Travellin’ Light

Thomas Heberer
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Thomas Heberer                                                         Courtesy of Thomas Heberer

Born and raised in Germany, trumpeter/composer Thomas Heberer studied with Manfred Schoof at the Cologne conservatory in the mid to late 1980s before initiating collaborations such as his duo with bassist Dieter Manderscheid, which was awarded both the SWR-Jazzpreis, and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for Chicago Breakdown (JHN) in 1990. During the ‘90s, Heberer served as a lecturer at the conservatory in Frankfurt/Main and as Germany’s representative in the European Broadcast Union Big Band. Heberer gained increased notice in the US when he joined ICP Orchestra in the late ‘90s, subsequently winning the Down Beat Critics TDWR Poll in 2002. Before moving to New York City in 2008, Thomas played in German television talk show host and entertainer Harald Schmidt’s house band for 12 years. Heberer’s music has also been used in tanztheater pioneer Pina Bausch’s productions – some of the material was included in Wim Wenders Academy Award-nominated documentary, Pina.

Heberer will tour with ICP Orchestra in Europe in June and July, including a performance at the Northsea Jazz Festival, and in South America during the fall. He has two recordings in the pipeline: Knoten, a duet album with Achim Kaufmann to be released in June; and This Takes the Cake, featuring his Garden trio with Max Johnson and Lou Grassi, to be issued this fall. Heberer will lead a session for CIMP in the fall.

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What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

No matter what airline, you are most likely to get in trouble on domestic flights, traveling on small planes, because the overhead bins are smaller and space is limited.


Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

No idea, but I think the best one is Singapore Airlines! Seating: I try to go for the aisle seat in the exit row whenever possible. Food: I always go for the vegetarian option; meat dishes on cheap flights reflect what you pay for.


Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

Paris – Charles de Gaulle.


What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

I’m kind of organized ... must be my German upbringing. Thanks, Mom!


What is your worst lost baggage story?

Once I was in transit at London Heathrow airport and had to go through security for my connecting flight. After the body-check inspection my mouthpiece was gone from my trumpet bag – since the bag was still open I was lucky enough to recognize this right away; the officer and I found it undamaged on the conveyor belt.


What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

The border of the former GDR (informally known as East Germany) was terrible –
You had to wait for hours cramped into a tiny corridor and the authorities would bombard you with ridiculous questions (Are you here to spy on us?). On a happier note: I was in East Berlin with Aki Takase’s band on Nov. 9th 1989, when the infamous Berlin wall came down. That night, our East German driver took her first trip to West Berlin and bought a real treat: bananas.


Which city has the worst cab drivers?

No idea, but being a foreigner is obviously an invitation for getting ripped off ... it can happen in Melbourne, Mumbai, Marrakesh, Madrid, Manhattan ...


What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

I once had a concert with bassist Dieter Manderscheid in Calcutta. The organizers put us up in a maharaja palace that was turned into a hotel – amazing!


Do you travel with a laptop or a PDA? If so, how many times a day do you check your e-mail?

I don’t travel with a laptop or PDA. Sometimes, like on the ICP tour through the US/Canada last month, I take 2 instruments (trumpet and cornet) with me – already a lot to carry. I try to check my email at the hotel or a local internet café.


Do you listen to music on the road? If so, what device do you use?

I do, it’s a great way to catch up on new CDs since I usually have quite a bit of time to kill. I use an iPod.


Do you do your own laundry on the road?

If necessary, yes.


What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Any sound check that involves feedback from the sound system is a nightmare.


What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?

I’m allergic to nuts and not too good with spicy dishes. So, if the organizer is offering Thai or Indonesian food I’ll just have some white rice.


What are your three favorite venues?

Bimhuis in Amsterdam; Constellation in Chicago; Super Deluxe in Tokyo.


Which cities have the best restaurants for late after-gig meals?

New York City and Berlin.


Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?



What is the best city that closes down too early?



What is the best locale to have a day off?

Either a big city or a beautiful place in the countryside.


What is your cure for jet lag?

Not thinking about it. When you arrive at your destination try to mentally shift to the local time zone from Minute 1.


What is your best tip for the novice?

Everybody has only so much energy. Always remember that the performances are the most important thing, not the hang afterward. Try to rest in between gigs and eat well, particularly if the tour is scheduled to go for a couple of weeks.

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