Travellin’ Light

Myra Melford
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Myra Melford                                                                                                              ©2015 Bryan Murray

Since the release in 1990 of Jump, pianist and composer Myra Melford’s debut recording, she has released more than twenty albums as a leader or co-leader and contributed to more than 40 releases. Her ensembles have included such luminaries as Dave Douglas, Erik Friedlander and Chris Speed; her collaborators in cooperative ventures include Han Bennink, Joseph Jarman, and Leroy Jenkins. In 2000, she spent a year in North India on a Fulbright scholarship, immersing herself in the region’s classical, devotional, and folk music. Melford relocated to the west coast in 2004, joining the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley as an associate professor of contemporary improvised music, where she employs diverse creative strategies to engage students in the theory and practice of improvisation. In 2013, Melford was named a Guggenheim Fellow and received the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Performing Artist Award and a Doris Duke Residency to Build Demand for the Arts to support her work with San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She was also the winner of the 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music. Her current working band is Snowy Egret, a quintet with Ron Miles, Liberty Ellman, Stomu Takeishi and Tyshawn Sorey, which will tour the US and Europe in October in support of their eponymous Enja/Yellowbird debut. Upcoming recording projects include respective duet albums with Alison Miller and Ben Goldberg. For more information about Myra Melford, consult:

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

I have to admit I’ve enslaved myself to United Airlines (being a long-time and now “million mile” member of their frequent flyer program). So even though they have their share of evil ways, I rarely fly other airlines anymore. But one of the perks is that they are pretty generous about checking bags and instruments without having to pay more (most of the time!). Carrying on instruments seems to be cool, too, at least most of the time.


Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I ALWAYS bring my own food, even if I’m lucky enough to get bumped up to business class, occasionally.


Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

Any of the big ones are crazy when you don’t have much time – but Dulles (IAD) is one of the worst since you often have to wait for the pods to carry you around and that can take forever, especially when their equipment isn’t working well. And, trying to clear customs and catch a connecting flight at LAX has also been a nightmare more than once!


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

I don’t recall ever leaving out something really important like my passport or music. But I have often forgotten something I need to wear and end up having to run out and buy some article of clothing at the last minute before a gig.


What is your worst lost baggage story?

I was flying to Sardinia to play for a week with Nicole Mitchell and Roscoe Mitchell’s ensembles at the Sant’Anna Arresi Festival. For Nicole’s band I needed the harmonium – but it didn’t arrive with me and took until the end of the week to get there. So I had to borrow a melodica from someone for her set. The good thing is that I found the melodica can be a decent substitute for the harmonium, and thankfully, I did eventually get back my very special custom-made harmonium from Calcutta, which would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to replace!


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

I’ve often found any country will hassle a musician when they’re flying in from Amsterdam!


Which city has the worst cab drivers?

That’s hard to say. I’ve been having really great luck with Uber in foreign cities lately. It worked great in both Johannesburg and Cape Town on a recent trip to South Africa. And I loved getting to know the drivers’ stories and what kind of music they listened to!


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

I would say the Schloss Elmau in Bavaria is right up there along with a hotel in Gorizia, Italy where I stayed in a room that had lodged Marie Antoinette on her way to France.


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

I travel most often with a MacBook Air, unless I need to use the music software on my MacBook Pro, because it’s so light.  I also travel with an iPhone. I recently switched cell phone providers to T-Mobile, which has a fantastic international plan: unlimited data and texting in most foreign countries. It even worked in Zambia this summer! The only down side is that I check my email more frequently because of it.


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

I usually try to put everything I’m listening to currently on my iPhone and keep updating the playlists. But occasionally I’ll listen from iTunes on my laptop.


Do you do your own laundry on the road?

I do. I remember learning the term “bebop laundry” when I first started touring in the early ‘90s. I still think of it as that today when I’m on the road.


What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Fortunately, I tend to forget those things pretty quickly. I’ve been bombarded by loud feedback several times, but don’t even remember when/where anymore. The hardest situation is not getting to do a sound check when you’re playing at an outdoor venue, unless it’s someplace where they have regular concerts and great equipment like Millennium Park in Chicago.


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

I wouldn’t say it’s exactly “scary,” but I can remember seeing only pork products backstage in the early days in Eastern Europe – and some were kind of scary-looking now that I think about it.


What are your three favorite venues?

I have quite a few faves these days, so it’s hard to choose, but let’s say these are three of my favorite amongst others: The Outpost in Albuquerque, New Mexico – Tom Guralnick has really created an amazing community/space there – for musicians and audience, alike. The Athenaeum in La Jolla, CA is a fabulous-sounding room in an old library. And, Daniel Atkinson, like Tom, has cultivated a wonderful audience.  Another favorite is the Eremitage in Schwaz, Austria. It has changed management over the years, but no matter who is running it, the audience and staff always make me feel at home! Wish I could list all of favorites!


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

I’m probably not a good person to answer this since I tend not to be a late night eater, but I have had great meals in Chicago after gigs. And also in Italy!!!


Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Again, I’m not the best person to answer this since I tend to be into getting enough sleep which can be hard enough when you have to get up super early to catch a train or plane to the next city.


What is the best city that closes down too early?

I have to say, I’ve been frustrated by how early things close down in my new home base of San Francisco – it was quite a shock after living in NYC for 20 years to not be able to run out to the store or ride the subway late at night.


What is the best locale to have a day off?

Wow, there are many places for that – always love the opportunity to have a day off in Paris or Venice or Berlin or NYC or anywhere that has great museums.


What is your cure for jet lag?

I try to get onto the new schedule as quickly as possible by resisting sleeping during the day. But if I’m super tired, I’ll try to sleep no more than 45 min to an hour. Getting exercise helps a lot, too.


What is your best tip for the novice?

I guess I would say what I tell myself, to remember what an amazing opportunity and privilege it is to travel and play music for people, especially when encountering the less glamorous or comfortable aspects of being a touring musician. The music and audience come first – otherwise, there’s no point to doing it!

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