Travellin’ Light

Hugh Ragin
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Hugh Ragin
William Parker, Famoudou Don Moye, Roscoe Mitchell, Mogauwane Mahloele + Hugh Ragin, 2010.
Micah Danges/Ars Nova Workshop©2010

Hugh Ragin is a Colorado-based brass instrumentalist, composer and educator. Ragin first emerged on the international scene in the late 1970s as a member of various ensembles led by Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. In the ‘80s, Ragin began a fruitful, ongoing association with David Murray. Contemporaneously, Ragin began recording as a leader and co-leader for labels including Black Saint and Justin Time. Artists performing on Ragin’s albums include Andrew Cyrille, William Parker and Clark Terry. With a BA in Music Education from the University of Houston and a MA in classical trumpet performance from Colorado State University, Ragin has referred to himself as “an educator first;” he has taught at several institutions, including Oberlin College, and currently teaches Applied Trumpet at the University of Colorado Denver. Ragin’s recent activities include tours with Art Ensemble of Chicago, Roscoe Mitchell’s Quartet and Sound Ensemble, and Fred Wesley and the New JBs. He has also recently participated in Internet-facilitated events where dancers, musicians and artists in Colorado, New York and Korea performed together in real time.

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

At this point, nothing stands out as the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment. However, when I am flying in a small aircraft that cannot accommodate instruments in the overhead bin, I am often very concerned, but I have always received my instrument in one piece.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

In general, when I fly in the states I will eat before I get on the flight. These days there is not much in the way of food choices. On overseas flights, the meals seem to be standard on all airlines in the economy section. It seems like the seats don't go back as far as they used to in economy. That's a good thing for the person in the back. Usually, I will request an emergency exit row if I want extra leg room.

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

The only thing I have experienced that makes connecting flights difficult is unexpected cancellations. It is a very uncomfortable feeling when you walk in at the last note of your concert because of cancellation problems.

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

On one occasion I went on the road without valve oil for my trumpet and it took longer than I thought it would to get some overseas. Water is an okay substitute until you can get the real thing.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

While I've never had my luggage lost, I have had delays that were unexpected and inconvenient. As a trumpet player, I always have my instrument with me.

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

Customs has gotten a lot easier since the late seventies. I recall doing a lot of paperwork going through Italy. It's not like that now.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Most of my cab experience is in New York. When I take a cab there, I always mentally prepare for an adventure. It pays to know where you are going and how to get there. When you don't know the directions and the cab driver is looking at a map and he can barely speak English, anything can happen.

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

I like the 5-star hotels that are sometimes provided. The only problem is that there are times where you are so busy that you might only have 2 or 3 hours to stay there because if you arrive late and leave early.

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

Usually I just travel with my cell phone and I am close enough to a computer when I absolutely need it. I must admit, I know many musicians that would not be caught without their computer and I feel that to carry a computer in the future is not out of the question.

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

I rarely carry a listening device when I am on the road. I am usually thinking of the music that I will be performing or original music to be recorded in the future.

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

I usually do not do my own laundry unless I am on an extended tour in remote places.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

When two bands are in a sound check and the other band decides to use that time to rehearse and not leave any time for you to get a good sound check, the gig can become a challenge. In this case you make any necessary unexpected adjustments and hope for the best

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

Once I was at an after-performance banquet in Japan. The band did not recognize a lot of the food. In the end, we were told by the American promoter, "It's good food, just eat it." It actually turned out to be okay

What are your three favorite venues?

I enjoy playing anywhere in New York, Philadelphia, Paris and London. I cannot think the name of a specific venue, but I like those cities and the Audiences for a change of pace.

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

For me, more than the food, it's all about the fellowship. I enjoy travelling with bands that have long term relationships and I have also performed in bands that I have not been with for a long time, but when we break bread, it is a pleasant experience. 

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Recently, I enjoyed an after-hours session in Pittsburgh. A lot of great musicians are from there, and I really felt a spirit of excellence at the session.

What is the best city that closes down too early?

More often than not, I am winding down playing long tones after a gig, and I am not looking for late night adventures.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

I like a locale with a calm beach during the summer. I experienced that recently in Italy.

What is your cure for jet lag?

Sleep for me is the best cure for jet lag.

What is your best tip for the novice?

No matter what happens, it’s all about the music. Realize the healing quality of the music and be grateful that you have a unique method of worldwide communication.

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