I woke up early the next morning in my small but luxurious room at the five star Hotel Lutetia in Paris. The band had to catch a flight to Birmingham for a concert, then drive back to London to continue our residency for a few more days, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra. But first things first: I needed to get myself and my suitcases down to the bus.
Because I didn’t return to the hotel with the band the previous night, opting instead to hang with friends near the venue, I missed Boss Murphy’s announcement on the bus to put our suitcases on the equipment truck at midnight. So now I had three bags to deal with at Charles de Gaulle. Plus, I still had the cheese. The fourth layer I had added did very little to reduce the olfactory assault, and I stubbornly stuffed it into one of my bags. Damn it if I was going to throw this away now, after all we’ve been through together.
The airport was a freaking zoo. I was the only one dragging three suitcases, and Boss asked two other guys to each check one to avoid extra fees. This meant they had to follow me around the airport instead of going straight to the gate like the other cats. Navigating through the dense crowd of tour groups and families with multiple bags and strollers was a challenge. There was no obvious indication of where to go, but after a few minutes we saw a sign that said “bag drop.” There was a very large and disorganized cluster of people crammed in front of it, attempting to form a line, but it was a complete mess. The line wasn’t moving. There was a small entrance forming a bottle neck. I noticed people were entering from the sides, but the people in front of me where just standing there. I pushed my way up closer and saw why: there was a barrier stopping people from going through. Why the hell are people just standing there, like dumb cows? I traced with my eyes to where the moving lines on the sides originated. They seemed to go all the way around the corner, out of sight. There was no way we were going to be able to get ourselves out of this mess and around to the back of one of those those lines. No choice but to push to the front of this stagnant mass, go under the barrier, and storm the castle! A large group of Japanese tourists were pouring through, single-file, and I kept pushing my cart trying to break the flow. The group’s leader kept pushing me back to insure his whole group got through unsegregated. I am pretty sure the entire population of Osaka was passing in front of me. At one point I managed to successfully slip my cart in front of one slower-moving people and got through the bottle neck and onto the other side. Here I was fighting practically to the death to get somewhere I had no idea where it was I was going. I just knew I had to get there.
Once through, I found the line I needed to be in to check the bags, and got in it with a big sigh. And there it was - the relentless smell of the quadruply wrapped cheese. I was at my wit’s end. I unzipped the suitcase, yanked out the offending package and walked to the nearest garbage can and tossed it in. Ciao, my stinky friend.
Boss Murphy missed the flight. His carry-on was overweight and they wouldn’t let him through security. By the time he made his way back to check in his bag and return to security, it was too late.
When we arrived in the UK we were without our work papers (which were in Boss’s briefcase) and it took us an hour to get through immigration. When we got to other side, it took us another hour to locate the bus, which had parked more than a half mile away. The walk, dragging three suitcase and two carry-ons, added insult to injury.
On the bus I swore I could still smell the cheese, and started to worry about my mental state.
My memory of the gig that night in Birmingham is a bit dim, but if for nothing else it was certainly eventful in that a large group of US Olympiads were in attendance. At the end of our second set they came out on stage to take a bow, and remained there while we played an encore.
The next day we played an outdoor festival at the Tower of London, which felt more like a rock concert. The stage was set up in the moat, which had been filled in with soil and grass. We were to perform between two pop acts. I am positive the audience appreciated our visit - it gave them the opportunity to go to the bathroom and grab a snack.
I think I can safely say the final four days was the highpoint of the residency at the Barbican: rehearsals and concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. We were tackling Wynton’s “Swing Symphony,” a challenging work we had premiered in Berlin two years earlier, also with Mr. Rattle. He is without question one of the finest conductors in the world, and it was great working with him again. He has a deep appreciation and understanding of jazz, which really helps the way he shapes the music, and how he brings together the orchestra and big band. The LSO was fantastic, and the concerts a joyful collaboration.
After three weeks it was time to say goodbye to London. Our time here felt less like a tour, and more like a way of life. For the first time I really got to know this great city. I will miss it.
Next stop: Toulouse.