The three-week, sixteen-show LIDDLE marathon tour was a huge success. Although I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life on the road in various capacities, this was my first experience organizing a tour from start to finish. Being in charge- as well as having to write and play the music- is a very different experience from being “along for the ride” as an employee/sideman. I’ve had a lot of questions from colleagues about how it came together, what the benefits of touring are, and what I learned from the process, so, I thought it’d be helpful to write this tour diary. I’m going to tell you all about what happened, what went right, what went wrong, and what I subsequently learned about the music business.
Week 1: Circuitous Path (Cleveland, Columbus, Nashville, Lexington, St. Louis, Chicago, Toronto)
After an Uber to Newark Airport to pick up the van (which we subsequently dubbed “Steed,” whose personified voice- a surprisingly needy/jealous AI bot- became one of many running jokes throughout the tour), our first day on the road was also the most driving-intensive day. After seven hours, we made it to our Airbnb in Cleveland, ate surprisingly delicious burgers for the first of multiple times at the Tremont Taproom, and passed the f*** out. The next day, we picked up Olli from the Airport, and played our first show at the incredible Bop Stop at the Music Settlement. What a great way to start the tour. A couple really heavy classical saxophone friends from my U of I days came out, too (thanks Phil Pierick and Noa Even).
Columbus is an awesome city- to me, it’s the gem of Ohio. After a nice show at the Vanderelli Room (a great series called Filament run by jazz aficionado Gerard Cox), we had a blast playing vintage arcade games at 16-Bit. I pretty much planted myself at the BurgerTime machine.
If I had to pinpoint a moment when our collective health began to decline, it would have to be day three, in Nashville… we ate way too much amazing BBQ. We also checked out Third Man Records and did the requisite walk down Broadway. Damn, there’s a lot of work for musicians in Nashville! Rudy’s Jazz Room was a super cool venue to play, and again I was excited to see old friends. That night, I also made my first blunder with Steed, accidentally locking the keys in the car. All I can say is, DON’T EVER TOUR WITHOUT AAA! They were there in 30 min, got the keys out of the car, and it didn’t cost a thing. I’m not beating myself up about it- when you’re sleep deprived and focused on a million details, it’s easy to make mistakes. It would be nice to have a tour manager someday, though… Also, it was great to see our old friend, producer, and pianist Drew Spradlin (aka Ubu Boi).
For musicians looking to fill the large mile-gap between Nashville and other midwestern cities, check out JGumbo’s Lex, owned by Robbie Morgan, and curated by Dave Sumner. We played an outdoor show for an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd, and got treated to some amazing gumbo. Thanks again to Robbie and Dave for being so awesome.
St. Louis was freaking HOT, and we didn’t get to spend much time there. We played the Dark Room at the Grandel Center, which is a very fancy, modern theatrical complex. I saw “the other” Brian Krock (and Jessica, and family); Brian’s a fantastic creative person- check out his podcast/music/YouTube channel.
Obviously, I was looking forward to playing Constellation in Chicago. It’s always something of a homecoming party when I get to play Chicago. Thanks to all the friends and family who came out! In order to make it to Toronto, we had to drive a few hours directly after our show, in the pouring rain, so we didn’t get to hang as much as I would’ve liked. But we crashed in Kalamazoo, and were happier for not having to drive all the way to Toronto in one stretch.
On Saturday, we played some really creative versions of standards in addition to our own material at the Rex in Toronto, and it seemed to go over well. Actually, it was giving me ideas... I’ve spent so much time playing tunes with Olli over the years, and I loved how organically and creatively the tunes developed that night. Maybe there’s a project there in the future? The Rex is a sweet club, and it was nice to be able to just walk upstairs and crash after a few intense sets.
Week 2: Be Our Guest (Rochester, South Bend, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Ross Mountain)
The second week of the Liddle tour was defined in my mind by hospitality. I was genuinely floored by our many gracious hosts. One of the most fun nights of the trip was at Bob Kohn’s BopShop Records in Rochester. Besides for playing a really fun set at the store, we just loved hanging with Bob, combing through his extensive record collection, and listening to stories about all the artists who have rolled through the BopShop over the years. Can’t wait to get back there.
We took two well-deserved days off in Cleveland. We golfed, oh yes, we golfed. Marty and I watched Jordan Peele’s “US” and it blew my freaking mind. We went back for more burgers at Treemont Taproom. Fun times!
Then we stayed for a couple nights with the Merrimans in South Bend. Mary and Stephen are doing big things out there in Indiana- they have literally hundreds of pianos that they are restoring and trying to get into homes/schools/communities to be used. Merrimans’ Playhouse has a great live room, and a great built-in crowd of local enthusiasts. That night, the band also started watching “The Inbetweeners” in South Bend, and became obsessed, and binged our way through most of it together over the next weeks.
In Pittsburgh, we first followed Matt Merewitz’ instructions and ate gigantic sandwiches stuffed with French fries at Primanti Bros. Damn. It was cool for me to get to play a double bill with Patrick Breiner (I’m a fan) and the Pittsburgh Saxophone Quartet at Hambones. What a cool project- be sure to check them out if you live in western PA.
After that show, we drove to Ross Mountain, where we were hosted by the Elsie, Sandy, and Molly McAdoo for another day off. Molly and I showed the guys this really strange but incredible cool bar called Joe’s in Ligonier, and we basically just chilled with family and friends all day long (and ate even more BBQ).
Week 3: Document the Process (Baltimore, Richmond, DC, New York City, New Haven)
In Baltimore, we had a minor run-in with a basically-naked homeless man, and Steed suffered a minor injury, but we had a great time playing An Die Musik. It was my first time there; wow, what a cool room, and Bob and Bob were such incredibly kind people to work with.
We also had a blast in Richmond. First of all, it was great to see bassist/Out of Your Head Records proprietor Adam Hopkins, who showed us some cool local spots (including the Veil Brewing Company which had some of the tastiest beers I’ve ever tried and delicious tacos). Secondly, it was fun to play the Camel, which is a rock venue, so we played a super heavy set that night. Thanks Macon Mann for helping me set up that night- check out his projects!
After a nice gig at Twins Jazz in DC, we made it back home to NYC to play a double bill with Caroline Davis’ Alula at Nublu 151. There was an incredible crowd of friends and loved ones present, and both bands slayed. Liddle was lucky to have both Matt Mitchell and Simon Jermyn present as special guests- and they elevated the music, as per usual. Thanks Clara Pereira for the beautiful photos!
Finally, we headed up to New Haven to play the last show of our tour, which also happened to be the last in the series of shows at Firehouse 12 for this season. That venue is just insane; state-of-the-art design, incredible treatment of the artists, a cool bar downstairs… and it’s also a recording studio. We felt truly lucky to get to play there! Liddle had been working towards that day for the entirety of the tour. We recorded both sets, and will be releasing a whole bunch of brand new songs as a live album before the year is over.
What’s It All About?
On my way home from returning the car to Newark Airport, I ran into Eitan Gofman (saxophonist, arranger, repairman, friend extraordinaire), who asked me, “What are the benefits of taking your band on tour?” I’ve been asked variations of that question more than a few times, and it’s an intelligent question that should be asked before embarking on such a crazy, work-intensive, not-very-profitable venture. So here’s what’s up.
First of all, and most importantly, playing a string of shows with the same people and the same music is an invaluable experience for a band. I believe that the prevalent jazz mentality is something like, “Let’s rehearse all of this new music for two hours, then play it once or twice in the city in which we live, and then maybe record it, maybe not, and be done with it.” This is a logical situation to have arrived at; jazz venues are few and far between, jazz gigs don’t pay very much, and jazz musicians have the requisite skills to be able to sight-read lots of music and convincingly pull it off. However, I think the music suffers. I really wanted to see what would happen to our music if we played it over and over again, in different contexts, for different crowds, just like the best jazz groups in history did.
There are other more tangible and pragmatic reasons to make the investment of time and finances to take your band on tour. I sold a lot of CDs, met a lot of new fans, made connections with the local jazz communities in cities around the country, and got local press in many locations. This is all building towards a sustainable career in the jazz industry- growing your community, building a grassroots fan base, and simultaneously learning about how your music “works” in different contexts. Plus, you will learn SO MUCH about the larger industry in the process. You will meet people who operate in every facet of the jazz industry, and have the chance to pick their brains and make relationships with them. Woodwind players- you will learn SO MUCH about how your instruments work by playing in different sizes of rooms, with differing qualities of backline, at different elevations, in different climates, dealing with weird mishaps when your instrument accidentally falls out of the trunk, etc.
For me, touring is an invaluable- and incredible challenging- aspect of being a professional musician. I’ve had the opportunity to experience a wide variety of touring circumstances. I spent the majority of three years of my life touring with two Broadway national tours. I’ve spent seven weeks touring with the Mark Morris Dance Group playing genius new music by Ethan Iverson with an impeccable band of pros. I’ve also toured with bandleaders who were unprofessional, incompetent, and worse. And now I’ve toured as a leader with my own band, and I’ve drawn on all of those experiences to try to do my absolute best. I’m grateful for the good and the bad, and looking forward to doing more. Learning/growing/stretching is a truly addictive process!