Travellin’ Light

Ab Baars + Ig Henneman
Answer 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Rhodri Davies
Ab Baars + Ig Henneman                                                                                                  Ab Baars©2009

Composer-woodwind player Ab Baars and composer-violist Ig Henneman are partners in life as well as a working duo. They administer the Wig label; their most recent release is Sliptong by a trio rounded out by pianist Misha Mengelberg.

In addition to the duo with Henneman, Baars’ central projects include solo concerts, a trio with bassist Wilbert DeJoode and drummer Martin van Duynhoven (occasionally expanded to a quartet with the addition of Ken Vandermark) and ICP Orchestra.  He has also collaborated with The Ex, Steve Lacy and Sonic Youth, among many others. The 1989 winner of the Boy Edgar Award, Baars has received numerous grants to compose, travel and, in the late ‘80s, study with John Carter in LA. He plays shakuhachi in addition to clarinet and tenor saxophone.

Henneman’s compositions have been performed by the Nieuw Ensemble, the Metropole Orchestra, and the Italian Instabile Orchestra, as well as her own ensembles, whose ranks have included such renowned improvisers as violinist Mary Oliver and cellist Tristan Honsinger.  Currently, the main venues for her work as an improvising violist are her duo with Baars, her new Sextet and Queen Mab Trio, with clarinetist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner. Her work has been supported by grants and commissions from several Dutch funds and agencies.

This fall, Baars and Henneman will tour the Netherlands and Japan with the Japanese koto player Michiyo Yagi with their program, Floating Worlds.

For more information about Ab Baars and Ig Henneman, visit:

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

Ab Baars: It has become worse over the years. All airlines are difficult. It really depends on who is helping you at the counter, what mood he or she is in: paying for each individual suitcase, overweight, size of instruments; nerve-racking. Ig’s viola hardly ever causes problems as long as she carries only one other bag in her hand. I always bring a tenor plus one bag for clarinet and shakuhachi. We have our ways of hiding it as much as possible. The one time I had serious problems was on an ICP Orchestra tour right after 9/11. I had specially bought an aluminum flight case for my tenor because you were no longer allowed to bring instruments in the cabin. Thanks to the delicate handling of my instrument I had to visit two repairmen during this tour. On a Canadian Airline flight I had enough of it, and insisted to take my tenor with me in the cabin. This caused problems and discussions, and since they couldn’t guarantee the instrument would not be damaged again I decided to take the tenor out of the case and bring it with me on board wrapped in a towel and an old T-shirt. By now the rules are slightly less strict but the cabin crew can still show little respect. Keep smiling …

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?                        

Ig Henneman and Ab  Baars: Ryan Air: small chairs, no food. And on an Alitalia flight half the ICP Orchestra got diarrhea after eating “un buon panino formaggio.”

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?                   

Henneman and Baars: Heathrow in London is still a disaster. Toronto can be nasty as well

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

Henneman: Travelling with my string quartet with Mark Helias on bass we once stayed in a bed and breakfast. In a hurry before going to the show we changed rooms to have a little bit more comfort. Mark left the key of his flight case in the first room. Very early the next morning, there was nobody there to open the room when we had to leave for the airport. Suddenly, we needed two cars: one for the flight case that we could not open and one for the bass. At the airport, everybody started running to find something to open the flight case, finally we managed to put the bass in the flight case. Arriving at the festival venue in Toronto a crew member offered to go home to bring a set of keys to open the case again.

What is your worst lost baggage story?                                                 

Baars:When Ig and I were touring in Japan I once forgot my toiletries bag.  Mentioning this in our next hotel they started making phone calls immediately. Thanks to the Japan Postal Service I got it delivered at my room within few hours, in a nice package.  Once arriving in the south of Italy I noticed my clarinet was stuck at the airport in Rome. I got it back 5 minutes before the concert. Not after a few hours like in Japan but a day and a half later.

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

Henneman:  The USA is mostly the worst, but in 2008 I had a very bad experience in the UK at the airport of Newcastle. Touring in Europe with the Queen Mab Trio often, I never realized that my Canadian colleagues might need a work permit (nobody ever asked for it). Arriving at the airport, it turned out they needed one for the UK; the organizer forgot to apply for it and forgot to tell me. Although we could show where we would play, how much we would earn, show immigration the return flight tickets; nothing helped. The Canadians were kept prisoners until the next plane back, their fingerprints were taken, stamps were placed in their passport that they were refused access to the UK … a horrible experience.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?                                           

Henneman and Baars:  Amsterdam. It is a real, real shame. Since the national government liberated the licenses of the cab market a big Mafioso group entered the cab society; refusing short rides, asking absurd amounts of money and having a big mouth if you complain.                                                        

The best cabs are in Japan, where taxi doors open and close automatically. Tokyo cab drivers can have a problem finding your destination. Even with the help of a mobile phone and a native speaker this can be problematic, but the drivers always are polite.

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

Henneman and Baars:  Travelling in Sicily during a European tour we were fed up staying at people’s houses which can sometimes be wonderful, but this time was really horrible. So the last night of our long tour we took a gorgeous beautiful hotel in Palermo. We felt we had earned this and it was rewarding. In general organizers provide good hotels but the Royal York in Toronto and the Heathman Hotel in Seattle were both impressive.

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

Henneman and Baars:  When we travel together there is nobody left in the Wig-office at home, so we travel with a laptop. We try to check the email once a day.

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

Henneman:  Until now we both do not listen to music on the road. Most of the time there’s enough music in your head already.

Baars: I like to compose while flying. Making sketches, working out little ideas, great work to do during lost hours.

Do you do your own laundry on the road?                                                

Henneman:  Ab loves to fill up the laundry bag and have it returned at night and everything ironed, clean, good looking. Even in Japan he managed to indicate the categories on the Japanese laundry list (with the help of clean specimen and giggling receptionists).

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?                                

Henneman and Baars: In general nowadays you can trust the engineers, they are far better educated in their discipline than in the past, and most of the times the amplification and the equipment they use are of better quality. However In Prague at a strange occasion three months ago we only had one speaker cabinet of the PA working during sound check … At the last moment just before we started playing somebody brought in a speaker cabinet that worked.

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

Henneman and Baars: Chips and sweets, and in the best case some fruit, are often backstage at festivals, as if that is the best base for a body to play a concert. While touring we always ask the venues to supply a simple meal. That works best and saves energy; being in a hurry looking for a place to eat between sound check and concert is very unpleasant.

What are your three favorite venues?                                                          

Henneman and Baars: Western Front in Vancouver; Bimhuis in Amsterdam, SuperDeluxe in Tokyo.

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

Henneman and Baars: In Japan and in Italy we had the best experiences. Touring in Japan we had a gorgeous meal after a concert in a little village near Niigata. Lots of different courses, one after each other. It went on and on, served on the most beautiful plates designed and made by the owner of the place, a famous ceramist and also the cook. 

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Baars: Chicago

What is the best city that closes down too early?                                     

Henneman and Baars: Rome                                                                        

What is the best locale to have a day off?                                                 

Henneman and Baars: A day off is always a strange day once you are in the flow of playing and travellin. Our last day off was in Prague, not bad at all.

What is your cure for jet lag?

Henneman and Baars: After a long tour you always think: OK, this time I manage to do it better. But, after three weeks at home it really starts again. Nothing helps to avoid it. To sleep a lot is the best cure.

What is your best tip for the novice?

Henneman and Baars:

a. Buy yourself a four-wheel suitcase.

b. As soon as you arrive in your hotel room use the Do Not Disturb sign.

c. No matter what time you go to bed, make sure you wake up 1 ½ hour before you have to leave. It gives you time to have a good shave, a breakfast, to put your documents at the right places and time to do your idiot check; all meant to make your travellin’ life lighter. And then start thinking about the great music you will be making on the next concert.

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