I had been in Brazil for a whole month promoting my latest CD, and had only been back home in California for four days, before I had to leave for New York. We were doing a concert at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. The concert went well and two days later I performed for a week at the Blue Note with Toots Thielemans, Oscar Castro Neves and Kenny Warner. Kenny is a really great piano player! No bass player. We didn't want a bass player. It was really an excellent group and I had a lot of fun. On Saturday of that week I did a workshop at the Blue Note, which was packed and went really well.
The day after the workshop I had to go to Moscow, in Russia. I had been there before, but it had always been to do like one concert and then fly out again. I never had much time to see any of the country or the tourist things. On this trip I managed to do some of that.
For this trip I was a featured artist performing with Billy Cobham's band. It was a very good band. Billy is still playing great! Victor Bailey was on bass by the way. The other two players were from Europe and I'm sorry but I just can't remember their names. They were great players though. The keyboard player was a kid and played very tasty. I think he was like twenty eight.
Anyway, the trip out of New York was a nightmare. I called two days in advance to confirm the flight and they said that it was not leaving in the afternoon anymore, that it had been changed and was leaving at night, at 7:30pm. The next day I called again to double check and nobody ever answered the phones. The day of the flight I called early in the morning to be sure everything was fine and they said that the flight was not leaving until the next day, and that it would be leaving in the afternoon. When I mentioned that I was staying in a hotel and asked about compensation they just said that they would not be offering any help with that. I was on my own.
So the next morning I get up and called again to be sure, and they said everything is fine that my flight is leaving today in the afternoon and to come to the airport. So I get to the Aeroflot counter (The airline I flying on) get my boarding pass and they tell me I can go wait in the Delta lounge because it was also used by the Aeroflot passengers. I asked if the flights for Aeroflot were announced in the Delta lounge and they said "Yes" so I went there and found a nice place to wait.
Since I travel a lot I knew things were all wrong. It became 2pm and my flight was supposed to leave at 2:30pm and nothing had been announced in the lounge. So I asked again and found out that Delta knew nothing about Aeroflot. I got them to make some calls and all they could find out was that there were some Aeroflot people at gate number four and they said that I should run to that gate. So I grabbed my things and ran for it. Sure enough it was my flight and it was leaving. It was crazy, even my boarding pass was wrong and had written that the flight left at 7:30pm. Well, at least I did not miss the flight and I got on board.
Aeroflot was quite different from other airlines I had been on. I was traveling first class and noticed that business class was basically empty at first. Then all these people from the coach section just filled up the business section and it became really rowdy. They all had a lot of Vodka. It was a huge party and nobody seemed to care.
When I finally arrived one of my suitcases was missing. Luckily it was my clothes and not my percussion. No matter what I said to the airline people they just said "Not Here" and I kept trying to convince them that it had to be because it had been a non stop flight. Eventually a different woman came and found that it was about to be sent to Siberia. It was a close call but I got my suitcase.
Customs was another problem. They played with all my percussion stuff and kept me for so long that the promoter who came to pick me up had left. Eventually I found a taxi driver with a cell phone who called the promoter and finally I got to my hotel.
Wow what a trip!
I had been told before the trip that it was not too cold, but it was freezing, 5 below zero. So I slept and went to rehearsal the next morning. The hall was nice and the band sounded wonderful, but it was getting colder and colder. It got to the point that it was twelve below zero, and very windy. The concerts all turned out well and the people really loved it. We played there for five days and then we took a train to another town called Dansk. The train ride was interesting. It had a really nice atmosphere. It left at midnight and arrived a six in the morning. There were little bunk beds you could lay down in and when you looked out the window everything was white from the snow. Every once in a while you could see these broken down buildings. You could tell this was a strong country, but not very well taken care of.
After we played in Dansk we played in a little town called Brianski. They had a really fantastic theatre in Brianski, and the sound was wonderful. After we played there we took the train back to Moscow where I had a day off.
For my day off I decided that I would finally do the thing I never do. I was going to go out and see the sights. Me and the keyboard player were the only ones who decided to go on a tour.
We hooked up with this very petit woman who was a professional guide. She was very, very energetic and spoke perfect English. She spoke very fast though. We told her that we wanted to spend a couple of hours seeing the sights and she just argued that it was not enough time, that we could not even see the Kremlin in two hours. She charged $60 dollars an hour and we finally agreed to three hours. She gave us the option of going in a taxi or taking her car, which she said was small but then she could drive and we would not have to pay for the taxi. She strongly emphasized what a great driver she was. So we agreed to go with her.
So we get into her tiny Russian car and the streets are covered in dirty slushy snow. I could see it was hard to drive, because of the slush and it was eleven below zero. We get about two blocks from the hotel and we are waiting at a light. All the while she is talking very energetically, waving her hands around descriptively. Then, the second the light changes to green, she takes off and turns right. Right away we are hit by another car. It wasn't a big accident but we had only gotten five minutes from the hotel and they were really arguing. The other driver had gotten out of his car, come over to ours and opened the door as if he was going to drag us out. I have no idea what he was shouting, but I was imagining all sorts of things. He was giving her such a hard time, but they were both wrong. He was going too fast and not looking and she turned from a lane she wasn't supposed to.
After watching them argue for a while I got out of the car and in Portuguese started saying "Hey! We are late." And I kept pointing to my watch. He kept yelling in Russian at me and her, so I kept talking loudly in Portuguese. We were all yelling and it was kind of funny, out of this world. Then I remembered that I had a camera and I got an idea. He was so angry and even though his car was an old beat up car I though he was going to kill her over this. He didn't even have hardly a dent at all, her car bumper was worse. It was the kind of thing you just forget about and go on your way.
Anyway she gives him all her info and I remind her to get his. Then he starts yelling at me again because obviously I got into his business. So I get out the camera and start to take pictures. I even put on my sun glasses and a big warm hat I had bought. All to try and look impressive and intimidate him. As I'm taking the pictures I notice a woman get out of his car. I had not noticed her before, but I ran over and took her picture. Oh, she got so upset and yelled something at him and then started to walk away. I kept taking pictures of her walking away, and he kept yelling after her. She called over a taxi and took it to the end of the block and then got out. The piano player said that maybe she wasn't his wife or he wasn't her husband, something was up and we thought it was really funny. Finally our guide gave the other driver some money. I don't think he gave her any. It was like a movie! I was laughing so much through the whole thing and so was the piano player.
Then we get back in our car and she is shouting "Let's Go! We are late now!" We can see the guy get in his car and he just takes off and zooms through all the red lights and gets to the corner where the "OTHER" woman is still standing and he picks her up and drives off.
With that adventure over with we finally get to the Kremlin and pay $27 dollars each to get into the museum there. There were lines every where but because we were with this guide we did not have to wait in any of them. The guide was talking so fast it was funny. I think she was in a hurry because we hardly stood still long enough to have a good look at anything. At one place she told us we had to leave our coats and hats, and that I could not bring my camera even. She said that we were not allowed to take pictures. I argued about that and brought it anyway, saying I did not trust leaving it.
As soon as we get inside I see loads of people taking pictures, even with flashes. So I started taking pictures. The guide ran us around the museum talking so fast and moving on so quickly that we could not understand half of what she said. She had us running up and down the stairs in that place for about two hours. We were sweating like crazy.
We saw some amazing things. You know, all the different countries send each other gifts that are incredibly lavish. We saw gifts of diamonds and pearls sent from countries in the east. We saw old gospels with incredible gold jewel encrusted covers. These were the new Gospels that the church re-wrote to better support their idea of Christianity. Then they had sent these revised versions of the Bible to all the countries as gifts. I took pictures. It was amazing to see. There were also huge crowns and Golden carriages.
There was a carriage given as a gift from The King of England to the Czar and his wife. It was one of the largest carriages ever built, and all in gold. Totally impractical. The driver could not see the road because he drove from the back of the carriage and his view was blocked by all the gold. They had to cut a small hole in the gold to give him a small eye hole. The wheels were too big and any rock they drove over would break the wheel. So it was only used twice and now just sits in the museum.
I took tons of pictures and nobody said that I couldn't. Then we were rushed out of there and driven franticly back to the hotel. We were sure she was going to have another accident. At the hotel she charged us for three hours. One hour of accident and two hours of Kremlin.
We were exhausted but we played our gig that night and the next morning got to the airport and left. Wow! The great Russian adventure of 2003. It was such a culture shock to come from Brazil then go to Russia. I was so warm and then so cold. It happened so fast it was almost as if it never happened.
As usual I was held in the US customs for a while with about 60 other people. They would ask lots of questions of each person and then let them go. There was another percussionist in the room, the percussionist for Sting. When they found out who he played with they got all excited and asked "How come you did not tell us that?" and asked for his autograph. I could not believe it. Then as he is signing the autograph he says "You should be asking for an autograph from this guy!" and he is pointing to me. "This guy sitting here is Airto Moreira and he is one of the greatest percussionists in the world! Far more famous than I am……" He talked on like that for a bit about me. So then they asked my name and I pointed to where my passport had been sitting for a while on their counter. It turned out to be a good thing because then they processed me next and after some questioning they said "You Passed! Welcome to America!" It was kind of funny like that.
For all of you people who always say how lucky I am to travel all the time and those of you who think it is so fun and glamorous. This is just one story about one trip. In this one I didn't miss the plane and they found my luggage before it got lost in Siberia. I'm not complaining at all, it is all part of the adventure.