Travellin’ Light

Jamie Saft
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Jamie Saft
Jamie Saft                                                                                                                     Scott Irvine©2008

Jamie Saft is a Woodstock-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer. Saft has worked with a wide spectrum of artists, spanning Laurie Anderson, Bad Brains and John Zorn. A mainstay of the downtown scene, he is a member of The Dreamers, Electric Masada and other ensembles. Saft has scored such notable films and television programs as the Oscar-nominated Murderball, the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner God Grew Tired of Us, and the HBO documentary Dear Talula. Saft’s own recordings include Breadcrumb Sins Trouble- The Jamie Saft Trio Plays Bob Dylan, and Sovlanut, all on Tzadik. For more information on Jamie Saft, visit

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

As a pianist and keyboardist, I rarely travel with big instruments, just a small Pelican briefcase full of pedals, which I always check and have absolutely no problems with. As a guitar or bass player, I only travel with 1 guitar or bass (electric) in a small soft case and have never been asked to check it. But I chalk that up to stealth road tactics learned from the masters (guitar slung low on back in black case that can’t be seen from the ticket counter or by gate agent, immediately put the instrument down on the ground leaned up against the ticket counter and out of sight of the agent, etc.)

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?          

Though I am a lover of most all things Italian, Alitalia consistently has the worst economy seating scene. Crowded, old planes, uncomfortable seats.  As for “food,” I have a strict policy of NEVER EATING ANY AIRPLANE FOOD OF ANY KIND EVER, PERIOD. I travel with a small backpack filled with all manner of road nourishment (hemp pretzels, chocolate cliff bars, dark chocolate, smart puffs, Utz’s potato chips, homemade trail mix, Bagel and Bagel sesame pretzels, lots of green tea, maybe even some dried fruit) and always try and eat a proper meal of some kind BEFORE I fly.

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?      

Airports in the UK seem to be the most difficult for connections. Though the single malt shop with free samples in Heathrow does ameliorate said difficulties…

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

I never forget to pack anything.

What is your worst lost baggage story?  

Many years ago, back when I was younger, stronger, and sparkier, I did a number of train tours in Europe for which I brought a Hammond XB-2 single manual organ in a road case, a Motion Sound Leslie Speaker in a small soft case, and my suitcase. During one of these train tours, the band made a (large) detour to Australia for a week of gigs. I left my Hammond and Leslie in Rome at a friend’s house, flew to Australia with just my suitcase (epic flight, middle seat, large bag fumbled on to my head from an overhead bin while sleeping midflight, nightmare 24 hour flight from hell), had a lovely trip in Australia, and subsequently flew back to Rome. I had a delicious meal in Rome with friends that evening, slept and woke up the next day to travel home to NY. Checked in all my equipment, no problems (pre-9/11 no hassle no overweight charge for 3 large checked “bags”), and flew home. Got to JFK, no Hammond. Filled out the paperwork, went home, and was sad. ONE YEAR LATER, my home phone rings. In a rare moment of phone diligence, I answered to hear “YOU HAVE PACKAGE” in a strange accusatory tone. After hearing this line repeated a few times I walked out my front door and a man in an unmarked station wagon opened his hatch and there was my Hammond organ in its case. It had baggage stickers and security stickers from Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, and a number of other countries. So although a fine outcome (I got my instrument back), it is a strange tale of baggage mishandling. 

I have also witnessed, on a number of occasions, a baggage handler throwing my Pelican case with my pedals as hard and as fast as humanly possible and the thing is indestructible. Highly recommended – the Pelican case that is.

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

Our neighbors to the North seem to want to roust humble American musicians more than in Europe or Asia. Though I am loathe to even print their name for fear of border reprisals…

Which city has the worst cab drivers?
Well I’d have to say my hometown of NYC. And this is why: in 2003 I had just flown in to JFK airport from a Beta Popes gig in Japan. The honorable Skerik and I were in a yellow cab after having flown directly after our gig (our gig started at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning in Tokyo- we were back in a cab at around 9:30 a.m. that same Sunday morning in NY- that’s deep…). It was lightly snowing in NY. Our cab driver was obviously from a place where they don’t have snow- ever… he proved this by losing control of the cab, slamming into a large fire hydrant, and completely destroying my clavicle. I had titanium pins put in my shoulder (and subsequently removed) and had to have my clavicle reconstructed from fused bone! It was a blast, let me tell you. Put me out of work for six months. So the moral of the story: you MUST wear your seat belt in the back of a taxi.

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

I have been extremely lucky to stay in some absolutely incredible hotels all over the world: The Grand Hotel Milano (with a towering glass bowl of Mozzarella Di Buffala at the breakfast spread- some of the best MDB I’ve had- at a hotel breakfast no less), The King David in Jerusalem (fresh figs in my room at night), the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong (views), just to name a few. This is not the NORM, it is the exception, but a top notch hotel sure inspires a musician to give a promoter a superior show.  Oh and I’ll never forget the hotel in France with the black toilet paper and glass bathroom walls. Very classy.

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

I never travel with a laptop, too much hassle (to carry it, to take it out of the case at every flight security check). I have a trusted (well maybe not with my privacy on a wiretap- thanks ATuntT) Iphone product which ensures I can check my email thousands of times per day (at an extra charge for international data rates). I’ve become a free WIFI warrior (with an Iphone at least you don’t look like a total moron running around with your laptop cradled in the air looking for free WIFI) and can rock the “DATA ROAMING” toggle switch with the best of them…

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

I use a separate Ipod product to listen to music on the road with a pair of Sennheiser PX200 headphones (black, as in “all black everything”), the official headphone of the traveling musician. Lightweight, collapsing, sound pretty great, soft foam ear cups, not silly in-ear “buds,” some small amount of natural (non-active) noise cancelling as they are closed back headphones (they don’t seal or sound as well as Ultrasones, but they are so much more portable).  Crank up Jay-Z or ZZ Top or Black Sabbath on these cans and that screaming child will quickly fade away…

Do you do your own laundry on the road? 

Though in my younger years I did a fair amount of “bebop” laundry (Woolite in hotel sink, wrap wet clothes in a towel on the radiator, dry by morning), I now am the master of making 1 week's worth of clothes last 2, or 3… let’s not worry about the details.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date? 

Well recently I was playing a show in a very old building in lower Manhattan. During the sound check, drops of brownish water were slowly dripping on my music (first), then my Fender Rhodes (next), and then just as I pulled my instruments out of the way, exploded onto the stage in a small torrent of sewage-y looking water. I was told by the bandleader to relax and continue the sound check, but from a point further back on the stage. 5 minutes later the super of the building come down and said there was a toilet overflowing in the woman's bathroom right above stage… thanks so much, really appreciate that. I was given fresh copies of the music though…

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

Subway sandwiches in Eastern Europe.

What are your three favorite venues?  

Red Rocks in Colorado, Wolf Trap in Virginia, The Greek in Berkeley, CA, and Jones Beach in NY (all of which I’ve been fortunate to perform at).  I forgot my wah-wah pedal on the bus at Red Rocks and nearly passed out running back up from the parking lot (that’s what the shuttle bus is for- oops) at altitude, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes at Wolf Trap (gorgeous venue though – lots of pretty wood), smelled REAL hippies at the Greek in Berkeley, and shot hoops against the back of the stage at Jones Beach. I was also fortunate enough to once watch Black Sabbath with Ozzy from the private, screened off friends and family section ON the stage at Jones Beach (Tony Iommi was 10 feet below me). Thanks Dave Lombardo (who told security we were his “brothers.”)

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

Well, NY obviously, Tokyo is happening, and LA is gonna work too.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

I don’t believe in after-hours sessions- when work is done, it’s food and hotel for me. No thank you on the jam sessions. Only jam sessions I attend these days are with my children (we have wicked family jams around here).

What is the best city that closes down too early?  

 Every city closes down too early, except for perhaps NY.

What is the best locale to have a day off? 

Amsterdam and/or Firenze.

What is your cure for jet lag?

A lick of I-Shence, lots of green tea, some delicious organic food product, and no alcohol.

What is your best tip for the novice?

Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance. AND make sure you check your pockets thoroughly before you leave…

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