I have played in Central Europe only once and it was quite an experience. It was March 2002. We had been performing in Western Europe and had grown accustomed to crossing borders without showing passports, not having to worry about exchanging currency and communicating using either English, German or French. You might say we'd been spoiled. As soon as we crossed the border of Austria into Central Europe it was apparent that we had left our comfort zone and were in for something decidedly different.
My first moment of feeling helpless was on the train when the train attendant came around and had problems with our train passes. We couldn't really communicate but we reached an agreement in the form of €5. When we arrived at the train station in Piestany it was the first time on the tour when the promoter hadn't shown up to get us. I didn't have any Slovak Korony and the telephones didn't take credit cards. The elderly women working at the ticket office didn't speak English or German. Luckily my saxophonist, Ohad Talmor, had a cell phone so I borrowed it to call the promoter, who was very apologetic and came immediately to get us.
The next day we had the same issue with the train attendant. I thought I was being charged €18 so I gave him €10 and some change. He gave me the change back with a big smile. Nice guy. On the next train the attendant asked me for €10 but then decided to give me 50% discount. Nicer guy. We finally arrived in Brno, Czech Republic and again had to call the promoter to come and get us. We sat down to wait for him and Scott accidentally sat on a piece of fruit or a pickle. It was very wet whatever it was.
It was Sunday and we were starving. When we got to our hotel on the outskirts of town, which looked more like an apartment building from the communist era, we asked the receptionist where we could get food and she just replied "Sunday, no food." We asked if we could order pizza and she just repeated "Sunday, no food" which quickly became the tour's slogan. After a few attempts along those lines we decided to go to our rooms and call the promoter again. The tiny elevator opened up to a floor that was completely dark and totally raw. Nothing on the floor, nothing on the wall and no light bulbs. Our rooms looked brand new… actually unfinished, with towels the size of kitchen towels that were hard and thin with holes in them. The biggest surprise however, was that the beds had no mattresses. Only a thin layer of foam. I looked around for the phone, but alas, there was none. I went back downstairs and couldn't get the phone in the lobby to work. The receptionist wasn't being very helpful until I was about to lose my cool and said a few well-chosen words to her. I needed to dial "0" first.
After a nice meal everybody was happy again and we had a great gig in Brno. The next morning we were woken up at 8am by the sound of drills and construction on the floor. I decided to jump in the shower but it was taking a while to warm up so I went to the next room to use the toilet (yes it was in a separate room from the shower). When I got back the shower was still cold and not draining at all. It was definitely the quickest shower I have ever taken. At breakfast we were accompanied by 20 or so construction workers and came to the conclusion that we were the only guests in the unfinished "hotel". Our eggs were served raw and the juice had something floating in it. Ohad made a joke about something moving on Scott's plate and that was it. Nobody felt like eating. I tried to communicate to the promoter that the accommodations were not acceptable but he just smiled and said he would love to have more bands from New York so tell all my friends.
Brno to Plzen to Prague
We were headed to Plzen and when we got off the train in Prague to switch trains, Adela was waiting for us and that totally warmed our hearts. She was there with a big smile to tell us that someone would meet us in Plzen and that she would be there for us the following day when we'd return to Prague. In Plzen we had no time to check in before the concert so we went straight to the venue to set up. It looked very cool.
We were psyched to be in the birthplace of Pilsner Urquell and made sure to sample some with dinner. After the concert we arrived at our hotel with much anticipation. It was very close by but not quite what we had hoped for. We had to walk up 3 flights of stairs. Scott and I had a blue room with a disco ball and multicolored lights directed at the bed. From the bed you could see the shower which had a glass wall and mini-blinds… operable from the bedroom! Yikes! My side of the bed had a mattress. Yeah! Oh, but not Scott's. He got the foam treatment again. In the middle of the night Scott woke up sneezing and the spotlights started going off like crazy and scared us to death. Apparently they were sound activated.
In Prague we were relieved to find out that they had booked us in a top class hotel and Adela was a great guide. We played at one of Europe's oldest jazz clubs, The Redutta. The radio recorded the concert and it was later released as the CD "Live in Europe". The audience was very receptive and we had a blast performing for them. There was even a Greek woman who came backstage and hugged and kissed each of us in appreciation. Prague was absolutely breathtaking! We all got some sightseeing time but I wish we could have stayed a little longer.
I feel very fortunate to have seen Slovenia and the Czech Republic before their entry into the European Union because I know that they must have changed dramatically by now, and I look forward to going back sometime to experience the difference.