The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘oakland’

Slow patch

Posted by keithosaunders on May 5, 2016

The music business is capricious at best.  Last year I probably played over 300 gigs which is my personal best, probably by far. This year has started out busy but in the last couple of days I’ve hit a bump in the road.  I lost my Monday steady jam session gig in Oakland due to low attendance.  It was easy to see coming but it’s never pleasant to lose a gig.  A steady gig gives the week form and structure.  They’re like old shoes — comfortable. That being said, I’m actually looking forward to having my Monday nights back.  I can use them to catch up on transcribing music (solos and songs) as well as get some errands done which will free the days up for extra practice.

What has irked me is having my second Sunday of the month brunch gig cancelled with four days notice.  This month’s second Sunday happens to fall on Mother’s Day and the management decided to book a different band for the occasion.  I have asked for half payment, but this is the restaurant business which is only a few steps more legitimate than the gangster business. Suffice it to say that it will be a cold day before I see that money.

In the meantime I am still extremely busy, gigging between 5-6 days a week and juggling 7-10 students.  I’m one cancelled steady, however, from turning into a whining simp.  Tom Hanks said it best:  There’s no crying in jazz! 

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420 Day

Posted by keithosaunders on April 26, 2016

Amidst this run of notable gigs I’ve forgotten to report on an interesting one. Last week, on 420 day I played a gig at a medical marijuana dispensary. It was my first time playing a pot ‘club,’ and in fact the first time I’ve even seen the inside of one.  Here in California they’re all over the place, which explains why a significant portion of the population stays high all of the time.

I’ve never known the reason why marijuana is referred to as 420 but I do know that the phony-holiday powers that be found it convenient.  The Magnolia Club, located in West Oakland, was packed with people buying their favorite strains – Kandy Kush, Mr Urkel, and Notorious O.G. Between tunes one of the employees politely asked us to play softer. “The patients are having a hard time hearing.”

I looked around…patients? “Oh! *those* patients,” I said. Riiiiiiight.”

They sent us home with all sorts of swag — pot-laced macaroons, pot-laced cookies, and even THC lip balm for those cold, dry days where you’d like to get a buzz on.  All in all it was a good gig.

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Jam sessions: Not for the faint of heart. (or the humorless)

Posted by keithosaunders on November 10, 2015

For the past four years I’ve played in a house rhythm section at a jam session in Oakland. The gig follows a common jam session template: The house band plays a set which is followed by a break after which the jam session starts.  Anybody can sit in.


The singers are the worst.  At least with the horn players you can assume that they have spent time actually studying how music works.  For instance, it is useful to understand that songs are divided into equal units we call measures and that these measures contain smaller, equidistant units known as BEATS.  The singers don’t understand this.  If they’re lucky they will intuitively feel the beat and are able to maintain their place in the song.  But often they can’t feel the beat leaving them with two options.

a) They can listen to the band and try to hear where the downbeat is. Often the pianist (that’s me) will feed them the melody as a cue.

Needless to say option a is rarely utilized.

b) They can guess.

Option b is a very popular option.

So what happens when you have the singer and the band in different parts of the song?  It works out just fine if you’re performing a Yoko Ono song, but not so well for Gershwin or Cole Porter.  What ensues is a kind of musical free for all. The pianist may follow the singer while the bassist may stay put hoping the singer gets back on track.  Now you have people in three different spots of the song while the drummer silently congratulates himself for choosing an instrument that doesn’t require the playing of notes.

If you are ever in the audience when this happens check out the expressions on the musician’s faces.  The pianist, with lips pursed and glowering eyebrows will be doing the slow burn, resembling a constipated ombudsman. The bass player will probably be stifling a laugh, while the drummer, having given up on the tune entirely, will be at the bar flirting with an out of work tarot card reader with breasts the size of basketballs.

To sum up, you have to have a sense of humor to play at a jam session.  Especially after receiving your paycheck.

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Give me that old time religion

Posted by keithosaunders on December 20, 2011

I played at a Sunday church service in Oakland.  It was a jazz-loving church and we interspersed a few songs amidst the Sunday sermon. 

I am a non-observant Jew, and someon who disdains most religions.  I have to admit, however, that sitting in that church listening to the reverend’s sermon, I found some facets of religion that are positive.  The sermon largely dealt with the virgin Mary, but the main crux of it was that Jesus is most interested in the downtrodden — the underdogs, so to speak.  That part of religion appeals to me — that there should be empathy for the less fortunate, and a spirit of brotherhood among all people.

But this is Oakland, where most folks empathize with the poor.  Where is this empathy in the mega churches of the South?  Where is it in the Catholic Church?  Where is it in Hasidic community, and in Israel where atrocities are committed against Palestinians?  And where is it in the Islamic community?

The problem, as usual, stems from ignorance.  A population whose mind is numbed by adherence to superstition and myth, is a pliant population.  You can do anything in the name of religion. 

 You would think, given my feelings of antipathy towards religion, that I would have found a kindred spirit in the late Christopher Hitchens, who began as a left-wing columnist, and became an outspoken critic of organized religion. 

Hitchens championed the Iraq war, long after it had proven to be a debacle of the highest order.  He was an avid supporter of murder, as long as the victim was Moslem.  Here he is celebrating American’s use of cluster bombs:

…those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won’t be able to say, ‘Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.’ No way, ’cause it’ll go straight through that as well. They’ll be dead, in other words.      

He wrote that  his reaction to the 9/11 attack was exhilaration because it would unleash an exciting, sustained war against what he came to call “Islamofascism”

With those words he has my utmost contempt.  What is the difference between him and the Moslem radicals that he rails against —  or Pope Innocent III instituting the Inquisition?

Hitchens was another in a long line of right-wing hacks — the only difference between him and garbage like Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck is that he possessed more intelligence.  He was a good writer and a glib speaker, but that does not diffuse the fact that he was as morally bankrupt as the Islamic radicals he wrote about.

It comes down to this:  Are you willing to condone or commit murder to further your own gains?  You can be a pope, an Ayatollah, or a writer — ultimately you’re an abomination.

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The joys of an empty stadium

Posted by keithosaunders on August 20, 2010

My second day living in the Bay Area found my son Lee and I making our debut appearance at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum. We saw the As play the Tampa Rays on a chilly, but delightful Thursday night.

I’m already in the California mindset of driving everywhere, but when my when my wife, Debra, suggested that we take the Bart, I was more than happy to avoid the rush hour traffic.

The Bart train has plush seats, is squeaky clean, very quiet, and surprisingly slow. They don’t run as often as the New York trains and they take an interminable time at the stations. That said, the train drops you off two minutes from the Coliseum and there is a ramp that takes you directly to the ticket booth. We bought field level seats in shallow right field for $26. In New York these same seats would have gone for $75 at Citi. God only knows what they get for them at Yankee Stadium – at least three figures.

Oakland’s stadium is not great. Look, it’s one of the older parks in the AL and it was built during the era of duel-use stadiums. That’s my diplomatic way of saying it’s a dump. Well…it’s not really a dump. They’ve done their best to spruce it up since the last time I was there, some 30 years ago. It’s clean and has good access from both the subway and parking lot. Best of all, it’s not crowded.

There is an embarrassing tarp over most of the upper deck seats – seats they can never expect to fill. At least they have green seats for a reason – the team’s colors are green and yellow. For some unexplainable reason most of the new parks around the league that have opened in the last ten years have chosen forest green for their seats, regardless of the team’s colors.

After several years of waiting on long lines to enter the stadium, being frisked, wanded, and unable to bring a backpack inside, it was refreshing to walk up to the ticket booth a half hour before game time, buy a good seat, walk right inside, and buy concessions that were surprisingly inexpensive. In New York I was exhausted before I arrived at my seat.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing like the electricity of being at a close, tense game in New York. The fans are raucous but they are smart and they have a great sense of humor. It’s just that in the aftermath of September 11th a lot of the joy went out of the experience. The New York fans are the best in the game, but the stadium experience, even with the new parks, is not that good. In Yankee Stadium they don’t even play Take Me Out To the Ballgame at the 7th inning stretch. Instead they remind you of the worst day in New York history by playing God Bless America.

The Oakland fans are small in number and are not nearly as vocal as the New York faithful. They are generally good-natured and seem to be very much into the game and their team. The feeling in the stadium was congenial and light-hearted.

The game was short and delightful. The As took an early lead but lost it on a pair of home runs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria. They came from behind, however, and mounted a 3 run 7th inning rally and went on to win 4-3.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that this is the first August baseball game I have attended wearing layers of long-sleeved shirts and sweaters. The temperature at the start of the game was a fall-like 57 degrees.

I now have my eyes on a midweek September day game versus the Chicago Whitesox. There’s liable to be less than 2,000 fans in attendance!

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