 1, 2011

One month ago, at Thanksgiving, I visited my father in Las Vegas.   On the way there I spent a night in Los Angeles seeing some old friends.  I couldn’t resist a chance to peek at the house in Van Nuys where I grew up.  The house was painted a different color, was a little worse for wear, but for the most part was as I remembered it.  But there was something otherworldly about looking at a place that was so familiar, yet not mine.

Here it is, a month later and I find myself in New York City — my first time back since moving to Berkeley five months ago.  I stepped off the subway at 47th st/Rockefeller Center and I wasn’t prepared for the emotion that hit me — anger.  Anger that from now on my status in New York will forever be that of a cameo.  Everything here seems the same, but like my experience with my childhood house, it seems alien to me.  New York is slightly out of focus;  it is no longer my town. 

My gig was great.  I played at a restaurant called Per Se with my good friend and favorite bassist, Bim Strasberg, and a fine singer, Hillary Gardner.   The gig was long, but good.  There was a nice Steinway there and we had a beautiful dinner.

Looking east on 59th street from the Time Warner Center

 Afterwards I went down to Small’s in the village for their after hours party.  I had a great time sitting in and I saw some old friends there.  I stayed for a few hours, stumbled onto the street and into the subway.  I rode all the way to the end of the line on the 6 train up to the Bronx.  After walking halfway up the ramp to the Bruckner Expressway I was able to reverse course and find my way to my friend’s house.   I went to bed a seven AM.

The great Richie Vitale at Smalls


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Driving us crazy.

Posted by keithosaunders on November 10, 2010

Today’s special guest poster is none other than my esteemed and lovely wife, Debra.  She is here to give you a fresh take on the state of driving, as well as being a pedestrian in the great state of California.  Enjoy!


Ok, so I understand that driving, like slang, has its regional idiosyncrasies.  Certain unspoken local driving rules like lean on your horn when the guy in front of you fails to notice the right on red sign, are perfectly reasonable and to be expected, and while I have done business and spent countless hours in San Fran over the years, when it comes to driving I am a stranger in a strange land.

For instance, while driving around I have noticed that pedestrians have the right of way.  Indeed they have the moral high ground, stepping leisurely in front of cars and aiming a scarily perfected dirty look my way should I violate these cardinal rights.  Lamely pointing to my NY plates, hoping that would explain my audacity, is useless.   Traffic signals, crosswalks, and lights be damned, the driver must stop as the ped strolls across.   A friend told me that if you kill a pedestrian you can be charged with manslaughter.  Good enough for me.  I ease up on the gas (which will inevitably get me a special greeting from east coast drivers when in NY) and try to fit in.

Once after dropping Keith off on a corner and carefully turning the corner I congratulated myself on my newfound courtesy behind the wheel.  Imagine my dismay when I later learned that upon hearing a mild hurumph from a nearby pedestrian, Keith turned to the gentleman, shook his head and said “Boy, drivers in this city, huh!”  This was all the affronted pedestrian needed to launch into a sympatico tirade in which they both lamented the complete lack of regard for pedestrians and all their superiority.  Keith has claimed this his most successful Bay Area bonding experience so far.

So…you can imagine my excitement when the tables turned and I had occasion to don the mantle of pedestrianism.  I was in Berkeley of all places, with Lucy. [our daughter]  What luck!  At last I could lord my earth-friendly, self-propelled personage above those gas guzzling heathens.  “Watch this Lucy, its our turn,” I said, as I approached the curb, at the crosswalk.   Mind you, there are rules, you know, and I waited for the traffic to grind to a halt. 

Whizz whizz…I stepped maybe a foot off the curb.  Vroom, whizz.  What the…!?!?!  Both of us clucked, hurumphed, and looked in the eyes of the drivers.  Eventually, a break in the cars opened and we dashed across.  The cars were a half a block away, barreling down, and stopping was the furthest thing from their minds.

Clearly I am missing something.  The worst part is the looks and scolding that go with the infractions.  I miss the good ol’ middle finger and nasally epithet of New York drivers.  Quick, emotional, and easy to return in kind.  In fact, it would be an act of friendship when you see me in New York to forgo the wave and flip me a bird in greeting and we can exchange a few mild epithets as well.  Come on, make my day!

Deb and Lucy in Berkeley, temporarily safe from the traffic.

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Remembering Fred Lite, the sickest f**kin’ drummer!

Posted by keithosaunders on July 23, 2010

T – 18 days.

Through the years there have been some great gigs and some terrible gigs.  Some of the notable ones were documented about three months ago here.  I’ve decided to write about a few of ones that have made the Keitho hall of fame and hall of shame.

I’ll  being with a Hall of Fame entry.

In my early years in New York I used to work often with a drummer named Fred Lite.  Fred was one of a kind — he was Danny Devito meets Elvin Jones.  He was opinionated, prone to exaggeration, had a self-depreciating sense of humor, and was whip-smart.  In fact he was a kind of renaissance man.  He tuned and rebuilt pianos.   He was a great card player — he used to go to Atlantic City regularly to play blackjack.  He even wrote a book on card counting.  He was also a first-rate drummer.   Sure, he didn’t have the cleanest chops in the world, but he had an incredible feeling and it was very easy for me to connect with him.  I’ve played with drummers who have had much more technique, but there were few that I enjoyed more than Fred.

Fred’s band consisted of Ralph Lalama on tenor sax, John Ray, on bass, and Jerry Sokolov on trumpet.  We used to play every Thursday night at a dive bar in Chelsea called Pats.  The place smelled like a toilet and it housed a neon blue Young Chang upright piano which is, to this day, one of the worst pianos I have ever played.  They used to set the P.A. speaker on top of the piano next to my left ear.  I am sure that I have lost a portion of my hearing thanks to that gig. 

Wait a minute…this gig may belong in the hall of shame! 

For some reason (could it have been the copious amounts of cocaine available at this establishment?) Pats became an in spot on Thursday nights.  Many great musicians came by and sat in.  Joe Lovano would sometimes come by and play, sometimes even sitting in on drums!  I remember the pianist Renee Rosnes sitting in many times.  A lot of guys from the [then]Mel Lewis band would stop by, as well as our peers — guys like Pat O’Leary, Larry Ham, Pete Malinverni, and Rudy Petschauer — all great musicians who went on to become mainstays on the New York scene. 

Everyone was so wired in this band that it was hard to get through any given gig without at least two of the members screaming at each other.  Even I was somewhat of a live wire.  I was prone to borderline psychotic outbursts and was given the nickname F.C., short for Firecracker.   

Fred was, and is, the greatest Mets fan I have ever known.  Bar none.  He lived and died with them.  During the offseason he would call me up every day and the first thing out of his mouth would be, “Did they make any trades yet?”  If you told him about a trade he would forever credit you with the Mets acquiring  that payer.  It was as if Fred made you a defacto GM.  In this way I got him Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson. 

Back in the fall of 1988, when the Mets were playing the Dodgers in the National League playoffs, we were finishing up a tour in the midwest.  I had brought along my portable 4″ screen battery operated TV in case we had any gigs that coincided with game time.  At a concert in Youngstown, Ohio Ralph would go backstage during the piano and bass solos to watch the game and signal Fred with his fingers what the score was.   To this day I do not fully trust a bandleader who doesn’t like sports.   

The band made many tours.  We often would leave after our Thursday gig, all drunk and disheveled, and drive from 23rd st and 6th avenue in Manhattan, to Toledo Ohio, arriving the following day in the middle of the afternoon.  Once Fred missed the Toledo exit and we had to drive another 20 miles to the next exit to turn around.  

As it happened Fred eventually became disenchanted with the music scene.  The band never got the break it deserved and it had become a money pit for Fred.  He didn’t have the temperament to go on playing joints and he had financial pressure, having to support a wife and two young children.  It goes without saying that music is a tough business to be in.  Especially when you have to be a leader, which in our case means booking agent, manager, as well as performer.  

Sometime around 1991 Fred quit the drums and went back to school.  After receiving his undergrad degree he was accepted into Hofstra law school.  He completed his classes and passed the bar on his first attempt.  It’s remarkable to say the least.  Not only was Fred a great drummer, but he was able to change careers in midstream, practically without missing a beat.  Today Fred is a succesful civil rights lawyer.  If you open up the NY Daily News you are likely to read about a case that Fred is involved in.  I can’t think of two more demanding careers.  Fred, that sick bastard, could do both.

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The state of the move

Posted by keithosaunders on July 18, 2010

We’re three weeks away from our departure to the Bay Area and we have settled on a route.  We’re going to leave from our Upstate house (Ulster county), drive to Niagara Falls, stay over on the Canada side, and continue west, re-entering the U.S. at the Motor City where I’ll be wanting to go to a Tigers game.  After the inevitable veto we’ll continue west into Chicago where we’ll spend a day or two with my brother, providing he agrees to allow the dog to enter his house.  We’ll pick up interstate 90, which will take us through Minnesota and South Dakota.  We plan on driving through the Badlands, but eschewing Mount Rushmore in favor of the Gand Tetons in Wyoming.

If all goes according to plan we should arrive in the Albany, California  sometime around the 19th of August, just in time to begin preparing for my 50th birthday bash.  I’ll have six days in which to meet west coast buddies to invite to the party.  I’ll have to get right to work and hit the bars immediately.  Isn’t there an iphone app? — Insta-friends?  

In the meantime we’re working on buying a larger vehicle for the trip west.  It looks like we’ll buy a minivan — a Mazda 5.  I have long resisted this final foray into middle-aged life but it is now impossible.  Even I have to admit that with three kids and a dog it is needed.   We’re leaving my beloved Honda wagon back east.  Not only does it have nearly 200,000 miles, but it would not pass Cali emissions tests.  Anyway, its radio has stopped working.  I think that one your car radio has given out, it is akin to the fat lady singing.  It’s over.

Our New York apartment is still not sublet, which is a source of stress we could do without.  So now I am calling on the blogosphere:  There is a great three bedroom with East River and Manhattan views available in Long Island City!  You will not be disappointed.  

There you have it.  The state of the move. T – 22 days.

What an apartment!

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