Travellin’ Light

Steve Lehman
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Steve Lehman
Steve Lehman                 courtesy of Steve Lehman

A former student of both Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, saxophonist Steve Lehman has performed internationally with his own ensembles, and with those led by Anthony Braxton, Mark Dresser, and others. An award-winning composer, Lehman's pieces for large orchestra and chamber ensembles have been performed by, among others, the Janacek Philharmonic, The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and pianist Marilyn Nonken. His music has been performed at such venues as The Kaleidophon Festival in Ulrichsberg, the Festival International de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, and the Interpretations Series at Merkin Hall. Lehman's recent electro-acoustic music has focused on the development of computer-driven models for improvisation, based in the Max/MSP programming environment. As a Fulbright scholar in France during the 2002-2003 academic year, Lehman taught an undergraduate course on current trends in improvised music at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. His recent article in Critical Studies in Improvisation, "I Love You with an Asterisk: African-American Experimental Music and the French Jazz Press, 1970-1980" is based on his Fulbright research. Since late 2006, Lehman has been a doctoral candidate in Music Composition at Columbia University where he is a departmental fellow. He has taught undergraduate courses and lectured at institutions such as Wesleyan University, the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, and Berklee School of Music. Lehman's most recent recordings as a leader include On Meaning (Pi 2007) with his critically acclaimed quintet, and Door (Pi 2008) with the collective trio Fieldwork.

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

Probably not in a position to judge as a saxophonist … I think they’re all pretty bad, based on the fact that most of the drummers I travel with don’t even bring their own cymbals anymore in order to minimize the security check headaches.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I’m 6’3”, so if I don’t get bulkhead seating or an exit row, regardless of airline, I’m likely to be pretty uncomfortable.
Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

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

Sheet music.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

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

As a white male, I don’t really feel that I’m in a good position to judge. Suffice to say that racial profiling is, unfortunately, alive and well in many countries.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

I like most cab drivers.
What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

I stayed at an amazing hotel in Verona, Italy in 1999 while playing with Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Ensemble. That was also my first performance at a major European jazz festival, so this may need to be taken with a grain of nostalgic salt. 

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

I travel with a laptop. I usually check my email all the time, but when I’m on the road I normally only have time to do so once in the morning and once at night.

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

Yes, a fair amount. I have a 20GB iPod.
Do you do your own laundry on the road?

Usually don’t go out for that long. I’ve taken advantage of hotel laundry services in the past. That’s a treat.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

I’ve been doing a lot of performances of my music for solo saxophone and interactive electronics lately, and those sound checks seem to be the most stressful. I don’t trust the sound engineers and they usually don’t trust me!
What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?


What are your three favorite venues?

I like the rustic ambiance at the Kaleidophon Festival in Ulrichsberg, Austria. Just played at a wonderful venue in Porto called Casa Musica. And I also love playing at Barbes in Brooklyn – great acoustics. 

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

New York.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?


What is the best city that closes down too early?

Paris. No subways after 12:30am.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

Anywhere that’s easy to get around where you haven’t been before.

What is your cure for jet lag?


What is your best tip for the novice?

I was most recently on tour in February 2008 with Fieldwork (a collective trio that I co-lead with Tyshawn Sorey and Vijay Iyer). It was a great tour and, in spite of the various travel-related frustrations, I ended up being able to focus on how special it was for the three of us to be invited to present our music throughout Europe, on our own terms and without compromise. If the tour had lasted two or three weeks, it might have been difficult to maintain that perspective, but it was nice while it lasted.

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