Travellin’ Light

Gerry Hemingway
Answers 20 Questions about Life on the Road

Gerry Hemingway is a composer, percussionist and bandleader. Continuum, the latest album by his long-standing cooperative trio with pianist George Graewe and cellist Ernst Reijseger is reviewed in this issue’s Moment’s Notice. Extensive information about Hemingway's collaborations, ensembles and projects can be found at:

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

They are all difficult and any musician is entirely at the mercy of the check-in personnel who hold your economic fate in their hands. It has gotten so bad regarding checking in a bass we mostly don’t travel with the instrument anymore, asking for a "bass de jour" for single engagements in Europe. This is a sad state of affairs given the bass players I work with have unique and wonderful instruments which bring out more subtle personal qualities in their playing than a brand-x bass. However when you are slapped with a $540 overweight charge you quickly reconsider your options.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I notice a trend towards less seats per flight (smaller planes - less fuel) which consequences in a more sardine-like feel to your immediate seating space. My take on the food is that the meals go up and down based on the local airport caterer, and now the trend is no food served at all.

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

Toronto is pretty insane. Brussels is now a major workout (I wouldn't mind except that 3 miles of hiking on no sleep is not a picnic). I hate CDG (Charles DeGaulle Paris), and Frankfurt with its overzealous (and most likely window dressing) security feels like a bad anxiety dream where you'll never make it to your gate on time. And then there is Heathrow where more luggage never makes the flight you practically have a heart attack getting to in time. Also, there’s the sight of the most lurid smoking aquariums, which inevitably spews smoke out into the waiting area.

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

My passport, but fortunately I had time to go home and get it and still make the flight (back when I used to get to airports early - not anymore...pronounced a la Inspector Closeau). This is way pre 9-11. I remember leaving my bags near the check in counter, unheard of at this point. I have once showed up at the gig only to find that I forgot my hi hat cymbals for a two week tour and recording, that was pretty embarrassing.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

Mine is quite sad, I lost an 18 " Gretsch bass drum, a 14 " Ludwig floor tom-tom and a tenor steel drum on a World Airways flight back in the eighties. I am pretty sure the baggage handlers a EWR made off with it, maybe a grudge they had with the airline, but I will always miss that bass drum in particular. It’s why I have a mixed set of Ludwig and Gretsch drums at this point as my main instrument. Another time my cymbal case never made the connection at Heathrow and the promoter of the Willisau festival had to find me cymbals, sticks for a major festival performance. Then even more insane was that the next day they were still on their way as I was leaving.

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

This seems something of the past these days when we crossed borders constantly between European countries. In those situations you would get power starved custom officers whose only thrill in life (it would seem) was drawing out the interrogation and search for drugs to the Nth degree and doing their best to make you feel uncomfortable as possible. And if you happen to be a person of color all the more so. The Canadian border folks are still pretty overzealous, though with the work permit nonsense finally stopped they have become a bit more reasonable.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Eh, here and there, not any particular city you sometimes get the anal retentive driver whom you feel like your insulting when you sit on their super clean seats and ultra tidy trunks. Then there are the proactive cab drivers who want to bend the neck of the bass to fit it over the seat, and they seem not to get that they are handling a 30,000 dollar instrument. On the positive cab driving tip, Istanbul used to be a great groove with their abundance of 1957 stretch Chevys and low rates. One cab driver who you can find a picture on my site (in the Bassdrumbone pages) gave us a ride to the Bazaar and then somehow magically reappeared at the moment we emerged with our leather coats (one of the greatest deals in the Turkish Bazaar).

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

One fond memory is the first quintet tour I did in Europe ('89) when we had three gigs over a period of seven days, the first gig was in the club in Saalfelden and the hotel was one of these resort hotels in, actually right on Zell am Zee. Everybody had these duplex rooms with porches overlooking the lake and mountains and full kitchens, a fabulous sauna and 2 days off to enjoy it! But this is the exception, mostly the rule is the best hotel comes when the gigs ends at 2am and the train is 6am, when as Lester Young used to remark, "Oh the hotel, yes I got a look at it".

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

Definitely once, more if time and access allows. Since I am in the minority regarding cell phones (I refuse to have one), that means I am pretty dependent on my laptop for communication. For years when traveling these quite involved elaborate schemes to achieve modem connection (I go way back to an Atari Stacy laptop). In this respect I became something of a virtuoso carrying every conceivable phone jack adaptor, not stopping at anything including unscrewing the hardwired phones and getting out the wire cutters to make connections. And yes I fried a few modems in the process. Thankfully those days are behind us; however Euro hotels now have you pay absurd fees for wireless connection, so the new telecommunication game is finding free hotspots in various cities. In the State's this is fairly negotiable as free hotspots abound in most major cities, and they are posted on the net. When all else fails I ask the promoter for his computer and deal from there.

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

My laptop & good headphones (Sennheisers at the moment), perhaps eventually an iPod, though they irritate me almost as much as cell phones.

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

When the radiator is right bebop style in the sink...

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Iesi, Italy with the Braxton Quartet, in total hunger, laying for that deep Italian meal after a day of travel and being told after hours of pointless sound checking by complete amateur sound technicians, that the concert would begin shortly and that there was no time for dinner. "Don’t worry we will eat afterwards", and meanwhile offering us stale crostinis to fend off low blood sugar. After the gig no promoters in site and we get paid in a check (a way scary idea in Italy) and left to wandering the streets of Italy at 1 am in search of food with no Lire and left with one partially filled mini bar to keep us from starving completely.

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

There have been some meat things that look to be more about elements of the animal that have little to do with what we commonly refer to as meat.

What are your three favorite venues?

Vancouver East Cultural Center, Bim Huis, Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf to just name 3 that pop to mind without engaging too many brain cells, but there are others on the same level....

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

Venice, Rome, Berkeley, CA

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Not my thing for the most part, I do remember good late night sessions in St. Louis at the musicians union, Vancouver has some cool sessions sometimes.

What is the best city that closes down too early?

This used to matter, but now I value sleep more than any late night life.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

Any city where my extended "musical" family lives – Amsterdam, San Francisco, Koln to name a few – when there is time to spend some time together. Though Sant' Anna Arresi in Sardinia was an exquisite rest stop for three days, the clear Mediterranean ocean, the fish.....

What is your cure for jet lag?

Sleeping on the plane which I have mastered with many years of practice, the key is getting the window seat for me and skipping the movie and sometime the "food".

What is your best tip for the novice?

Love music so deeply you are willing to put up with what this questionnaire makes plain. Have a sense of humor, and travel with people you can swing with in the grind of it all. Also work with people with whom you can enjoy good cuisine, literature, politics, architecture, operating systems and crossword puzzles (or Dave Barry columns in the Trib if you prefer), as these become some of the essential pleasures of a road existence - other than the music, which is of course is requirement #1. One last thing, treat your promoters with respect; they have just as challenging a job as you do, and talk to your audience, before, during and after the gig.

Leo Records

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