Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tour Diary: Jack DeJohnette U.K./Poland/Georgia 2012

Where we left off on the last tour
When I last left off from my Tour Diary, we were still on the European continent. I felt  a little guilty that I wasn't able to do a full feature on the tail end of our October tour, which took us to Ukraine. I'm finding some of the eastern places we have been going to be the most stimulating; also, some of the more appreciative audiences have been in these countries. (Perhaps many in the audience remember the times when they could not see or hear music from the West; therefore, they take it for granted less than other places.) Just to backtrack a bit, our last gig in October was in a city called Zaporozhe. We flew into Dnepropetrovsk, then we had to drive an hour to Zaporozhe on a very bumpy highway. As we drove, the promoters of the concert gave us vodka and bacon sandwiches. One of the promoters stood and gave a little speech to declare how the arrival of Jack DeJohnette and his group in their city was a truly momentous occasion. They presented DeJohnette with a crash cymbal in which they had engraved his name and a likeness of his face! They also told us that some people were coming from as far away as a 24 hour car ride to see the concert. After the standing room only show, we signed autographs for about an hour. I must say it feels good to see so much enthusiasm. (It's not always the case, believe me…)

After a few weeks back in Portland, catching up on my teaching and spending time with my family,
Marvin Sewell
we had another two weeks to go; this trip would take us first to England, a detour to Poland, back to England, and then a final gig in Georgia (the country and former Soviet territory, not the red state in America!) This trip would be a slightly different group; while I, DeJohnette, and bassist Jerome Harris would be returning, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa would be replaced by Don Byron on Eb clarinet and tenor saxophone, and David Fiuczynski would be replaced by guitarist Marvin Sewell. Furthermore, Harris was unable to do the last three gigs due to a prior commitment; his sub was British electric bassist Mike Mondesir. We played basically the same repertoire from the previous tour(all compositions by DeJohnette), however, Byron and Sewell naturally had a very different approach to the music. To my knowledge, there are few if any examples of Eb clarinet in jazz; it's used in symphony orchestras almost as an effect; works like Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring" or Berlioz' "Symphony Fantastique" are known for Eb Clarinet. It has a more intense, more shrill sound, which really worked well when Byron played melodies, some of which lean towards a Middle Eastern sound. Meanwhile, guitarist Sewell, whom you might know from his many years working with famed vocalist Cassandra Wilson, should probably win the "Most Underrated Guitarist" award. Indeed, Sewell's comping and improvising are extremely unique; his comping was very fluid and supple, almost like a piano, while his soloing had a jarring angularity which seemed to inspire DeJohnette into some uncharted territories. I found it to be a revelation; Sewell and I had actually toured together in the 90's as sidemen with Gary Thomas and Cassandra Wilson, respectively. This musical setting gave me more of a chance to hear Sewell open up. It was a pleasure to hear him create new interpretations of DeJohnette's music.

Overall, our tour was a success. However, the tour itself was bookended by travel nightmares. Well, that might be overstating it somewhat. I'm alive and uninjured, and that's something I truly appreciate. Nevertheless, I find the modern-day airline industry to be a huge rip-off. My first flight on Jet Blue from Portland had to be diverted from JFK in New York to Syracuse because of fog. Therefore, I missed my British Airways flight to London Heathrow. I called British Airways when I arrived in Syracuse and told them I would miss the flight. They told me that my entire itinerary would be cancelled and that I would have to purchase all new tickets. I said to the agent on the phone, "Wow, so you just rip people off?" They were saying that not only was my flight from JFK to Heathrow gone, but they would cancel the booking for Newcastle to London, London to Tbilisi, Tbilisi to London, and then my flight from London to JFK. Now, before you freak out and say " British Airways is a complete load of bollucks!", you'll be surprised to know that this is common practice with many airlines these days. If you miss the first flight, all subsequent flights need to be re-purchased. Luckily, the promoter in the U.K. took responsibility to the tune of, well let's just say a great deal of money. My belief is that this policy is completely unfair, and it shows a great example of what happens when corporations have more power than their customers. Honestly, the airline-passenger relationship these days is increasingly lopsided.

Your bag is overweight; you have to pay extra fees. We don't allow these instruments on board. Your carry-ons are too heavy. You are only allowed one piece of luggage and one personal item. Bags must be checked 45 minutes before departure. Boarding closes 15 minutes before departure. No liquids can go through security. If you want to change your itinerary, you have to pay a penalty. If you want to book a ticket over the phone, you have to pay extra. If you miss your flight, even if it's not directly your fault, you're screwed. Oh, and if we are delayed, or cancel a flight, or make a mistake of any kind, we aren't responsible in any way, so don't expect any apology or help from us. Unless you want to drive your car across the Atlantic Ocean or can make your own flying machine, you are basically at our mercy. And thank you for choosing British Airways.

I'll have more on the airlines in a moment. When I finally arrived in London, I was driven to a hotel where I napped for abut 2 hours. Then , I met up with Byron, Sewell, and Harris, and our driver Jean Berthon. We drove up to Manchester and met up with Dejohnette, his wife Lydia, and our road manager and soundman Paul Herwin. We had a soundcheck/ rehearsal, then a quick dinner, and then the show. Even though we had subs, the music was awesome from the get-go. After that, I was glad to get a good night's sleep in the hotel.

Queen Elizabeth Hall in London
The bulk of the tour was driving around jolly old England. Our travels took us to Leeds, Cambridge, and The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. (There is supposedly a link to the London gig; it was recorded by the BBC.) I had little time to see any of these places due to our daily schedule of checking out, driving, checking in, going to sound check, playing the gig, dinner, and back to the hotel. I was looking forward to seeing Cambridge, only because one of my favorite movies, "Chariots Of Fire", was set in Cambridge. I watched the movie for the 20th time on my ipad as we drove away. Oh well.

After London, the next gig was to be in Wroclaw, Poland. I was informed that we were flying Ryanair. If you aren't familiar with Ryanair, they are known in Europe as the super-budget airline, where you can buy a ticket from Ireland to Italy for literally 1 Euro. However, this so-called budget airline will try every which way to charge exorbitant extra fees for everything else. Their baggage weight restrictions are so tight that if you pack more than two shirts and a toothbrush, you get charged 100 bucks. If your carry-on bag is too heavy, they charge you for that. If you forget to print out your boarding pass, they charge you 93 dollars.(Look at this if you think I'm kidding.) Ryanair is the airline where they made headlines for considering charging for using bathroom on the flight. The
Michael O'Leary, CEO and clearly insane Irishman

Ryanair CEO and insane Irish business man Michael O'Leary has been heavily criticized for making outlandish and contradictory statements just to get attention. Although he may be a completely reprehensible, this business model of charging extra fees has spread throughout the airline industry and other industries as well. This quote from the Daily Mail article sums up perfectly my feeling as a traveler:

Where once you were a welcome guest, now you feel like a sucker being forced non-stop to pay out trifling amounts for trifling things.

Like I said before, the experience of air travel these days involves this very one sided relationship between you and the airlines. You want to go somewhere quickly, and they want to suck your blood until you are dead.

Obviously, Ryanair is tough for musicians because, unless your group involves piano and vocalists, you probably have some instruments. It says on Ryanair's website that they charge around 100 dollars per instrument. But I believe we we charged overweight, which is something like 20 dollars for every pound of overweight. The night before, to avoid overweight baggage fees, I completely repacked my suitcase and left many bags of clothing in our U.K. tour bus. I even left my pocket trumpet, as it would have counted as extra carry-on luggage, and I asked our tour manager to phone the promoter in Poland to find a trumpet for me to play. I'm guessing that the tight restrictions of the airlines will eventually lead to musicians like guitarist, bassists, brass and wind players having to play the instrument du jour whenever they tour. Some musicians do this already; most upright bassists don't bring a bass anymore.

When we finally arrived in Wroclaw, we had a little bit of a break. That evening, we went to a Cinema to see Bill Frisell and his band play music for a film about The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Afterwards, they took us to a great smokehouse restaurant, where we had delicious Polish sausages and other smoked meats. The maitre' d made a big deal about how "many restaurants around
Bill Frisell
here tell you they have a smokehouse. BUT THEY ARE LYING! I will SHOW you our smokehouse on the premises." Wow, they take their smokehouse pretty seriously, don't they......

I got up early the next morning and went for a two hour run. The nice people at the desk of the Radisson showed me a beautiful route near the Wroclaw Zoo. There was a really nice running path that went near a river and some gorgeous trees. It was very cold, but invigorating. And I saw many other runners out and about.

I found the Wroclaw audience to be extremely welcoming. Much like the aforementioned Zaporozhe audience, they seemed to really be starving for great music. After the performance, we went to a nice quiet Italian restaurant in the town center. (Apparently, this restaurant is where all the Polish celebrities go for dinner.) After that, we went to a jazz club where some local cats were playing what I suppose you would call "free jazz." I sat in on drums before calling it a night.

After another Ryanair flight back to the U.K. , we had some time in Birmingham, probably my favorite town in England. I spent one morning shopping for Bob The Builder toys for my son Liam. I had to go to five different stores, but I eventually found enough toys to bring home. Bob The Builder is my son's favorite show; however, the toys have been pushed father back in the inventory due to the rise of other popular kid's programs.

Our concert was in a hall within the Birmingham Conservatoire, where I've done a bunch or teaching over the past few years. This was the first of three gigs where bassist Mike Mondesir would replace Jerome Harris. Mondesir had some big shoes to fill, but he did a marvelous job. The sound at the gig was not optimal, but the music was pretty adventurous, nonetheless.

We had a long drive to Newcastle, in the north of England. This would be our last performance in the U.K. Although it was "bloody cold", I managed to get in a few good runs. We said goodbye to our driver and England and then it was off to Georgia. The flight was on British Airways, and after Newcastle to London, it was 4 and a half hours from London on an almost empty jet to Tbilisi. We arrived at around 4 in the morning. Luckily, a Georgian television crew was there to film a bunch of tired, disheveled looking dudes staggering out of the airport into taxis.

The biggest tragedy of the Tbilisi trip was that there was no time to see anything outside of the hotel. Although we did have dinner after the show at a Georgian restaurant, we ate lunch ironically at an

American style sports bar! And then it was time for sound check, etc... it was great to end the tour with the most euphoric audience on the tour. Everyone, especially DeJohnette, pulled out all the stops in front of the happy Georgians.

Flying back proved to be as problematic as my arrival; although we went Tbilisi to London without a hitch, my flight on Virgin to New York was cancelled, so they got me on a much later flight. This meant that I would miss my connecting flight to Portland, so I had to get a hotel in New York.

I was anxious to get back to Portland and see my family; however, it was nice to have an extra day in New York. I did a nice run from Canal Street to 125 St and back, which is 14.4 miles. It took two hours. I figured that was a good way to reminisce about my days in New York City.

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