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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Compromising Position

This week I’ve been playing the after hours gig at Dizzy’s with the Richie Vitale Quintet.  The gig consists of one set beginning at midnight during the week, and 1AM on the weekends. (last night we didn’t begin until 1:45)  What a pleasure it is to play five nights in a row.  You can spend the first night getting used to the sound of the room and not feel that you have to play everything you know in 60 minutes.  

Since  the headline act is the Christian McBride big band the piano is pushed all the way to the left edge of the stage,  As a result the bench is closer to the keyboard than prefer. I feel like one of those Florida seniors driving his Cadillac with the seat pushed all the way up to the dashboard.  It's actually somewhat nerve-wracking since the chair is so close to the lip of the stage.  If I were one of those pianist who bounced around I would be in grave danger of taking a tumble.  Can you picture the opening of the new, modern Wide World of Sports?  Instead of the skier careening down the mountain you would see me in slow motion falling head-over-chair off the stage.

I prefer to sit back from the piano so that my forward momentum carries me towards the instrument — this setup has me in the Bill Evans position.  There’s nothing I can do about it so I’m making the best of it.  At one point I decided to go with the flow and I moved even closer to the piano — so much that my upper body was over the piano lid almost into the strings.  I was up in that piano’s kitchen, practically having sex with it.  I know this because as I was playing I could hear embarrassed laughter coming from the audience.  I didn’t care — I was in the moment, humping that Steinway 8 to the bar

10:11 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Trumpet Tocatta

Every once in a while I go on a youtube binge.  Tonight I spent an hour watching jazz videos, primarily Freddie Hubbard, but also some Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea.  With Freddie I am amazed not only at his chops but how fluid he was.  The notes streamed out in concise ideas and there was an electricity about him.   Every trumpet player wanted to be him. 

In my younger days I was drawn to the more mercurial sax players — Bird, Sonny Rollins, and Hank Mobley.  As I grow older I find myself leaning more towards the trumpet.  They can’t play as many notes as the sax — they have to come up for air — so their lyricism comes into sharper definition.  I really noticed it with Freddie tonight.  How he would play a phrase and step back, gearing up for the next one.   As a pianist they are more rewarding to accompany.  They leave space for your chords and the timber of their instrument compliments that of the piano. 

What put me off to trumpet in my younger days – the cockiness, which I took for arrogance — is now something which I appreciate.  You must be cocky to play that instrument, just as you have to be cocky to quarterback a football team.  Of course you have to be cocky to play jazz, period, but as a pianist you know that you are going to get a sound and you are buffered from the audience by virtue of your instrument.   Trumpeters are on the front lines — if they crack a note there is no hiding.

1:20 pm est          Comments

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Yeah, man

You may not realize it by our gruff exteriors, but us musicians are a fragile bunch.  Our egos are akin to a high performance sports car,requiring constant attention.  This self-esteem, or lack thereof, needs to be tweaked and kept in tune.  To this end, I have to say that you, the audience, do not always do your job.   

I will grant you, kind reader and prospective audience member, that not every venue demands the rapt attention of, say, a Carnegie Hall, but c’mon –  e little applause between shovelling in linguine and swilling down that house wine wouldn’t kill you.  Here we are — the musicians — and we’re giving, and we’re giving, and we’re giving some more.  What the hell are you doing to add to the urbane experience?!  Are you bringing your A game or are you merely phoning it in? 

The musicians understand, however, that there are times when we are going to have to self-medicate, and by this I do not necessarily mean getting loaded.   Let me offer an example:  The song ends – a beautiful, introspective ballad replete with verse, solos, and coda.  


What do we do?  I'll tell you what we do.  Piano player turns to the bass player and.using his best hipster voice intones, ”Yeahhhhhh.”  

At this point you might be thinking “how pathetic.”  You’re wrong.  Somebody has to say some fuckin’ thing!  If it’s not you it will have  to be one of us.  The band I play with on Thursdays and Sundays  has found the perfect solution.  After the song ends if there is no applause, or just a little applause, we turn to each other and say “BASTARDS!”  Very cathartic.  I’m surprised more cats don’t use this one.

11:22 am est          Comments

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Superbowl XI: The Keying.

I went to Super Bowl XI.  It was the Minnesota Vikings 4th quixotic appearance and they played John Madden's Oakland Raiders at the Rose Bowl.  The Vikings had won their division eight out of the past nine years and had been to the big game three times.  Each time they were soundly defeated.  The Kansas City Chiefs, the Miami Dolphins, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had taken their turns at a Viking smackdown.  This was the Raider's second trip, having lost Superbowl II to the legendary Green Bay Packers. 

When we arrived at our seat we found that O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris sat 6 rows above us.  Both were still NFL players.  Little did we now that O.J. would one day change history, forever altering our perception of freeway chase.  Back then he was known as a great running back and pitchman.

 Early in the game the Vikings had a chance to draw first blood when they blocked a Ray Guy punt, recovering it at the Raiders 3 yard line.  They proceeded to fumble  the ball right back to the Raiders and shortly thereafter the rout was on.  Fred Biletnikoff caught three touchdown passes and the Raiders rolled to a 32-7 win.

We had parked at the house of the district attorney of Los Angeles -- a friend of my Uncle's --  two blocks from the Rose Bowl.  After the game we discovered that we had been parked in by a Chevy Nova and my crazy cousin, never one excercise patience, became so upset that he keyed the guys car.  He was like a caged animal and we stared in rank amazement as he vandalized a strangers car. 

That was the first and only Superbowl I went to.  There was no rock-star halftime show, no full body cavity search upon entering the arena, and no MVP prattling on about Disneyland in the post-game interview.  Just a bunch of crazed, over-sized freaks playing a kid's game without even the aid of an instant replay booth review.  

10:57 am est          Comments

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

ALCOA presents: Keitho's Super Bowk Memories!

Cue the gladiator music!

I watched Super Bowl XII -- Cowboys vs Broncos -- with my Dad and my then-girlfriend, Lauri, who surprised us by knowing an unusually large amount about veteran quarterback Craig Morton.  That game featured Denver's "Orange Crush" defense vs Dallas' "Doomsday" defense.  Dallas won in a rout: 27-10.   

In 1980 I had a gig with the great drummer, Roy McCurdy, at a jazz club in Malibu -- Pasquale's -- and the band watched the game in the bass players apartment above the club.   The Steelers were playing in their 4th Super Bowl and this was the L.A. Rams only Super Bowl.  (As the St. Louis Rams thy played in two more in the 90s.)  The Rams acquitted themselves well and were actually winning to start the 4th quarter when Terry Bradshaw and receiver John Stallworth took over the game.  Final: 31-19 Steelers.

Five years later I would watch Super Bowl XIX -- 49ers vs Dolphins -- with saxophonist Richie Cole on Widby Island, which is off the coast of Seattle in Washington State. We were on tour and were off that night.  Friends of Richie's had a place and agreed to put us up so we took a short ferry ride to the island and watched Dan Marino's only ever Super Bowl performance.  Another rout.  Final: 38-16 49ers.

11:51 am est          Comments

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