I mentioned in a recent Contrabass Conversations episode that I would be sharing Canadian bassist Meredith Nelson’s experiences with double bass plane travel over the years. It is a great reflection of all the garbage we bassists have to deal with just to bring the tools we need to perform our craft. Enjoy!
I used to work for Carnival Cruse lines playing in a jazz trio. I was just out of college and couldn’t afford a flight case so they would buy a ticket for my bass to come on the plane with me. The first time I took it on the plane with me I couldn’t get it into the seat properly. So here I am actually holding up the flight trying to get my bass in its place. It wasn’t’ working, so then it dawned on me. If you have seen the old version of Rufus Ried’s book “the Evolving Bassist” you see that he actually has photos of himself carrying his bass on a plane and flipping it upside down to fit in the seat with the headstock on the floor. I figured I’d give it a shot. So here I am, struggling with flipping my bass upside down in a cabin full of people staring at me wondering what the hell I am doing. To my surprise it worked. To add insult, after all this (I kid you not), a guy with a cello walked on the plane before me and either put it up top or in a closet with ease.Another flight, same thing: bass doesn’t fit. No problem….so I flip the bass again and I’m set. The lady behind started complaining that my bass is in her field of vision and making her uncomfortable. The flight attendant comes up to me and tells me I’m holding up the flight and that there is room in 1st class and to try putting my bass there. So I go up there and no problem–the bass fits perfectly without the flip and I get my first ever flight in 1st class.Same thing happened again on another flight where my bass wouldn’t fit in a coach seat even with flipping it. I tell the attendant of the bass fitting in the 1st class seats and if any were available. She comes back and says there are seats available and to bring my bass up there. So triumphantly I leave coach up to 1st class. Bass fits, I sit down–it’s great. A couple minutes later the flight attendant taps me on the shoulder telling me my bass can stay but I have to go back to my seat in coach, what a drag.Finally, the last flight I took my bass on was two months after 9/11. Flying out of Toronto, security would try to get me to put my bass through the luggage scanner/x-ray thing. It would never fit so I would have to take my bass out and they would look all in it and swab it for explosives. Well, this flight was out of Peurto Rico post 9/11. I get to security and they tell me to put my bass through the luggage scanner. I tell them in Toronto that it wouldn’t fit and they would swab it and inspect it that way. The lady says to me dead seriously, “If you don’t put the bass on the scanner, you are not getting on the plane,” so I figured that I had to try, so I get it on there and it fits. Luckily, their scanner was a lot wider. It actually looked cool seeing the bass going through the scanner. I get on the plane and remeber nobody was flying at this time–there was maybe thirty people on the flight. No problem fitting the bass that time.
Again to add insult on that flight, I was supposed to fly to Miami to catch a connecting flight to Toronto. There was a hurricane in Miami that day so they weren’t letting any planes land, so I had to fly to O’Hare instead but had to spend the night in the airport because we missed our flight to Toronto again due to weather. So after sleeping on the floor in the airport all night. I get myself together for my flight back home. This guy starts asking me questions about my bass and what I was doing. So after a few minutes of talking I introduce myself and he tells me his name is Victor Krauss. Then it dawns on me. I said, “aren’t you on all those Bill Frisell records?” Turns out he was on his way to a corporate gig in Toronto with Lyle Lovett. “where is your bass?” I asked him. Turns out all the band gear was taken care of–they didn’t have to touch a thing. I forgot that the big shots have Roadies.
Moral of the story? If you fly, have someone else take care of your gear. Francois Rabbath spoke about several plane travel nightmares that he has experienced, and you’ll be earing these on the second part of the Contrabass Conversations interview the I did with him.