Bob and Russ’ Excellent Adventure

Bob and Russ’ Excellent Adventure

Sometimes musicians do crazy shit that defies explanation in the name of

playing music, and in the process. experiencing new places and situations.  Russell Ferrante and I had such an experience on December 2nd 2011.  We traveled a total of 72 hours round trip to play a 75 minute concert in northern Brazil in a small former fishing village called Jeriquaquara. Most people I’ve recounted the story to think that I’m totally out of my mind, and they are probably right. But never the less, we had an amazing adventure, played wonderful music, and saw an enchanting place that I never in my wildest dreams imagined existed.

We boarded a Continental flight from Los Angeles to Houston, about a 3 1/2 hour flight. It is great to have an elite card on an airline. (The way to facilitate this is to always fl on one airline, or at least on the same alliance of airlines. Build up those miles!) ) Russ and I got exit row seats and were able to pre-board the flight thanks to our elite cards. He brings a keyboard as carry on, and I have my tenor sax. We’ve developed a system whereby I can put my horn on top of Russ’ keyboard in the overhead space so that we minimize the space taken, and avoid the “knucklehead jamming something into either instrument” routine.

Went directly to the next flight, which was headed to Sao Paulo, and did not have much time to do so. We had a bulkhead pair of seats in coach on this flight, which felt like being in a little room of sorts. Comfy as far as coach goes. Nice to not have a person with arms the size of watermelons spilling over into my seat. This flight was roughly 11 hours. Slept a bit, read my kindle, and generally grooved through the flight.

Arrived in Sao Paulo, went through customs, and then met the former wife of the promoter who was very helpful in getting us to our next flight and set up for the arrival in Jeriquaquara. The next flight was from Sao Paulo to Fortaleeza, a fairly large city in the north east of Brazil, about a 4-hour flight from Sao Paulo.

Arrived in Fortaleea and were met by people from the festival. We were directed to a truck that was to drive us the 5 hours to Jeriquaquara. The driver Louis, was an interesting character and we were grateful he spoke fluent English. He had his daughter with him and informed us that he had to drop his daughter at home before we departed for Jeriquaquara. At this point we had already traveled 30 hours, were pretty dinged, and pretty much took the “whatever” approach that works so well in Brazil.

We drop off the daughter and then Louise’ cell phone rings. He finds out that we have to return to the airport to pick up a package. Whatever!  Grrr!  So one hour later we are still at the airport.

Off we go to Jeriquaquara. Most of the way we were in total darkness. There were little or no streetlights, and the roads were fairly narrow. Louise engaged us in interesting conversation, which helped ease, the pain a bit. Thankfully he had made this trip hundreds of times, and he knew where every pothole and twist and turn in the road was. We were making good time, which was fine with us.

About 4 hours into the drive Louise suddenly veers off the paved road onto a dirt road and the bumpy ride takes on a new dimension. I thought I might lose some or all of my fillings in my mouth and the pads from my saxophone keys. This went on for about 40 minutes. Pretty psychedelic after 35 hours of travel.  Whatever! I must say that Louis was an expert on navigating this road. He gave a command performance!

Suddenly we are driving along the ocean on the beach! We were in deep sand, and the truck is fishtailing all over the place. Louise explains that he has to drive this fast so we don’t get stuck. Nice! I figure we are all going to plunge into the surf ant any minute. To compound matters, there are wild donkeys scattered all over the beach, and we are driving around the ones that are sleeping in the sand. Is this really happening? We’re not sure!

20 Minutes later we arrive at this small charming village with small bed and breakfasts, interesting looking shops and restaurants, and a large stage with a band playing on it in the middle of the town. It looks totally amazing, and we quickly forget the ordeal of getting there.  The promoter, Capucho is at the hotel to greet us. HE looks like an interesting character and we feel very welcomed and comfortable.  Right to bed

after that kind of travel, even thought Capucho offered to take us to dinner. It was 1 in the morning, and we had traveled for 36 hours.

We wake up the next day and find ourselves in this beautiful seaside village that is a true paradise. Many Europeans as well as Brazilians are there relaxing and we dive right into the laid back vibe. Russ and I have a nice lunch on the beach and we cool out for the rest of the day until sound check, which is at 7PM. We do a quick sound check, which goes very well. The crew has it together, and the sound is really great. This is the first time Russ and I play duo with Russ using a synthesizer to enhance toe piano-tenor format. The textural and sonic possibilities suddenly seem very broad, and I’m really looking forward to playing the concert.

We play our set around 11 PM, and play for roughly 75 minutes. The crowd seems to dig it, and we have a great time. Playing duo is such an interesting and challenging format. You have a lot of space in the tambral spectrum due to the absence of bass and drums. It is kind of nice to leave things implied in the time rather than stated.

Playing duo always humbles me. You really have to play with good time, phrasing, and keep your ears wide open!

After we finish our set we say hello to a bunch of fans, and then go into the audience to listen to the next band (there were 2 or 3 bands 4 nights in a row).

The bandleader of the next band is 91 years old! He plays guitar and banjo like someone who is 30.  We are inspired by the music we are hearing, which comes from the choro tradition. The music is almost classical in nature, and has a great energy and sound.

About 2AM I throw in the towel, and head back to the hotel for a few winks. We are leaving to go back home in 6 hours.

8:30 AM comes really fast, and we check out and find that Louis is driving us back to the Fortaleeza airport.  He informs us that we have to pick up another passenger at another hotel. We drive to the other hotel and the guy we’re picking up is still asleep.

I start to get a bit agitated, as we have a 32-hour ravel day ahead of us, and do not want to miss our first flight. The passenger eventually shows up and off we go.  Russ can’t find his customs form that you need to exit Brazil, so we go back to the hotel to look for it.

IT is nowhere to be found, so, very much like the trip to Jeriquaquara, here we are leaving one hour later than planned. Again a resounding “whatever”!

This time we are somewhat prepared for the fishtailing ride along the beach, but not quite prepared for the faster speed to make up for the lost hour. We avoid hitting any wild donkeys, and the dirt road segment doesn’t seem quite so bumpy. Finally we get on some paved road, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we will make our flight.

About two hours into the drive our driver informs us that he and his passenger want to stop for lunch. I ask if there is time, given our late departure. He looks at me with an expression of “you gotta learn to cool out!”, and says there is plenty of time. So we stop at a little ma and pa restaurant where the driver and passenger eat what looks like a great lunch.  I must say that “easy does it” is a high priority amongst our truck-mates.

It actually begins to rub off on us, and we relax into whateverness.  Russ and I share a bag of fresh picked cashews that had been roasted on a grill at the restaurant. They were unusually delicious.

Back in the truck and headed for Fortaleeza airport. About an hour out our driver informs us that we have to divert to drop off the passenger at his brother’s house.

Whatever!  I hope we make the flight.

We arrive at the Fortaleeza airport just in time to comfortably board the flight,

Fly 4 hours to Sao Paulo, change planes, fly to Houston (12 hours) , go through customs,

And board the final flight to L.A.

37 hours later I arrived at my home, comfortably exhausted, and marveling at the great adventure we had just experienced. Here’s what I came away with from this experience: 1. In order to get the full jolt of an experience you must surrender to whatever the tempo and direction of the experience takes on. Freaking out gets you nowhere, and you may very well miss some amazing things along the way. 2. Being grateful for every breath you take, and every experience you encounter assures that you will come away from an experience like the one we had in Jeriquaquara with beautiful memories and a sense of growth and joy of life. We just as easily could have focused on the 72 hours of travel to play for one hour, and focused on, to our way of thinking perhaps, the lack of predictable timing on the sequence of events. 3. Accentuating the positive, which in this case, was the fact that we had the experience of playing a set of inspired music for an appreciative audience in a beautiful place, a place that most Americans would never know about, much less visit.

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael Schuster
    Posted December 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Hey Bob, great story, and artfully told. I could actually feel myself getting agitated and uptight as I read this. Your philosophy in the final paragraph is spot on; go with the flow, and things tend to work out for the best. Best wishes to you and your family this holiday season.

  2. Terence
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Hey there Bob!

    I ALWAYS look foward to these anecdotes of yours.Brilliantly told.Your a helluva a writer too.You ought to compile and publish a book of them. Your right , simple folk like me would just die to have an experience like that! Driving on some obscure Brazilian coastline and dodging donkeys to a gig !.Don’t need to tell you that you are blessed to have such a great job. Just wanna repeat that we are thankful for the great music you and the Jackets’ have put out and will continue to put out for many years to come.Its an added plus to know that the “people” behind the great music are just as great as well. Jazz…….or Music in general needs more people like you …..

    Wishing you and your family a great X,mas ahead !

    God Bless,
    Terence

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