The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Taro Okamoto’

Table-stand night

Posted by keithosaunders on February 19, 2016

table standBack when lived in New York my buddy, Taro Okamoto (a drummer) and I used to often ride together to gigs. Once while we were loading up the car after the gig he asked me, “What’s your number?” He meant how many pieces of equipment do I have to load. He had 6 pieces of gear to remember, I had/have 4.

I always load in the same order: keyboard, amp, cart, & stand – from heaviest to lightest. Yesterday, for some reason, I decided to load the stand first, but instead of putting it directly into the car I laid it against the passenger side and went back to my apartment to get the rest of my equipment. (you see where this is going)

When I arrived at the 7 Mile House Sports Bar & Grill for my gig with Peppe Merolla I opened my hatch and I found that the stand was not there. In a moment I realized where it was — lying on the sidewalk on Buchanan st in Albany. I sprang into action calling the other band members asking if they had a stand and could they bring it. Ollie Dudek brought one but it was a little rickety and wasn’t going to support that much weight.

So it was table-stand night for me. It was embarrassing but funny thing, it was the best damn sound I ever had. I’m wondering where I can buy a restaurant-grade table.

I left the gig with a good feeling until I realized…I had forgotten my jacket. D’oh! And so it begins…old age.


(All’s well that ends well!)
street stand


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Posted by keithosaunders on January 19, 2011

Here is a track from my trio CD, Lost In Queens.  I am very proud of date and think it is a good representation of my trio, which consists two of my all-time favorite musicians — Bim Strasberg on bass and Taro Okamoto on drums.

The Group

The CD is available here.

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The pinnacle — a gig at Shea Stadium!

Posted by keithosaunders on October 22, 2010

Here is it, folks, a scene from one of my greatest gigs:  A party that took place at Shea Stadium back in 2005.  It was a corporate event held in the diamond club, which was on the skinny level between the loge and reserved sections.  The club had windows which overlooked the stadium.  The party took place in February and there was actually snow on the field, but it did not photograph well since the stadium lights were off.  

Here, for your perusal and envy, I present a photo of the 1986 World Series trophy.  Note the look of pure adulation on my face and the austere pride and respect that drummer Taro Okamoto exhibits toward this hallowed artifact.  

Who knows when the next trophy will be displayed?  If Taro and I are lucky enough to live so long, and to play another such gig, the chances of us being ambulatory are slim at best.  At the very least we will be gray and venerated with the passage of time.  So let’s go Mets…we’re not getting any younger!

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The best buy for your buck? A drummer!

Posted by keithosaunders on June 22, 2010

This anecdote is brought to you by a drummer friend of mine, Taro Okamoto. He plays on my current CD, Lost In Queens, and is one of my favorite musicians.

A while back, a friend Taro’s needed him to facilitate the rental of a drum set.  The friend was arriving from Japan to play a gig, as well as a recording session and wanted to pick up a drum set in New York rather than have to bring his own. 

Taro called several music store only to find that the going rate for renting drums was $250.00.  There was an additional charge of $100.00 for cartage — $50.00 per trip to have the drums delivered and picked up from the venue.  

Now this is embarrassing to admit but most jazz gigs pay much less than $350.00   It would have been much cheaper for his friend to have hired a drummer and told him not to play, just to bring the drums!

$375.00                                                                                                                               Much cheaper!

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A few words about Hank Jones

Posted by keithosaunders on May 20, 2010

This week the world lost one of the great jazz pianists of all time — Hank Jones.  He was 91 years old.  Though he was born in Mississippi, he, along with his brothers, Thad and Elvin, grew up in Michigan, and he was one of the immense crop of musicians to emerge from the Detroit scene. 

When I think of Hank Jones I think of touch.  He had a smooth, gossamer sound that was personal and instantly identifiable.  He integrated the language of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker and infused it with an elegance and harmonic language which was second to none.  But always the touch;  light and airy, yet able to handle the fastest of tempos and the thorniest of harmony.

I remember learning some of his solos back when I was starting out.  They were surprisingly difficult — angular with odd intervals.  Very different from the other pianists I was studying — Bud Powell, Tommy Flanagan, and Kenny Drew.   I always wondered how he was able to execute those lines so deftly with legato phrasing. 

A confession:  Hank was not among my favorite of the great pianists.  I gravitated towards the more horn-like styles of Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, and Horace Silver.  It did not lessen my respect and admiration for him.  In fact it made me conscious of my own lack of subtlety and grace.  I did love his playing and the times I heard him play live were awe-inspiring.

I had a friend named Jon who was a Hank Jones freak — a vibes player from L.A.   Once Jon discovered Hank’s music it was all over for him.  He didn’t want to hear about any other pianist — he ate, drank, and slept Hank.   Jon spent hundreds of dollars on rare Hank Jones recordings — his prize was a live record done in Tokyo during the 1960s.   He transcribed dozens of Hank’s solos and compiled them into a book.    When Jon contacted Hank to let him know about the book of solos Hank was flattered, but bemused.  Hank wanted to know why he ever would want to play his own solos again! 

A good friend of mine, drummer Taro Okamoto, knew Hank and played with him.  By all accounts Hank was not only a brilliant musician, but a gentleman who was down to earth and had a great sense of humor.   Warmth that is forever evident in his music.

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The first gig

Posted by keithosaunders on May 16, 2010

Lately, because of  my impending move, I have been thinking a lot about ‘lasts’ —  my last Spring, my last days of teaching, even my last trip to Roosevelt Island where my kids have been a part of a theatre group for the past several years.  This led me to think about some firsts.  With this in mind I’m going to write a few words about my first gig in New York City.

I moved to New York in April of 1984 but it wasn’t until that summer that I got called for my first gig.  A singer named Judy Niemack called me to play with her as part of her trio at a bar in Brooklyn.  She was extremely talented and easy to work with.  The bass player was Joel Forbes, a great player, and the drummer, Taro Okamoto, would become a good friend and band-mate several years later in the Richie Vitale Quintet, as well as the drummer in my current trio. 

We played at a joint in Brooklyn called Cousins.  Thankfully it no longer exists, but it managed to stay open long enough for me to grow to hate it.  And believe me, it didn’t take too many gigs for this to occur.  Cousins was a crowded neighborhood bar in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn that  had jazz five or six nights a week.  Nobody there really cared for the music which made you wonder why they went to the trouble to have it.  The patrons loudly conversed over the music and the surely employees and managers barely tolerated the musicians.  It was all we could do to get the bartender’s attention to order a coke.  In those days I didn’t drink that much on gigs so I can’t remember what their drink policy was.  They probably charged us double.   I do recall playing there once when there was a prize-fight on TV.  The large screen was positioned directly in front of the bandstand.  We kept on playing and they kept on not listening.

I can’t recall that much of the actually gig except for the fact that I felt uncomfortable not knowing anybody.  I didn’t play that well, but I wasn’t terrible either.  After the gig I got a ride back into Manhattan and we all stopped in at an Upper East Side club called Gregory’s where Judy’s boyfriend, a pianist named Tardo Hammer was playing a duo gig.  Tardo is also someone I would know throughout my entire time in New York and he is one of the best pianists in the city. 

I have a gig with my trio in midtown coming up at the end of July.  I don’t expect to leave town until the second week of August, but wouldn’t it be something if my first and last gig had the same drummer?

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One night at Small’s

Posted by keithosaunders on May 13, 2010

There are less than three months remaining in my 26 year stint in New York City.  To this end almost every gig I do is a last of some sort.  On Tuesday I had my last trio gig at Small’s, the popular Village basement club which, for the past 17 years has been home base to some of the city’s best musicians.  These are people I have had the pleasure of knowing, hanging out with, as well as playing with.  To name a few:  Joe Magnarelli, Sasha Perry, Neal Minor, Grant Stewart, and Chris Byars.

Small’s has a vibe to it.  It is a serious vibe — the unspoken sentiment is that if you gig there you had better be dealing.  At times it can feel clubby, or clique-ish, but no more so than other jazz clubs in New York.  Overriding all is the feeling of reverence and respect for the music that has existed at Small’s since its inception.   It is a comfortable place with excellent acoustics and I have felt at home there for the past several years.

All of this is a long preamble to stating how important it was for me to have a good last gig there.  I needed to take a positive memory with me out west because I know that may well be quite some time before I find another club that I care about so much. 

Tuesday was one of the rare nights that I was able to execute my ideas with a fluid connection between trio, audience, and myself.  I felt that I had all the chops I needed, but I also felt the ability to leave space and not to overplay.  There was little of the self-consciousness that can sometimes invade my playing when I am concerned with extraneous distractions, and I was able to interject my personality into the music. 

As is the case with my playing I always can find places for self-criticism and the other night was no exception.  The difference was that I felt that what came out of the piano was a true representation of where I am at musically and emotionally.  I was comfortable in my skin and I liked what I played — what more could I ask for?

I owe a great part of this feeling of comfort to the musicians that I was performing with.  Bim Strasberg, Taro Okamoto, and I have been playing as a trio for the past six years and we not only get along personally, but musicially.  Not having to worry about the hookup is a luxury.  

There’s something about having a working band that I have always loved.  I like the ease of calling tunes and the sense of camaraderie.  That’s not to say that great things do not occur with musicians that you only play with sporadically.  Sometimes the newness of the hookup can provide electricity and freshness.  But if I have my choice I will always opt for a working band. 

 In New York I am a small fish in a big pond — the biggest pond, in fact.  In Smalls I am also a small fish.  Almost every pianist who plays there is a motherfucker.  Although I am not the biggest fish, I take great pride in being among these marvelous musicians.  I am one of them.  If it took 26 years to feel this way, well it was worth the wait.  

Tuesday was a good night.

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