ABT Diaries 7
Day 13 – 9/22: 0 miles, Amherst MA
A relaxed and much needed day of rest in preparation for the evening’s duo concert. Took a nice walk into town from the UMass campus and had a great lunch at Amherst Chinese Food (where I again hit the bitter melon), but let my legs chill otherwise.
Though we recorded a duo album in studio in 2002, and even with all the scores of gigs we’ve played together in trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets, tentets, twelvetets, and 12+1tets, pieces for creative orchestras, seven trumpets and one hundred tubas, Anthony and I had never played a live duo concert together. So I was both thrilled and a little scared. (He’s one of my friends and closest collaborators, but he’s also still one of my musical heroes!) I cheated a little bit…there was no way I was going to try and take on Braxton with just a pocket cornet in tow. Rachel came up for the concert from New Haven and brought some brass reinforcements, my full contingent: cornet, flugel, piccolo and bass trumpets, and a trumpbone (a trombone I play with a trumpet mouthpiece jammed in) joined my little pocket. Anthony brought out his baritone saxophone in addition to the regular alto, soprano, and sopranino, so instruments lined the stage.
The results were both audio and video recorded, and knowing Anthony, the tapes will surely be released one of these days, so I won’t try to describe the music. I will just say I was veryhappy. We did two sets, and even after two weeks of biking and regular playing, being in probably the best shape of my life, I could barely keep up, Braxton just brings it. An utter delight.
Bezanson Hall is a great sounding room and we played wholly acoustically. It was a packed, standing room only crowd that was deeply appreciative and engaged, with a ton of musicians in the house, both old friends and folks I met on this trip (I saw Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Jason Robinson, David Sanford, Forbes Graham, Anne Rhodes, Carl Testa, Tom Crean, Bob Weiner, Ian Durling, and I’m sure I’m missing others. With some of my brass-playing faves like Dave and Forbes around, I had to represent!) Plus many younger, college-aged folks, some of whom seemed to be hearing this kind of stuff for the first time, which is always great. (Between sets Anthony was approached by a particularly eager young man who seemed to have just gotten his mind blown open…I couldn’t tell if it was chemically aided or not, but the enthusiasm was certainly sincere!)
Glenn Siegel has really put together something special with the Magic Triangle series. They’d been going strong over twenty years and it is truly a community; regulars bringing in new listeners, local folks volunteering their time and services to help make it all happen. In a crazy small world moment, it turned out I had met our chef Kieran (who made a slamming chicken stew with fresh bread) many years earlier; he was close friends with the younger brother of one of my best friends, Nathan Boyer, and had been a high school classmate of Mary Halvorson. (Nathan, in increasing coincidence, had been the first person I knew who biked across the country, and had also called me earlier that evening!) Anyway, the penultimate concert of the ABT couldn’t have been better. And best of all, only one more long trip and I was home.
Day 14 – 9/23: 102.5 miles, Amherst MA to New Haven CT
More broken spokes, more navigational misdirection, but more perfect weather and idyllic biking. It is just over 90 miles from Amherst to New Haven and over half of it is on paved biked paths, running through the woods, alongside streams and farms, over the fallen leaves. If the whole country was like that, everyone would be biking to their gigs. Unfortunately, the trails aren’t always that clearly marked, so sometimes when you think you’re heading south out of Northampton, you’re actually going west. But that took me on some lovely country roads, so on a day like this I didn’t mind. Another bit of geographic confusion had me lost in the woods, slowly crawling across a rotting train bridge high over a river. That was a bit more stressful, but was an interesting moment to experience, and I eventually found my way back on route.
I broke another spoke about ten miles into the day, but had a spare and quickly fixed it up. (At this point, I’ve gotten pretty good at that!). The last spoke broke as I came up on Sleeping Giant State Park, just twelve miles north of New Haven: one of my favorite hiking spots, and a place I regularly biked to over the summer, so I knew I was almost home! At that point, I just said screw it, pulled the rear brake off, and wobbled the rest of the way back. The wheel had served with honor but it was clearly done. Every time an acorn popped out from under my tires I imagined it was another spoke going, I saw them flying off of my wheel as I got closer and closer to home, until I pull into my driveway as the final one goes and the wheel collapses. Reality was a little less dramatic, but deeply satisfying nonetheless.
I hit 100 miles for the day just I came onto the Grand Avenue Bridge across the Quinnipiac River, entering my little neighborhood of Fair Haven Heights. A few blocks later and I was home. After several minutes just lying on my back in my yard and soaking in the feeling, I took a quick shower and headed back down to the river to the City Seed Farmer’s Market. My Positive Catastrophe conspirators pulled up in a minivan, the quartet version with my co-leader Abraham Gomez-Delgado on his one-man EJE percussion set-up, and the fantastic horn players Matt Bauder on tenor sax and Reut Regev on trombone. The concert was sponsored by Junta for Progressive Action (the oldest Latino, community-based non-profit in New Haven) and the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association; two great organizations I’m really glad to be getting to know. Sometimes you have to bike over 700 miles to wake up to the people in your own neighborhood.
It was beautiful playing outside by the river as the sun set: kids dancing in the grass, grandmothers clapping along, passersby being pulled into the music. It was fun taking tunes we usually play as a big band and stretching them out as a quartet; Abraham, Matt and Reut all sounded great. And after all the travels, it felt incredibly good to be playing music a stone’s throw from my own house. After the gig, we hit the neighborhood spot Grand Apizza for dinner (the hidden local gem in the New Haven pizza firmament), the musicians hit the road back to NYC, and I got to go home and sleep in my own bed.
The totals: 14 days and 14 gigs with over 50 different musicians; 5 broken spokes, one bent chainwheel, and 7 bike repair shops; just 30 minutes of drizzle (biking into Kennebunkport) and one hour of extreme cold (early morning in New Hampshire) against hundreds of hours of truly spectacular New England fall weather; and 750 miles of hard, exhausting, joyful, peaceful, and rewarding travels on two wheels.
More thoughts to come later, but that’s it for now. In the meantime, my bike is in the shop to get the wheel rebuilt and a well-deserved tune-up, and I’m getting ready to hit the road again next week for some great gigs with Jason Hwang, my own SpiderMonkey Strings, and Anthony Braxton. I’m traveling to Chicago, Ann Arbor, Portugal, Germany, and France, unfortunately via the traditional means of planes, trains, and automobiles. The good carbon-footprint karma will run out fast. So will the Acoustic Bicycle Tour have a sequel? I’m not sure yet, but I’m definitely leaning towards it; the question is whether West Coast (beautiful riding, good gigs, lots of friends and support) or cross-country (symbolically appropriate, logistically complex) makes more sense. But the road is definitely still calling; the composition is still a work in progress.