In July of 2001 I was on tour with our university’s Jazz I in Europe. We were playing in Paris, London, Manchester, Belgium, and at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague over the span of almost 2 weeks. On one of the last nights of performing at the North Sea Jazz Festival I had a solo that at the time seemed to come from some other place. The kind you hear others talking about that the creative was so overtaking that it seemed like I was along for the ride. The audience went nuts. As a performer, there’s probably no greater high than moments like those.
However, It’s amazing how small unwise decisions can compound so quickly. Our performance was early enough in the evening that we decided to eat afterwards. There are plenty of food options at the festival and I ended up choosing a shrimp platter from a vendor (unwise decision #1). In less than an hour I found out that decision was not the wisest choice. Getting sick was the last thing I wanted after riding such a performance high less than 2 hours earlier.
The bus back to our hotel would not be leaving for another 4 hours. Instead of waiting for our bus, I made the mistake of taking public transportation back to our hotel (unwise decision #2). Hauling a trumpet, flugelhorn, and 5 mutes in 3 separate cases (unwise decision #3) is hard enough. Doing it while trying to not get sick on others was borderline comical. I asked the Dutch bus driver if this line would take me to the Movenpick Hotel (unwise decision #4 because I did not realize there were multiple Movenpick hotels between the Hague and Amsterdam) and he replied, “Yes.” Because I was severely dehydrated by this point, I promptly passed out not long after finding my seat.
What seemed like seconds later was being awakened by the bus driver on the intercom, “Sir, this is the last stop.” Wait, what? We weren’t anywhere near a hotel! We were at a bus stop in what looked like a suburban neighborhood. I asked the driver where we were at and if we ever stopped at the Movenpick hotel. His response, “which one?” made my heart sink. I didn’t consider that there were more than one. I asked if there was anyway he could take me back if it were to get me closer to where I was going and he said he couldn’t as that would break their regulations. I had to get off at the stop in a town I never heard of (let alone could pronounce).
2001 was pre-smart phone and google maps so I had no map on me (unwise decision #5) and there was no payphone anywhere near the bus stop. The only thing left to do was to take my dehydrated body and my 3 instrument cases and start walking in the direction the bus came from. After 30-45 minutes of walking a sweet lady stopped her car alongside me and asked if I was lost. After explaining what happened she quickly offered me a ride to my hotel after I described which one it was. Normally I wouldn’t jump into a stranger’s car, but I was desperate and had an unusual calm gut-feeling about her. She happened to have bottles of water in her car and drove me an hour back to my hotel. She refused to let me give her money for the ride and told me to keep drinking some water and get some sleep. I lost track of how many times I told her thank you.
As a musician this taught me a few lessons: One is that you need to remain humble and alert after your epic wins. Enjoy the win, but remember that it’s just a moment. The other important lesson is preparation beyond the music. Had I been prepared (with a map, knowing the name and address of the hotel I was staying, had a better instrument case(s) suited for the trip, etc), my epic fails would have been minor. Today, I’m much more prepared and organized for gigs and tours. The last: remembering that someone may be having a day/night like I had and they might need help too.