Travellin’ Light

Taylor Ho Bynum
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Taylor Ho Bynum
Taylor Ho Bynum                                                           Tomas Fujiwara©2007

Though he is best known as a cornetist, Taylor Ho Bynum plays various brass instruments. As a composer, Bynum collaborates with artists in dance, film, and theater and leads his own Trio, Sextet, and the nine-piece SpiderMonkey Strings. He is a curator of the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT). Bynum also regularly performs with Anthony Braxton – a new edition of their duo CD, Duets (Weslayan) 2002, has been released by Innova. Additionally, he has ongoing collaborations with Joe Morris, Miya Masaoka and others. He is featured on over forty recordings, including the recently issued True Events (482 Music), an album of duets with Tomas Fujiwara, The Middle Picture (Firehouse 12), featuring his Sextet and Trio, and Live in Oxford (FMR), the debut of The Convergence Quartet, a cooperative with Harris Eisenstadt, Alexander Hawkins and Dominic Lash (the latter is reviewed in this issue’s Moment’s Notice). Forthcoming releases include albums by Bynum-Stephen Haynes co-led Double Trio on Engine, and by Thirteenth Assembly, a quartet with Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone and Fujiwara on Important. Bynum maintains an information-rich, frequently updated site at:

What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

As primarily a cornet/flugelhorn player, I can almost always carry on my horns, which is a relief. When I’m bringing multiple horns and am forced to check some of them, they almost invariably show up after the gig. I’ve heard nightmare stories about most carriers, so I think the difficulties are across the board. I generally hate how the cultivated fear of “terror” becomes an excuse for gross incompetence.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I’ve recently discovered the joys of fasting while traveling, which saves me from the airline food. The worst seating is whenever you get the last row seats, next to the bathroom, so they don’t lean back and it smells funny. Or a red-eye flight to London I once had with literally five sets of infant children surrounding me on every side. I think it is less the airline then the specific context that can make the flights insufferable.

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

The craziest experience I ever had was in Frankfurt. We had missed our connection, then they sent us to four different gates at every corner of the airport. When we finally got to the right gate just as they started boarding, they informed us that we needed paper tickets, not electronic and had to get those at the front ticket counter, maybe a half mile away. I had to madly sprint there and back, looking like a crazy person, and got back with literally seconds to spare. There’s nothing like running at top speed through a crowded airport after an overnight flight to get the adrenaline flowing.

What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

I actually left my horn at Tonic one night (way back when I was still playing trumpet, and back when Tonic still existed), and arrived in Connecticut at 3am that night for the next day’s gig, and while unloading the car had the unfortunate realization. I had to play the next gig all on pocket trumpet. I had a friend who lived in near Tonic who picked the trumpet up for me the next day, and amazingly, the horn sat by the door of the club for 24 hours in the Lower East Side without getting stolen. Sadly, I didn’t really learn from the experience, and just last February left my flugelhorn sitting in the airport in Vienna. I didn’t realize until I had checked into the hotel and was looking for my valve oil (“Oh yeah, it’s in my flugelhorn case. Wait, where the *#%^ is my flugelhorn case!”). Again, the gods smiled upon me, and despite my great idiocy, the horn was still at the airport lost and found.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

By far the most painful was when I was traveling with Anthony Braxton, and he had a rare f-alto saxophone stolen…his case showed up on the baggage carousel stripped clean of the horn. I was amazed at how calm he remained, that was a lesson for me in true road Zen. I’ve had horns show up after the gig, or gotten bags back weeks after I returned, but nothing as bad as that.

What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

Sad to say, I don’t think any country hassles non-citizens nearly as much as the old USA. It’s incredibly depressing to watch my friends who are non-US citizens be subjected to interrogations and fingerprinting going through customs when we return home.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Man, I grew up in Boston. No other driving anywhere will ever get as bad as that.

What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

I stayed at a hotel in London with a great movie collection, watching Dr. Strangelove the night before a big concert puts you in the proper mood. I also stayed at a beautiful luxury hotel in Argentina where all the rooms were named after jazz musicians. (It was ironic, considering that the rooms named after the musicians were probably 10 times nicer than the rooms those musicians usually got to stay in on tour.) Though I was a little disappointed, I was put in the Illinois Jacquet room…nothing against Mr. Jacquet, but the other rooms on that floor were Count Basie, Sidney Bechet, and John Coltrane, and Jacquet seemed to pale in comparison. What, I’m not good enough to stay in Coltrane? I don’t swing hard enough to sleep in Basie?

Do you travel with a laptop or a PDA? If so, how many times a day do you check your e-mail?

Sometimes I travel with a laptop, and I’m on the verge of venturing into crackberry land, but I almost prefer not having one. Being on the road can be a nice excuse to get away from all that. That being said, I try to check my email at least a few times a day, because it’s good to know if the next gig has been cancelled, or the name of the person supposed to meet you at the airport!

Do you listen to music on the road? If so, what device do you use?

I iPod it, shuffle play enlivens the long trips. (Otis Redding, then Webern, then Duke, then Fugazi…right on!)

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

Usually only if I’ve under-packed or my baggage has been lost, and then, usually only socks and underwear. Nothing makes you homesick quite like the sight of underwear drying in a hotel bathroom.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

The most nightmarish soundcheck is not getting one at all, of course. Probably the most difficult was in Argentina again, with Braxton’s trio, which involves live electronics. Somehow, they had lost the tech rider, and no one on the sound crew spoke English, we spoke very little Spanish, and the translator had no idea how to translate “We need four XLR cables from the Motu mixer to separate on-stage speakers for the surround-sound interactive electronic music that you’ll then mix into the house”. But luckily everyone was very patient and very cool, and I ended up drawing cartoon like diagrams that somehow got the idea across.

What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?

I’m an adventurous eater, I’ve literally eaten raw horsemeat while touring, so the only scary food is no food.

What are your three favorite venues?

There are a couple of spots I love in Belgium, the deWerf Theater in Brugge, and the deSingel Theater in Antwerp (they let me play on the roof!). I also always enjoy playing outdoors, especially in some of those beautiful European amphitheaters. But my favorite spot is my home away from home, New Haven’s wonderful Firehouse 12.

Which cities have the best restaurants for late after-gig meals?

I love late night tapas, so the big Spanish cities get the nod here.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

The late night hangs are much more about the people than the place, so anywhere where there are good people. Though maybe my favorite after-hours session was a basketball game inside the same building we performed at the Bohemian National Home in Detroit.

What is the best city that closes down too early?

I’m not a big club-hopper or partier, so I never really notice.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

Anywhere I can take a nice hike, particularly if there are some mountains and views around.

What is your cure for jet lag?

Getting a straight razor shave from an old-school barber.

What is your best tip for the novice?

Stay calm but think fast. And don’t forget your horn.

Jazz Visions Photo/Graphics

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