Eric Baines

Music

The Long Ride Home

by eric on Nov.01, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music

After the show in Baku, we all went to eat,drink and celebrate the end of the tour. This went from the restaurant to Keiko’s massive suite where we all raided her mini-bar and drank until our 4:30 am lobby call. It was a ton of fun but I know for me I was also trying hard to not think about what we had to do next. Getting home is always the hardest part for me. The tour’s over, I’m missing my girl, my bed and I just want to be home but first there’s just 30 more hours of complete and utter torture.

It started in Baku at 4:30 am. We all gathered in the lobby and jumped in a van to the airport. We then waited for an hour or so while our bags were checked in and our passports were stamped before we could finally board the plane. The first flight was just three hours and I slept most of the way. We then landed in Moscow where we had a seven hour layover that turned into a nine hour layover. Ugh! we were trapped in the Moscow airport for nine hours and can’t leave the terminal. Moscow isn’t the worst place to be. There is a lot of shopping, a few restaurants and free wi-fi. So we grabbed a table at the Irish pub, ordered food and turned on the laptops. The pasta was great but the wi-fi was extremely slow. It literally took me an hour to post a blog. That should’ve taken three minutes. I guess it was a good time killer but so frustrating. Keep in mind I’ve slept for three hours and there’s no place to lay down in this airport. We finally boarded the plane home. Only twelvehours to go. Twelve hours of sleeping in coach. I watched a few movies, played some poker on my phone and got as much sleep as possible. Then we landed. I’m getting excited! Just to smell the American air again was exhilarating. I couldn’t wait to see my girlfriend and I was just moments away. I get to the front of the plane and instead of seeing a jet way there was a bus at the end of the stairs. NO! Another bus ride way too full of people smelly, pushing and grumpy. We get to customs and the line is long for the passport part but it’s moving fast. I’m home free. Not so fast! Then it takes 30 minute to get my bags. Partially because my bass is in a flight case which is oversized and comes from a different place than my suitcase. At this point all I have to do is stand in one more line to get out or into the country depending on how you want to look at it. I size up the lines and find the shortest one. I’m so close to the long awaited embrace of a girl I haven’t seen in three weeks but wait. My line is short but it’s barely moving. No! I always pick the wrong line. An hour later, I kid you not, I reach the front of the line. Meanwhile, I’ve seen other people get there bags, get in the super long line and get through before me. What did I do in a past life to deserve this?!?! I get to the front and there’s an older customs agent working my line who is talking to each person for what seemed like ten minutes at a time. Argh! I went up to him and tried to keep my cool because he could easily make my night a lot worse if I lose it. He asked me what I did for a living and why I was out of the country, pretty typical. Then he wanted to know how the shows went and what it was like working with Keiko and on and on. It was all I could do to not scream at the guy! When it was all over I waspissed and so was Autumn who had been circling the airport for two hours waiting so what should’ve been a great homecoming was awkward and grumpy. We recovered, though.

Overall, It was reasonable fun tour with very little mishaps this time. I have a fun job and I have to take a step back once in a while and appreciate it. Not many people get to do what I do and I don’t take that for granted. I also have a job that creates a unique bond with the people I work with. I’ve been with Keiko for almost ten years of this kind of travel and she and her crew are like family to me. Thank you Keiko for another crazy experience and thank you all for reading about it. Now go buy my record on Itunes. :-) .

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Deportation, Grumpyness and Bathrooms.

by eric on Oct.29, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

After another long train ride, we arrivd in Donietsk, Ukraine and checked into the Atlas Hotel. I was instantly reminded of the last time we stayed at this hotel. We had started in Lugansk that day and drove 5 hours to the airport in Donietsk so we could take a flight to Moscow on our way to a gig in Minsk, Belarus. If you’re keeping track, yes, this is my second story of Minsk. I don’t love that place. So we flew to Moscow just fine but when we arrived there was a problem. The local promoter had told us that he would have our visa when we arrived in Minsk but Moscow said we couldn’t even get on the plane without them. After 8 hours of haggling we were deported back to Ukraine and to Donietsk where we had no gig and no hotel booked. When we arrived back in Ukraine we then had to haggle with them to get back into the country. We all had to sign a letter that we had no idea that we needed visas and I’m some money was exchanged. It was a long day but we booked some rooms at the Atlas and began an eventful evening. It turns out it was womens day in Ukraine and the bar at the hotel was full of chicks. They had a band playing so we all settle in for some drinking. It was a blast and since the gig the next day was cancel due to deportation we had a day off. Life was good!

This time around we did have a gig in Donietsk and it was great. We went on to Kharkov and had another great show. That is a beautiful city and the crowd was great. Then we went right from the show to the train that took us overnight to an airport where we flew to a bus. Ugh! By this time in the tour I have hit a wall of tolerance. It gets so exhausting being dragged around the world like a piece of luggage. Airport security, buses to the airplane standing in the cold waiting to board. They rarely have jetways at these airports. It’s a bus filled to the top with pushing, shoving, rude people. Just when you think the bus is full more people squeeze there way on. We also have to wait for what seems like no reason all the time. It’s a hurry up and wait thing especially traveling with a group. All of this makes me severely grumpy after 3 weeks of it. I try to keep my mouth shut and not spoil anyone elses trip. It’s tough but it’s part of the skills need to be a road musician.

After the waiting we arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan. I have never been to this country so I didn’t know what to expect. Wow! This place is awesome! It an oil country so it’s full of money. It’s amazing how much more relaxed a country is when it’s got money. A lot of the buildings are new and the architecture is incredible. We were playing at a jazz festival that was put on by the Ministry of Culture so we were basically guests of the government. This means star treatment. We were met at this airplane by our own bus and taken to the VIP area that is usually only for ministers and diplomats. We waiting there and was served coffee and tea while they claimed our luggage and got us through customs. After that we were escorted out where they had a nice van waiting for the band and a Bentley waiting for Keiko. They took us to a great hotel and a nice dinner. It was a much needed change in the conditions.

The next day was the show. It was sold out and some people couldn’t even get in. The theater was incredible. We started our set and the audience new almost every song. We had more fans here than in the states it seemed. I was extremely impressed. I had a chance to walk around the city during the day. If you ever have a chance to visit Baku, do it! I can’t wait to come back.

The other nice thing about arriving here was the bathrooms. Russia and Ukraine seem to have a very different idea of what’s sanitary. They have some of the worst bathrooms I’ve ever seen in my life. They always seem to smell awful and you’re lucky if there’s even a toilet. Sometime it’s just a hole to sqwat over. I’ve included a video here for your viewing pleasure. This a rest stop in the midle of Ukraine. Not fun. So happy to be in Azerbaijan.

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From the Mall to the big time…and more Vodka

by eric on Oct.25, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

I am exhausted! We played the big show in Kiev last night with the full orchestra. It was awesome but not without a glitch. We started the show and halfway through the first song the keyboards decided to freak out. They started making this super loud screeching sound which felt like someone was ripping your skull in half. Ugh! Keiko had to stop and call Casey (the sound guy) up to the stage. That worked out good for him because she introduced him and he got to take a bow. That’s pretty rare for a front of house mixer. I hope he got that on YouTube. It turns out that the laptop that plays all of Keiko’s keyboard sounds needed a re-boot. After that it was fine. Computer’s can be so winy sometimes. In the end the show looked and sounded incredible! For an encore we brought out a rising young super star singer to sing a traditional Ukrainian song. He won the Russian version of American Idol and his name is…something I can’t pronounce. He was good.

After the show it got really exciting. I should probably start by explaining what happens on a typical show for me. I usually start out with a little Jagermeister maybe 20 minutes or so before the show starts. I will have anywhere from 1 to 3 shots for a Keiko show. Then we do the first half of the show. There’s a 15 minute intermission in the middle where I will probably do another two shots. Then after the show, depending on how early the lobby call the next morning, is when I kick it into high gear and drink. Last night started out very typical but I forgot about the Russian element. I did my shots, played the first half of the show and then was met backstage by my favorite stand-up bass player, Vadik. He asked if I’d like a drink, I said yes and he said follow me. Half of that conversation was in Ukrainian so I’m guessing that that’s what he said. Anyway, he led me down some stairs and down some long, winding hallways into the depths of the theater where his dressing room was and pulled out, of course, a bottle of vodka. We downed 2/3 of the bottle and went back for the second half of the show. I was way ahead of schedule but somehow managed to nail what I needed to nail. Song after song flew by and I was having a blast. I was a little worried that I would make through the Russian Idols guys song because I had to read some serious notes but I was on fire!

When the show was over, I invited Vadik and his vodka to the band’s dressing for more drinking. We were joined by the twins and all of us began to consume vodka like it was candy. We were reminiscing about the last 6 years of touring the Ukraine, joking and laughing about pas shows, I even borrowed Kayta’s guitar and gave an impromptu performance of my song “Baby” that’s on my latest record “Dive Bar Rock Star!” available on Itunes ;-) , all the while forgetting that we had to catch a train to the next city. I feel bad now for our stressed out, overworked Ukrainian tour manager, Olga, who now had to heard a bunch of drunk musicians to the train (including Keiko, I might add). at this point my memory gets a little foggy but somehow we all managed to make it on the train. We all reconvened in someones sleeper car for a few more drinks, I love you man’s and road stories. I was rooming with Kayta and we finally made it back to my sleeper car after getting lost on the way not realizing we were in the wrong train car and then I crashed hard.

Overall, it was the most fun we’ve had on this trip so far. It’s nice to be able to let lose and let off some steam once in a while and I think we were all due. I woke up the next day feeling quite refreshed behind a little bit of a hangover. Good times!!

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…And more Vodka…

by eric on Oct.22, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

We had a great show in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. It’s an awesome city and the people are cool. We always have a good time there. After the show we slept for a couple of hours and it was off to the train station for a short, 6 hour ride to Kiev. We arrive there at 12:30pm, checked in and went to a 4pm rehearsal. In Kiev we’ll be performing with a local orchestra of about 35 to 40 pieces. So we hung out in Kiev for 2 days just to rehearse. The rehearsal took place in an older theater which I suspect the local musicians just broke into because there was no heat or running water. It was pretty funny watching 40 people all playing in their coats. This also makes everything sound really bad because horns go out of tune when they get cold and not at the same rate. Basses and electric keyboards don’t change at all. You can imagine how lovely that sounds. I’m not a big fan of rehearsals anyway so this made me pretty grumpy. Not to mention the fact that we’re rehearsing songs that I’ve been playing for years. I wish I could’ve sent a sub and gotten some sleep instead but I endured like the professional that I am.

We had a great show in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. It’s an awesome city and the people are cool. We always have a good time there. After the show we slept for a couple of hours and it was off to the train station for a short, 6 hour ride to Kiev. We arrived there at 12:30pm, checked in and went to a 4pm rehearsal. In Kiev we’ll be performing with a local orchestra of about 35 to 40 pieces. So we hung out in Kiev for 2 days just to rehearse. The rehearsal took place in an older theater which I suspect the local musicians just broke into because there was no heat or running water. It was pretty funny watching 40 people all playing in their coats. This also makes everything sound really bad because horns go out of tune when they get cold and not at the same rate. Basses and electric keyboards don’t change at all. You can imagine how lovely that sounds. I’m not a big fan of rehearsals anyway so this made me pretty grumpy. Not to mention the fact that we’re rehearsing songs that I’ve been playing for years. I wish I could’ve sent a sub and gotten some sleep instead but I endured like the professional that I am.

The next day, after a nice long night of sleep, we awoke for another rehearsal. Yippie! This one, much to my surprise, turned out to be quite interesting. When I arrived I was greeted by the double bass player that I had met last year when we played. He told me he was tired from working late the night before and drinking too much vodka. I told him I loved the vodka in Ukraine. He said “would you like some?” I laughed and said “sure” thinking he was only kidding. It was 11:30 in the morning. He has to be kidding…right? We played a couple of songs and he called me out to the lobby where he pulled out a bottle of vodka and started pouring. To refuse would’ve been rude so away we went. We were joined by our percussion player the legendary Steve Reid, and a trombone player. Then the four of us, I kid you not, finished off an entire bottle of vodka in about 10 minutes and I hadn‘t even eaten breakfast yet. At that point it turned into the best rehearsal ever. I’ve never enjoyed rehearsing more. The band sounded amazing! After another hour we took another break and finished off yet another bottle. I love Kiev!

We were also visited by our biggest fans in Kiev that we affectionately refer to as the twins. I met the twins years ago, in a very drunken state, playing in a great little bar after a show. They’ve become great fans of Keiko and hang out with us whenever we’re in town. We never tell them where we’re rehearsing but they somehow find us every time. It’s a little scary now that I think about it. Anyway, big shout out to the twins!

The good times just kept on rolling. After five hours of rehearsing we headed straight to the train station for a 15 hour over night ride to Lugansk. We were met there by a take out dinner which included two more bottles of vodka. We got settled in and the entire band and crew squeezed into my 2 person sleeper car for a party. Everybody drank, laughed and then retired to their own cars. After drinking literally all day I slept like a baby on the train.

We’re now in Lugansk where we have a few hours to get cleaned up before we play a show and then jump on a cramped bus for a 13 hour drive over night and this bus isn’t even pretending to be a sleeper. Ugh!

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Buses and Extortion

by eric on Oct.18, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

The last few days have been rough to say the least. The Russian survival training part of the tour has officially begun with a 16 hour bus ride leaving directly after the show in Samara, RU and ending at the sound check in Ekaterinburg, RU. In the U.S., this wouldn’t be problem at all because we have what you call “sleeper” style buses. The best ones have usually 12 bunks and a front and back lounge section with plenty of room for the 10 people in our entourage. They also come equiped with electricity, internet, satellite TV and DVD players in every bunk not to mention a bathroom and sometimes a shower. It’s the lap of luxury and my favorite way to tour. Russia, however, has no sleepers. They have what you call “upright” or “coach” style buses. Picture your average Greyhound bus but about 2/3 the size with no heat and an awful smell. Mmmmm…what a way to spend the night. They did manage to create a sleeper by turning half of the seat around so that they faced each other and throwing mattresses across them so we could lay down. It worked but it was far from the comfort of the U.S.. Now add on the fact that Russian roads haven’t been serviced in decades it seems and some of the mountain passes in Siberia are dirt. It makes for a great ride. The bus broke down twice and we lost two hours because of the time change so we arrived at the venue 20 minutes before the show was supposed to start, tired beat up and dirty. We did a quick sound check, ate a couple of pieces of meat and cheese backstage, I ran my fingers through my hair and proceeded to rock in a smooth jazz sort of way. The people of Ekaterinburg were very awesome in spite of us pushing the show back two hours.

A familiar thing happened to us the day before while leaving Krasnodar. We were running a little late to the flight but things were going somewhat smoothly. By smooth I mean the usually hour of taking 25 pieces of luggage and road cases through what seems like 10 ex-ray machines just to get to check in and then standing around waiting for the tour crew and promoters to haggle with the airline over the price of oversize luggage while fending off the evil stares of the unfortunate other travelers who got in line behind us. You know…smooth. Anyway, after all of that we were going through security which starts with a check of your passport and ticket. This has not been a problem at all on this trip but today this guard saw an opportunity to make some money. He claimed we had the wrong immigration forms and he calls his superior who comes and looks concerned like we’ve done the worst thing in the world. They eventually take our Russian promoters to another room and do a little exchange: 150 euros and we get our passports back. There was nothing wrong with our forms they just knew we were late and there was nothing we could do. I wish I could say that this was the first time this had ever happened to us out here but it’s just the way things are here.

When we first arrived a week or so ago and retrieved our baggage and gear we had to show our luggage tags to get out of the baggage area (Russians are the only ones left in the world that still check). The baggage claim area was walled of and by the time we got our stuff we were the only ones left in the area. We had the gear loaded on to carts and we were ready to go. The guard who was checking the tags ask what we were doing here and was told that we were a band. Then he said give me a CD. The promoter refused. The guard then said give me a CD and I’ll let you go or I’ll check all of the bags individually which would of meant another 20 minutes of unloading the carts. Needless to say he got his CD.

These are pretty mild annoyances but sometimes it gets brutal. One time we had to connect in Minsk, Belarus. We thought it was weird when we could not check our luggage all the way through when we checked in in Moscow but we got on the plane, anyway. When we arrived in Minsk we unloaded our gear and they wouldn’t let us check in. After making us wait around, holding the flight for 3 hours and moving our massive amount of gear around two or three times to be inspected they charged us $2500 dollars for visa’s and let us go. The kicker was that we got right back on the very same plane that we had flown in on. The options were basically “we can take your stuff and put you in jail or you can pay us and be on your way”. It makes me appreciate that we have rights and laws in the U.S. and we’re not at the mercy of some rogue customs agents that are looking for some extra cash. I’m starting to miss home. By the way, that was the first time we ever played in Ekaterinburg. We were late that day because of the delay and the people waited two hours in the cold to see us. You Rock, Ekaterinburg!

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Jazz, Vodka and more Vodka

by eric on Oct.16, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

Krasnodar was a blast. The show went pretty well in spite of some strange equipment and non english speaking technicians. When touring out here with an artist on this level, all of the equipment we use is rented. Every venue is sent a long list of what we need that is really specific on brands, model numbers and sometimes even color of the gear. It seems to me that what happens next is the local promoter throws that document in the trash and gives us whatever they can find for us to play through. So the first challnge of each show day is making whatever they give you sound decent enough to do the show. Sometimes we’re even talking about toys or student model instruments and amps. It’s like trying to drive in a Nascar race with a MINI Cooper. It’s dangerous and you’re probably not going to win. The other challenge is the crew. Krasnodar is a smaller town and the smaller the town, the less people speak English. It gets scary when you ask the monitor engineer (he is your life line on stage and the guy in charge of what you hear) to turn up the bass and he looks at you with a wide eyed stare, say’s “Da” (Russian for yes) and doesn’t move at all. That’s when you know you’re on your one and you’re just going to have to make do. In the end the we pulled it off and the crowd went wild. Rock and Roll!!

When the show ended, we were wisked over to a night club to hear some upcoming Krasnodarian Jazz musicians and asked to sit in and jam. This is usually a welcomed thing for most musicians. As much as I love Keiko Matsui’s music, it gets to be a bit much when that’s all you get to play for weeks at a time. The opportunity to stretch out and play some other tunes can save you from losing your mind. We sat at our table and ordered some vodka. Then two of the skinniest young kids I’ve ever seen took the stage. The guitar player had plaid pants and looked like he was straight out the 60’s and the bass player had green hair and peircings who probably came right from a punk show. They were joined by a not so skinny drummer and a DJ and away they went. Notes were flying all over the place like a swarm of bees. Jazz standards were being shredded to pieces by angst and youth. They had amazing technical abilities but it was exhausting. After an hour of that it was our turn. We all got up including Keiko who decided to play with us. She usually doesn’t do that especially if she’s been drinking but this night she was inspired. She decided to play one of her more challenging pieces called “White Gate”. She counted it off and everybody started playing with the same crazy energy as the kids. I’m sure on one level we were trying to show the previous band who was boss but I also think we had so much energy bottled up after many plane, bus and van rides that it was time to let it all out…or maybe we were just drunk. Everybody soloed, the skinny kids sat in, it was crazy mayhem and probably quite a site to see. After that Keiko sat down and we all kept switching off playing tunes. Then we ended the with a drunken rendition of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” which I sang. It was an epic night.

It would’ve been great if the night ended there…but it didn’t. We all headed back to the hotel bar where amongst four of us we polished off another two bottles of vodka. It’s hard to keep up with these Russians. They drink vodka like it’s soda. We were drinking with the local promoter/tour manager who had started consuming shots of vodka at lunch early that day at about noon. He continued to drink through the show and the club and then at the hotel until 3am. I came down the next day at 3:30pm to leave for the airport and he was still wasted and could barely talk. It was fun checking in 10 people with 25 pieces of luggage and gear with a wasted Russian at the helm. It was a  painful day of travel. It was pouring rain when we left Krasnodar, which is good luck in Russia apparently. Then we connected in Moscow and it was 30 degees, snowing and my head was still pounding. It’s a wonder that we ever survive these tours but somehow we do…knock on wood.

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Jet lag and food.

by eric on Oct.13, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music

So today was our first day off and the jet lag is in full force. It usually takes me until the 4th day to really feel it. My body feels like it weighs 800 pounds and I can barely keep my eyes open. We had an 8 am lobby call, drove an hour to the aiport, spent another hour checking in, took a 2 and a half hour flight from St. Peteresburg to Krasnodar (I pronounce it ‘close the door’), spent another hour getting luggage and loading and then we drove to the hotel. At the hotel we had about 3 hours to nap and clean up before dinner. After that I returned to the hotel by about 10:30 where I spent another hour trying to get the internet to work and here I am writing this blog. That was my day off.

St. Petersburg yesterday was really beautiful and the show went well. It’s such a different vibe there than the cold, intimidating, old school, communist Russia vibe of Moscow. St. Petersburg is more about beauty. The buildings are much more artsy. There are lots of parks and monuments. It’s known as the cultural center of Russia. The people there were much more relaxed and friendly. We played in an old orchestral theater in the middle of town. It’s such a trip being in these old theaters. It instantly takes you back in time to when you’d be playing for a Czar or something. I’d love to stay the night in one of them and do some ghost hunting. The crowd was great, the Jager was flowing, the weird Italian food was delicious and we all had a good time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWr4mhnWI7Y

Which brings me to my next point. A lot of times the local promoters who are in charge of feeding the band will take us to their best version of our hometown foods. So far we’ve eaten pizza, Italian food, and Sushi. I guess they think it’ll make us feel at home which is a nice jesture. The problem is that the food is never quite right. It’s like trying to get good Thai food in Iowa. It’s not goona happen. It’s a drag to be eating mediocre sushi when I bet the Russian food here rocks. Where can I get some of that?? I’m not saying the food is bad but it’s just a little off. Like corn in the spaghetti sauce or not so spicy tuna rolls. I would rather have McDonald’s or Taco Bell. at least that’s the real thing. Sometimes we are sponsored by one restaurant in each town so we’ll eat at the same place the whole time we’re there. It’s great if the place has a big menu but sometimes it’s three meals and none of them are good. So far this time it hasn’t been that way…but it’s only day 4.

Last night after the show while drinking it up at the weird Italian food place, we watched a bootleg DVD of a show we did in Kiev a few years ago. This place is full of bootleg stuff. It’s hard to even sell the real cd’s because everyone already has copies and they bring them for Keiko to sign. It’s kind of hilarious. It was an awesome DVD, though. I never did get that check in the mail…hmmm.

Tomorrow we rock Krasnodar! I’ll tell you all about it.

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Day 2 and 3: Moscow and St. Petersburg

by eric on Oct.12, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

We had our first show yesterday in Moscow and it was a little rough. We have a new drummer in the band who is a great player but only had one rehearsal before we left the states to learn 25 songs. Not an easy task. Keiko Matsui’s music is deceptively challenging, especially for the drummer. It involves a lot of different styles of music. It’s a mixture of classical, fusion, smooth jazz, latin, straight ahead jazz, south African pop, world music, and rock. So instead of just a sound check we had a 3 hour rehearsal before performing our 2 hour show. Add on jet lag and it was a long day. Luckily, there was a bottle of Jagermeister waiting for me in the dressing room. It was an almost sold out crowd, however, and they all dug it.

You may wonder why anyone even knows about Keiko Matsui in Russia…well I would wonder. There’s an Olympic gold medalist figure skater from Russia named Irina Slutskaya. She won a national gold medal skating to one of Keiko’s songs. Between that and touring over here for the last 7 years, she’s managed to build a good following. There are billboards all around town and the people really love her. So in spite of the rough patches the show was well received.

We awoke this morning at 5 am to catch our 8:15 flight to St. Petersburg. I am by no means a morning person (check out my song “Don’t Be Like Me” on Itunes and that will tell you all about it) but between the schedule and the 11 hour time difference I become one on the road. I had about 4 hours of sleep last night, took a flight, sat in traffic in a van for an hour and a half then checked into our hotel. Now I’ve got 2 hours to chill before lunch, sound check, show and dinner. I’ll then be a bit drunk on Jager and Russian vodka and pass out for a couple of hours before we wake up tomorrow for another early flight.

That is the glamorous life of a jazz musician. I usually call these the Keiko Matsui “beat you up tours”. Keiko tells a joke on stage about how she feels like she puts us through Russian survival training. It’s rough but this life gets a addicting. It becomes a challenge to see how much you can endure. We once traveled 18 hours on planes and vans to Pori, Finland for the Jazz Festival and arrived 45 minutes before downbeat. No time for showers or naps or anything. Ready, set, go! Another time I flew 32 hours home from a Keiko gig in Johannesberg, South Africa, landed in Las Vegas via L.A. at 4pm and was on stage by 6pm at the Mirage Hotel. You have to get good at sleeping on planes, train, vans, airport, buses and sometimes you’ll find us all crashed out together in the dressing room. It’s crazy but it’s exciting.

Speaking of exciting, I’ve got get cleaned up and rock the people of St. Petersberg, Russia. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Eastern Europe Tour: Day 1, Moscow

by eric on Oct.11, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

I was looking through my passport while in the airport waiting to board the plane and I realized this is my 11th trip to Russia and Eastern Europe in the last 7 years or so. This time I thought I would blog about it as I go and tell some stories of past trips along the way. I hope this isn’t the most boring read you’ve ever experienced and if it is I apologize in advance.

These trips always start with an endurance test. Twelve hours (or more) in the air with Eastern Europeans and yesterday was no different. It begins with boarding. It’s basically like nervous cattle. Sometimes the airline people attempt to board by rows but it never happens. As soon as there’s an open door to the plane everyone bum rushes the gate pushing and shoving as if there’s a fire. If you’ve ever stood in line at the bank with people from other countries you also know that their sense of space is very different from ours. I haven’t been touched by that many strangers since the swingers club in Amsterdam (but that’s a whole different story). 

Once on the plane the fight for space begins. There’s never enough overhead bin space and people are ruthless. I once watched as a very large Russian fellow couldn’t find space above his seat so he removed our percussion players bag, threw it on the floor and replaced it with his own. Not fun. This time the woman sitting next to me arrived at the seat, looked at the stuffed overhead bin above us and said, “Is this your luggage?”. Half of it was and half of it was not. She then asked in a rude and pushy tone, ” But what about my bag? I need to put it up there”, completely ingnoring the half empty bin behind her. I looked at her and said “it’s full” and pointed to any of the other fine looking overhead bins where she could rest her bag.

After you’ve claimed your bin space the fight for the arm rest begins with the person next to you. For me it was the afore mentioned lady who tried to enjoy her seat and about a third of mine. It was a constant battle of elbows. I woke up this morning with bruised ribs (I will admit that I bruise easily, though).

The rest of this flight was fairly tame but you can sometimes also expect a lot of drinking. One time another large Russia comrade got drunk and loud and was harrasing the passengers with his singing and aggressive behavior for at least half the flight. He spent the other half of the flight litterally passed out in the aisle. The flight attendants, however, were so happy that he had shut up that they quietly walked over him for hours making sure not to wake him.

Oh, and did I mention that most Europeans do not use deodorant? Imagine that smell after twelve hours in the air. Mmmmm. I always say that if I ever make it big I’m going to start a charity organization to help bring deodorant to the lesser fortunate countries of the world and stamp out B.O. once and for all. I need to pick my ribbon color.

In the end I managed to get a few hours of sleep, watch a few movies, listen to newest MuteMath record (which is awesome, btw) and play hours of solitaire on my Ipod. We landed safely in Moscow (Everybody still claps when they land here. I think that’s so 1978) and people immediately started clammering for their bags…while we’re still taxying! It’s crazy! I don’t know if people can’t hear when flight attendants are screaming over the P.A. to remain seated, they can’t see the “fasten seatbelt” sign or if they just don’t care. Some things I’ll never understand.

We were then greeted by our local crew who took us to dinner and that’s where the reward begins. Riding through the street of a foreign country where you can’t read a thing, the language is weird, the smells are different and the buildings are crazy, old and beautiful. Then the pizza dinner tastes good but just a little off in a way you can’t quite figure out. It’s really what I live for. I’m immediately refreshed and ready for adventure. Let the games begin!

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“Do I Have To Read Music?”

by eric on Feb.06, 2010, under Music

I thought I’d blog about something a little nerdier than I usually do. I’m often asked by aspiring musicians as I’m traveling around playing music, ” Do I have to know how to read?” You would think that there would be an easy answer to that question but to me it’s a little more complicated. 

I’ve lived a double life over the 18 years of my music career. On the one hand I’m an aspiring artist, songwriter, producer and entertainer. On the other hand, I’m also a professional working musician who makes his living playing music. These are very different things and each has it’s own approach. 

Let’s start with the easier answer. As a professional musician who relies on music to make my living, I can’t afford to turn gigs down. I always go by the rule that the best players get the best gigs. That means if I can’t read then there are a huge chunk of gigs that I can’t play. That’s not good for business. Making your living at music relies more on your skills than on your musicality sometimes. I’ve known plenty of mediocre players that make a good living just because they can read. I’ve also known really super great players and 99.9 percent of them can read. 

Having said all of that, not everyone has to be the perfect site reader. There are different levels of reading and each one gets you more gigs. If you can read a chord chart or a lead sheet, that is a few more gigs that you can do and it’s better than nothing. Sometimes artists will give you their charts ahead of time so if you can read slowly then that’s a gig you can do. There are also the gigs where you are given the book when you get there and they call out numbers of chats all night long and you read eerything…and those gigs usually pay really well. I’ve also had artists give me their charts before the gig but once I get there they’ve decided to do a couple of other tunes that they brought the chart for. At that point you have a short sound check to learn the tunes before 5,ooo people show up to watch you fall on your ass.

The last thing I’ll say about this is what’s the big deal about reading? Why is everybody so afraid of it. Just learn how to read. At least learn what you can. It will only help you play more gigs. Buy a book, take a private lesson, go to college whatever it takes. Learn what you can and work on your craft. The best players get the best gigs.

 I remember the first time someone, other than my parents, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was seventh grade in the computer lab in middle school and a very hot girl (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent) asked me the question. Without even thinking I said “I want to be a rock star”. It was like the words just jumped out of my mouth. I wasn’t even in control. At the time I didn’t even know what that meant but that’s what my gut knew. To me this is a whole different approach to the music business and the other life I live as an artist. When you get into writing your own music and putting a band together to make it as a star, that is more about entertainment and creativity then skills. If you are interest in being in a band and making it big as an artist I would recommend you spend more time working on your songwriting skills and your stage presence. You still need to be able to play but you’ll probably never read or need that skill. To be an artist you need to figure out who you are and what you have to say. You need to search yourself to find out what it is that people like about you and how to bring it to the masses in a presentable package. Reading is not going to hurt you but it’s not a necessity. I would suggest you write, write, write. 

I hope this answer this question and helps somebody somewhere. Let me know what you think. Now go make some music. Oh…and buy my record!

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