The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Richie Vitale’

Night on the town

Posted by keithosaunders on July 7, 2011

I’ve been back east for three weeks now so i figured it was time to hit some of the ol’ spots.  I was upstate for a week, but for the most part I have been holed up in the Bronx watching baseball games. 

I decided I owed myself a night on the town so I took the subway down from Pelham Parkway to West 72nd street from which I walked down to 49th street to eat at my favorite Japanese soup kitchen, Sapporo. 

Last Sunday I attended a lecture on the British Invasion given by a trio of authors.  I had a great time and thought it was a fascinating subject.  It made me want to attend more lectures, particularly politically themed. 

 I spent ten minutes on google and came up with a reading at Bryant Park given by a history professor at CCNY who had written a book on Walt Whitman and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  

Much of the lecture had to do with the great influence that Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the abolition movement.  The professor claimed that it caused such a stir that it set into motion events that culminated in the civil war. 

I would say it was a good, but not great lecture, owing to the fact that the professor was reading from prepared text, and he wasn’t that engaging of a speaker.  Still, I enjoyed it enough to want to go to more lectures.  I have to admit, though, I was the youngest person there by a good 15 years.  And I’m 50!

After the lecture I took a subway down to the Lower East side to see my friend, and trumpet player, extraordinaire, Richie Vitale, play at a brand new club called The Moldy Fig.  It is a beautiful venue, and although it was sparsely attended, the music was great.  I sat in on three tunes. 

Afterwards I went to Small’s, which is in the Village.  There I saw a great trio led by pianist Mike LeDonne.  

After his set I ran into the drummer, Gerry Gibbs, who is the son of vibest, Terry Gibbs.  I have known Gerry since I was a senior in high school.  At that time he was a 13 year old phenom.  Gerry recalled that we had our first gig at a local McDonald’s.  We were paid in food, but there were certain high-price items, such as large coke, that we were forbidden from ordering.  Gerry’s memory is so good that he actually recalls, note for note, the bass line that my friend Milo used to play.  You might think he could hum any old notes and who’s to argue?  The thing is that they ring a bell with me.  I actually believe he remembers it!

I hung out until 1:30 before beginning on my return sojourn to the Bronx.  The train crawled along at the speed of a covered wagon.  All and all it was a 90 minute trip and I finally arrived home at 4AM.

A good night.

Stanton st on the Lower East Side

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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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Smalls one last time

Posted by keithosaunders on July 13, 2010

My time in New York City can now be measured in weeks.  Although we do not have a definite departure date it is safe to assume that we are under  four weeks away from leaving.  We have yet to rent our apartment which, of course, is a source of great stress.  We are planning trading in our Subaru and leasing a bigger vehicle for the cross-country trip.  There will be four humans and one dog and we would like to minimize the sardine effect as much as possible.  Our oldest boy will not be travelling with us.  Instead he will fly out with a friend and spend some time in San Francisco at his friend’s aunt’s house.   

I first played at the jazz club Small’s with the HardBop Quintet shortly after it opened in 1993.  I remember going down to west 10th st to talk with the owner, Mitch Borden.  When I  met Mitch he was sitting outside on a chair playing violin.  He invited me downstairs to play for him and I remember we played together, though I can’t remember what we played.

The first time we played at Smalls there were just a few people in the audience but Mitch hired us back for the next month and we soon became part of the rotation, playing several times a year.  Gradually the business built up until it became unusual for the club not to be crowded.

In the early days Smalls had no bar and the chairs were arranged haphazardly throughout the basement club.  There were various couches and comfy chairs placed in nooks and crannys for people to plop down in.  For a small venue it was amazing how many such corners it had.  There were even secret alcoves and storage areas that actually served as crash pads — makeshift apartments — for down out musicians.  There was a heavy steel door in the back — it looked like an entrance to a supermarket freezer — which opened into one such storage area that served as a practice room.  It actually contained an upright piano. 

By 1995 Small’s had caught on and was crowded most every night — packed with college students, serious young musicians, and jazz fans.  It became a nurturing ground for young musicians, as well as a home base to some of the older masters, such as Jimmy Lovelace, Frank Hewitt, and Harry Whitaker.

There were times when the musicians, audience, and even the club itself could have an attitude.  Almost always, however, you could hear a pin drop during the sets.  This set it apart from many smaller jazz spots in which conversation was not discouraged.  

Smalls was a serious place in the best sense of the word.  You had young lions desperate to be heard, but with the passion to hang out night after night until five or six in the morning, learning, absorbing, and living jazz.  Not one of them was less than 100 percent committed to the music. 

In 2007, after Small’s had been closed for  a couple of years, the pianist Spike Wilner, and his partner, Lee Kostrinsky, bought Small’s and reopened it.  They remodeled it and added a full bar complete with tap beer.  They hired a much more diverse group of musicians — Mitch was partial to straight ahead bebop — but the standard of playing remains as  high as ever.  In my opinion it is, hands down, the best club in New York City.

 All of this is a long preamble to saying that I have played my final weekend at Smalls as a New York City musician.  If I play there again it will be as a Californian on tour, or on a visit.  I worked with the Richie Vitale Quintet, a group I have had the pleasure of playing with for almost ten years.  We had a great gig and the audiences were generous and appreciative.  It was fitting that towards the end of the final set of the weekend Richie called That’s All.  I thought it would be the last tune of the night but he ended with a medium tempo I Got Rhythm.  I wanted to scream “No!  You’re ruining the poetry!”  Instead I held my tongue. 

It’s going to take a lifetime to find a club in which I feel as home at, and as connected to.  I may never find one.

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