Travellin’ Light

Tomas Fujiwara
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Tomas Fujiwara
Tomas Fujiwara                                                                                        Courtesy of Tomas Fujiwara©2010

Tomas Fujiwara is a New York-based percussionist and composer whose current projects as leader and co-leader include Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up, The Thirteenth Assembly and a duo with Taylor Ho Bynum.  He also performs in a host of ensembles, including Matana Roberts' Coin Coin, Positive Catastrophe and Amir ElSaffar's Within/Between.  Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up will be performing at The Jazz Gallery in New York City on April 29 and at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut on April 30.  Their debut album, Actionspeak, will be released in September on 482 Music.  Tomas Fujiwara & Taylor Ho Bynum will release their second duo album, Stepwise, on April 20th on Nottwo Records, and will be at The Stone in New York City on July 1. Fujiwara performs on Ideal Bread's second album, Transmit: Volume 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy, will be out June 8 on Cuneiform Records.  The Thirteenth Assembly will be at Korzo in New York City on June 15, touring Europe in July, and the U.S. in December.  Additional performances and ┬átours with The Mary Halvorson Quintet, Positive Catastrophe and other ensembles are slated for Spring and Summer. For more information, go to

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

I think it really depends on who you get when you check in; what kind of person you're dealing with, what kind of mood they're in.  I always pack as light as possible and try to carry on as little as possible.  Equipment-wise, I've never traveled with more than cymbals, so I haven't had quite the same challenges as a bass player, for example.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

Do any U.S. airlines even serve food anymore?! United, American, Continental, Delta, take your pick.  Seating-wise, all of the above.  I do want to give credit to Singapore Air and Emirates Air for great economy seating, food, service, etc.  Probably the best in the U.S. is JetBlue (with a nice JFK airport terminal, too).

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?


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

I'm pretty thorough with packing,  so nothing like passport, or money, or sticks.  I forgot a belt, which sounds trivial, but I had to walk around and do the first gig of the tour with my pants falling down before I had time to go buy one the next day.  

What is your worst lost baggage story?

Coming back to NYC from month-long tour.  Four total musicians, 11 checked bags of personal items and equipment...4 bags made it.  One guy's suitcase came out about 7 hours later, opened, and accompanied by a garbage bag with half of its contents. 3 bags didn't arrive for another 36 hours.  Every suitcase had been completely unpacked and thrown back together. They blamed it on London...

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


Which city has the worst cab drivers?

NYC, Mexico City, and Moscow.

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

I'm bad with hotel names, but the mini villa on the beach in Ras al-Khaimah, UAE was pretty sweet.  Flat screen in the bathroom, anyone?

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

I'll bring my laptop for international travel and/or if I want to get a lot of composing done. For domestic, the Iphone is good enough for calls, emails, etc.  I'd like to say that I only check two or three times a day, but there are some days when I check it 38 times...

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

Right now I'm using the Ipod function on my Iphone for travel, and the Itunes on the laptop for more options in the hotel room.  Travel days are ideal for listening to music.

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

I can usually make it through a tour with a little Woolite for sock/underwear washing in the bathroom sink.  For longer tours, I might ask one of the cleaning staff to throw some things in with the sheets and towels for a tip much lower than the ridiculous hotel laundry rates.  Every once in a while I'll find a laundromat, and once in a great while I'll suck it up and get it done by the hotel.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Like dealing with airports, I'm usually prepared for the worst. That being said, I can't think of a recent nightmare.  More than three high pitched feedback blasts in a soundcheck and I'm probably using some choice words.  Sometimes I can get some pretty "interesting" drumsets to play, so that's always an adventure.  

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

Mystery loaf with jello trimming.

What are your three favorite venues?

Outdoor stage on the Bosphorus in Istanbul.  Moers Festival (great musician hang).  Anywhere in Japan.

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

Istanbul, Tokyo, and NYC

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

I don't go to many sessions when I'm on the road.  Maybe because I've gone to so many in NYC; it's a nice break.  That being said, I've always had fun at the Don Shop in Osaka.

What is the best city that closes down too early?

I can't think of one off the top of my head. Most of the time, there are people at the gig who know where to go for a nice post-gig hang. Usually, if I feel like there's nothing to do, it's less because everything's closed down, and more that there's just nothing to do there.  I wish the Tokyo subways were 24 hours.  You really have to make a decision at the beginning of the night to pull an all-nighter or take out a loan to pay for the night's cab fare.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

As much as I love the opportunity to explore museums, architecture, and the general vibe of a place, it's sometimes nice to have a day off where there is nothing much to do. If I'm in an exciting and culturally rich place, I'll feel obligated to get out and explore and soak in as much as possible. Not always very restful. Ideally, I'd like to sit on a beach for the afternoon.

What is your cure for jet lag?  

No matter what, have a "normal" bedtime for your first night in a new time zone. Whatever your bedtime is at home, try to go to bed (even if you just lie there) as close to that time as possible.  Even if you're a zombie during dinner, stay awake! I always try to make it to at least 10PM on the first night. The other thing is that I never look at my watch and say things like: "It's 4 AM in New York".  I think that psyches the brain out in some way, however small.

What is your best tip for the novice?

Make a packing list, pack light, give yourself extra time, and try try try to remain positive at the airport.  And, as the great Bobby Hutcherson told me before my first tour:  "Always check the hook on the back of the bathroom door, before you leave."

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