The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Van Nuys’

Memory lane

Posted by keithosaunders on July 1, 2016

A few weeks ago my brother called me and asked if I remembered Maria’s last name.  Maria lived down the street from where we grew up in Van Nuys, California, which is a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley.  Maria was best friends with Melonie and one summer when we were all 11 or 12 we hung out together.  Melonie’s mom was super hot –  a voluptuous  Meredith Baxter Birney-esque blond 30-something.  Even our pre-pubescent selves could recognize greatness.

Melonie and Maria were inseparable.  Our Dad nick-named them the Bobbsey Twins, which we thought was funny even though we didn’t know who or what the Bobbsey Twins were.  We spent most of that summer at Melonie’s pool hoping that the Mom would be home.  Nothing ever happened between us and the girls — it was still too soon for that.

But the next summer there was Cheryl and Laurie.  They were another set of friends that lived even closer — 4 houses away instead of 10. Cheryl introduced us to kissing – both my brother and I.  We would take turns in our backyard.  (What was she, the town trollope?!)  Soon we were discovered by my Mom who put a stop to it.

So we reconnoitered at Laurie’s house down the street. One afternoon Laurie had a great idea:  “Say, why don’t we all take off our clothes and march around the room?”  That was a crackerjack idea!  So we stripped off our clothes and began marching around Laurie’s room, Cheryl, Laurie, my brother and I, like a libidinous coed ROTC.  John Philip Sousa would have been proud.

After a couple of minutes we were busted by Laurie’s mom.  Why couldn’t we have been a little more discreet?! Thus concluded our summer hijnx of 1972.

Now if anybody out there knows Maria’s last name will you get back to me?

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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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Remembering Donte’s

Posted by keithosaunders on December 12, 2010

I began learning jazz improvisation when I was 15, studying under a vibes player named Charlie Shoemake.  I had studied classical piano since the age of 7 and although I had accomplished quite a bit in that span of time, I had become frustrated and disenchanted with my playing.  In fact, I had stopped practicing. 

When I began learning jazz it felt like a great weight had been lifted.  Technically it seemed less demanding than classical music.  Aside from a little trouble reading the syncopated rhythms, I found it to be much easier than Bartok and Bach.  Later on, when I realized that I had to get my ideas across at breakneck tempos with drum and bass accompaniment, I would find it much more challenging.

After I had been studying for a year Charlie suggested that I hear some live music.  There was a club not far from where I lived called Donte’s which was a long-standing San Fernando Valley hot spot located in North Hollywood, about five miles from where I grew up in Van Nuys.  Underaged people such as myself could attend Donte’s owing to the fact that they served food which removed it from having a “bar” status. 

One spring night my dad drove my friend Daryl (a sax player) and I to Donte’s to hear my teacher’s band.  Many great Los Angeles musicians played there, as well as east coast cats passing through on tour. I was lucky to catch the last quarter of its 23 year existence before it finally closed in the late ’80s.  I saw Cedar Walton play there with teh saxophonist Bob Berg.  I saw the Harold Land and Blue Mitchell group, Bobby Shew, Ted Curson, Art Pepper, Warne Marsh, Lew Tabackin, and many more. 

Donte’s was close to where I lived and not too expensive.  It was a heady experience to be a teenager and hanging out at a jazz club.  It felt like I was a member of a private club in which the rest of the world knew next to nothing about.  Come to think of it, 30 years later it still feels that way; especially when you take into consideration the empty seats!

I still remember the personnel in the band I saw that first night.  Pete Christlieb was the tenor player: a fiery, yet melodic musician who played in the Tonight Show Band.  He also played one of the most famous sax solos ever on a rock record on Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues. 

Terry Trotter was the pianist.  After high school I went back to studying classical music, this time with Terry.  He had a relaxed, holistic apporach to his teaching and he was nothing less than inspiring, both as a teacher and a pianist.

Andy Simpkins was the bassist, and Dick Berk was on drums.  A few years later Dick and I would become very close friends playing dozens, if not hundreds of gigs in L.A.  I was the first pianist in his band, The Jazz Adoption Agency.  I was also the pianist at his wedding where I managed to screw up the changes to Easy To Love, which was the song that he and his wife marched down the aisle to.  How embarrassing.  Dick, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!

 Everything about Donte’s seemed cool to me.  From the dark lighting, to the leather booths, to the haze of the cigarette smoke.  The best part was the proximity of the audience to the bandstand. We were literally on top if the band in our front row table and you could hear the musicians joke to one another in a loose, nonchalant way.  Of course we couldn’t understand what they were talking about but that didn’t matter to us.  We loved that the musicians would interact with us; they would acknowledge our presence. They seemed like stars to us, yet here they were talking to us and even joking around or teasing us. 

The sound of it.  I hadn’t thought it would be loud, but it was.  We sat mere feet from the band and the music came at us with an urgency and vibrancy that, to my 16-year-old ears, had been lacking from my stereo.  It wasn’t the ear-splitting cacophony of arena rock, but it wasn’t chamber music either.  It felt substantial; like it had meat on its bones.

About a year later I would sit in with Charlie and the alto player Ted Nash.  Ted was Charlie’s best student and somebody I looked up to and he has gone on to have a great career in New York City.  I remember that even though sitting at the piano was only a few feet from my front row table, the sound and feel were completely different.  Between the bright presence of the sax, the cymbals, and the amplified bass, it felt like being in the middle of a tornado and it was difficult to get comfortable.  It was an entirely different feeling than practicing in my den or playing duets in Charlie’s studio.  Yet it was thrilling.  I’m sure that I overplayed and was every bit the callow 16 year old, but it didn’t matter.  I had gotten my feeet wet. 

Seeing Ted, as well as his pianist, Randy Kerber, who were both a year older than I, made me feel like with a lot of hard work I could be playing gigs as well.  At that time music seemed flush with possibility.  

Those first gigs that I attended probably had as much to do with my becoming serious about jazz than anything else.  I had the right teacher and now I had a place where I could hear and see the music performed, and occasionally sit in with the band.  The music was accessible, and soon it would be attainable.

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You can’t go home again

Posted by keithosaunders on November 25, 2010

I’m writing from Las Vegas where I am visiting my Dad.  I was happy to able to avoid humiliation at the hands of the TSA by driving down instead of flying.  The road is where I thrive and if I never had to fly again it would be OK with me.  

Funny thing about driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas;  there is no direct route.  You have to drive miles out of your way because there isn’t a road that cuts through southeast through the San Gabriel Mountains.  You end up driving around the horn and it is a 10 hour trip.  On my way, in order to break up the driving, I stopped off in my hometown of Los Angeles and had dinner with some old friends at a restaurant in Sherman Oaks.  (I couldn’t believe that Hamburger Hamlet is still there right around the corner on Van Nuys blvd!) 

I could not resist stopping off at the house on Runnymede street where I grew up in Van Nuys.  It was my first time seeing it since my folks sold it in 1993.  Driving down Sherman Way was jarring and sad.  Almost every store is different.  I don’t know why I would have expected otherwise.  In New York I lived on Broadway and 108th street from 1987-90.  Ten years later almost every store had turned over.  
The first thing that struck me about my old block was how wide it seemed.  Isn’t that odd?  Things are supposed to appear smaller to you once you’ve grown up.  This was probably due to having lived in the east for so long where streets are narrow.  The street itself was still pretty with lots of large, leafy trees and plenty of flower gardens.  The upkeep of the houses were hit and miss.  Some were surprisingly nice looking.  Mine wasn’t.  In the front yard, where once had been a rose-bush, were overgrown weeds.  The house had been painted an ugly shade of dark brown.  Brown!   Once, during a storm, a tree fell on the side of the house.  We had replaced it with a baby tree which had thrived and tripled in size by the time we moved out.  That tree had been cut down. 

The ivy at the neighbor’s house across the street, where we lost dozens, if not hundreds of baseballs, was gone as was the ivy next door.  I guess the California ivy craze is officially over.   I went to the back where our basketball court had been, where once I had listened to Vin Scully announce June Dodger games while shooting free throws.  I still remember the radio sponsors —  the Olympia beer jingle and the Farmer John slogan are forever embedded in my psyche.  There was a cement wall which still exists but it looked pretty run down back there.  No one was home so I didn’t get to see the inside.
Then I went two houses down to see if our neighbor still lived there.  It looked like nobody was home but all of a sudden a car pulled up and there she was!  She didn’t recognize me at first but she was surprised and happy to see me.  She invited me in and made me breakfast.  Her house looked much as I remembered it — the back yard almost exactly.  The best part was that even though she must be 80 she appears to be vibrant and in good health.  

 Here at my Dad’s we have been looking at tons of old photos.  I have seen several of old school friends, as well as family photos taken years before I was born.  Some even go back to the turn of the century.  How amazing to see old New York addresses on the photo paper — addresses I knew well from my years in that city.

There was a photo of my 6th grade class at Hazeltine Elementary School with Mrs Willet.  I couldn’t remember the names of most of the people but I recognized, Nancy Weiss, Peter Martin, Jim Ararian, and Richard Docherty.  My Dad, though he is 83 and cannot remember what he ate for dinner last night,  puts me to shame in the memory department.  When we looked at the photos of his boyhood Camp Mohaph he remembered almost every name.  
So it’s been somewhat of a melancholy trip for me.  It’s great to see old friends, as well as my father, but sad to think of the time that has elapsed and all the people who aren’t in our lives any more. 

No matter, it’s time for turkey.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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