Keith on the corner of Main and Center in Pocatello, Idaho (Photo by the late Craig Worth)

Modern Minstrel

The Backdrop


Keith on stage with Natalie Cole (first row, far right)



Unexpected Twists

Keith on Main and Center, Pocatello

"It's been great to have the opportunity of having Keith with us. He is very talented and a wonderful human being.  I really hope this is the beginning of a lot of projects together in the future!"

—Bruno Valenti, Composer

"It was an absolute pleasure working with you, and you did such a wonderful job with the amazing, beautiful music which Bruno composed.  Definitely hope to work with you again in the future!"

—Claire Elizabeth Terry, Writer/Director

My dad was an aeronautical engineer who couldn't carry a tune.  My mother was a medical administrator who sang beautifully but wouldn't tolerate a piano in the house.  When I was 8 years old, they rented me a clarinet and bought me a Pete Fountain album, from which I learned my first jazz song on the same day I received it.  It wasn't till the first day in band class that I realized by looking at the other students that I had my mouthpiece upside-down.  (YouTube, where were you when I needed you?)  I learned Fountain's songs album by album, which I received each birthday.

To satisfy my thirst, my parents paid for private lessons.  They were proud and supportive but expected me to become a doctor.  Despite their strong objections, after my first year of college, I changed my major from pre-med to music at the University of California Irvine, training classically, and eventually earning a Bachelor of Music degree from Biola University in 1979.

Concerned that a profession in music would jeopardize my family life, and not wanting to teach at the time, I took other jobs.  The jobs were diverse, bearing no resemblance to a "career path", but they were at least interesting—drug store clerk, bank teller, blood delivery driver, draftsman, technical illustrator, computer programmer, CAD/CAM facility supervisor, plumber's helper, worship leader, pastor, technical director, substitute teacher, administrative assistant, office manager, and document development manager, among other things.  I even trained to be a court reporter.  I learned much about business, people, life, and myself.  Even when it wasn't related to my job,  I pursued music, enjoying a number of musical accomplishments for which I am grateful.

Music is now my only profession.


​Jazz on a Stick

Keith at Citrus City Grille, Corona, CA

​(Photo by Robert Bell)

For jazz, I mainly played in big bands, which were of the post-'70s style, only touching on pre-1970s jazz as a novelty.  So, the classics featuring clarinet were rare.

In 2009, I was part of a southern gospel-style band, Servant's Heart, led by my good friend, the late George Reynolds.  I was contracted to play in a 1940s-style big band show.  While playing the Benny Goodman solo on "Sing, Sing, Sing" I thought, "I don't know if I'll ever get to play this solo again". 

That year, things changed.

I started The BlackWood Jazz Combo with George, my son Blake, and Eric Pittman, with our first gig of six songs on July 4th.  A whole new world opened.  The following year I was playing jazz several nights a week with my combo and with Chuck Ousley in Orange County.  I started busking with Eric.  Lia Booth started singing jazz wth us.  I started playing with The New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band of Los Angeles.  I backed Natalie Cole and Michael W. Smith in concert.

Even with things going so well, Pam and I moved to Idaho in 2015 to satisfy deeper longings.  Unexpectedly, from playing on the street in Old Town Pocatello, I met the players I have formed new bands with:  Rail City Jazz and Jazz on a Stick.

In 2020, I planned to travel to New Orleans via Austin, Nashville, Kansas City, and St. Louis on a busking tour to launch a new video blog, "Traveling Light", highlighting jazz history and cool destinations.  I also planned to visit Europe with The Dewdroppers.  However, the pandemic changed everything, and I am now regrouping to determine my next steps.

See Facebook (in the windows on this page) for the latest news . . .

Across the street he stood / And he played real good / On his clarinet for free
—Joni Mitchell, “For Free” (click to listen)


One of the things I enjoy most as a musician is playing on the street (busking) because of its spontaneity and connection with people.  While playing on a corner in Ouray, Colorado, in 2018, a woman came up to me excitedly and told me I reminded her of Joni Mitchell's song, "For Free", and asked me if I knew it.  I didn't.  When I looked it up, I was deeply touched, recognizing the important role I play as a "modern minstrel".

Minstrels were musicians, instrumentalists, improvisers, composers, entertainers, historians, storytellers, poets, travelers, ministers, philosophers, artists, and more.  They lived simply and traveled light.  Reflecting on my own path, I see many similarities to this ancient and honorable calling.​