Travellin’ Light

Mary Halvorson
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Mary Halvorson                                                                                               ©Jessica Pavone 2012

Mary Halvorson is a Brooklyn based composer-bandleader-guitarist. Halvorson arrived in New York in 2002, following studies at Wesleyan University, where she met ongoing collaborators like cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and violist Jessica Pavone, and began performing in Anthony Braxton’s ensembles. She continued her studies at the New School while integrating into a network of emerging artists, including the members of her trio – bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith – and her quintet, which adds trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon. Halvorson also co-leads a chamber-jazz duo with Pavone, the avant-rock band People and the collective ensembles Crackleknob, The Thirteenth Assembly, and Thumbscrew. She is also an active member of an impressive number of bands, including Tomas Fujiwara’s The Hook-Up, Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House, and Tom Rainey’s trio, among others. The latest of Halvorson’s widely acclaimed recordings is her quintet’s Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12). Her summer performance schedule includes a quintet performance at the Saalfelden festival and European tours with Rainey’s trio and Smith’s These Arches – Halvorson’s trio tours in the fall. For more information, consult:

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

Any budget European airline: especially Easy Jet and Ryan Air. I won’t fly those airlines anymore, and unfortunately I learned the hard way when they made me check my guitar in it’s soft case. It’s a gamble no matter what airline you take, though.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

It’s a toss up, but I might have to go with American Airlines. Last year I flew American from New York to Tokyo. My reading light was broken, my TV didn’t work, the seats didn’t recline, and the food was inedible. May as well have been a fifteen hour torture chamber. On the way back, I flew Japan Airlines instead. Comfortable, great service, and the menu included “build your own hamburgers,” which were quite delicious.

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

Probably London Heathrow, with Paris Charles De Gaulle as a runner up. I hear they are both great places for losing baggage too.

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

Underwear, on a two week European tour. The first stop was a small town in France, and I went to a French Department store to buy underwear upon arrival. Of course, the sizing there is different and I didn’t understand it, so I ended up buying 14 pairs in the wrong size!

What is your worst lost baggage story?

I feel very lucky (knock on wood) that I have only had my baggage lost twice. Once my guitar in its flight case didn’t make it on a flight to France. I arrived in the morning, had a three hour drive, and a gig the same night. My guitar arrived later that day, and somebody from the airline was nice enough to drive my guitar all the way to the gig. I got it just in time for sound check.

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

Canada... hands down. I once had my entire car searched driving back from Canada, because I looked “nervous” and my “hands were shaking” (which was actually just a result of too much caffeine).

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Definitely New York City. I shared a cab home from JFK with Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock a few months ago. Of course we didn’t realize until we had already put all our baggage in and gotten inside, but the cab must have been salvaged from a junk yard and the driver definitely wasn’t a licensed cabbie. Every part of the taxi rattled, the floor was about to fall out from under us, the door didn’t completely close, there were no seat belts and barely any seats. Not to mention it was filthy and the driver was probably insane. We were hanging on for dear life.

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

I performed at a festival in Botticino, Italy once. The hotel was a five star which was converted from an old historic castle on a hillside. Pretty incredible.

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 my laptop. Between my guitar, effects pedals and clothes, I’m already lugging around too much stuff. I have an international blackberry so I use that for email. I try to check as little as possible, which is still basically all the time.

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

Yes. I have an ipod which is perfect for long train and plane trips.

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

I hardly ever do laundry on the road. Unless the tour is over two weeks, I always try to bring enough clothes so that I don’t have to. I’m small, so usually I can stuff a ton of clothes in my suitcase and get away with it.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

I can’t think of one in particular, but the worst ones to me start at 2pm for a 10pm gig and take hours for no apparent reason.

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

I can’t think of anything at the moment.

What are your three favorite venues?

The Saalfelden festival in Austria, Bimhuis in Amsterdam, and (although I’ve never played there) The Village Vanguard in NYC.

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

Most of my fondest late night post-gig meal memories take place in Italy.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

I’m not sure because I usually don’t go to them...

What is the best city that closes down too early?

I don’t usually notice because I don’t make a habit of staying out all night. But even in a small town that closes down at 10pm, you can usually find a hang if you want to; even if it means taking over the hotel lobby.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

I had one European tour with my trio that included two days off in Venice, and another with two days off in Amsterdam. Those were both great... in fact I’m not sure which was better!

What is your cure for jet lag?

On the red eye to Europe: A glass of wine with dinner and an Advil PM, and I’ll sleep most of the flight. I usually take a two hour nap upon arrival. Then I’ll stay up until at least midnight and take another Advil PM to ensure I sleep through the first night. Usually I’m fine after that.

What is your best tip for the novice?

Learn languages. That’s something I’m just starting to do now and I really wish I had started earlier. Also – stay on top of your frequent flyer miles.

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