One of the perks of being a working jazz musician is the travel. Many would complain this is one of the worst parts, which is technically also true because being away from family, dealing with airlines and dragging suitcases and equipment in and out of hotels can be tedious to say the least. But if you manage to focus on the beauty of seeing new sites and new cultures, the experience can be rewarding. Plus you get to play music, and there really isn’t anything better than that.

Moscow International House of MusicEvery once in a while you hit on a special moment or a special place. That happened to me last weekend when I got to play in Moscow, Russia for the first time. Sandwiched in the middle of a 2 1/2 week tour of the UK, we had a single gig at the “International House of Music” (I’m sure there’s a better translation, but this one makes me smile). The gig itself was fantastic. I was performing with Curtis Stigers and the venue was a concert hall where we played for about 1200 Russians. Not bad, eh?

The moment and place I’m writing about came the evening before.

Елки-Палки RestaurantWe arrived in Moscow a day early and a few of us in the band headed out in the crappy weather to find some traditional Russian food. We had a recommendation from our contact at the venue for a spot near the Bolshoi Theater. The food was authentic, the atmosphere was friendly, and the vodka was delicious! By the time we finished dinner the temperature had dropped a bit and the rain had turned to snow. We tromped through the slush over to nearby Red Square – home of the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral – and arrived to an incredibly picturesque nighttime scene of falling snow and beautiful architecture in an almost empty Red Square.

Trio in Red Square - with Keith Hall and Cliff SchmittThis was exactly the image of Red Square I’d had in my mind all my life – quiet, cold, dark, snowy… It was the same image that was connected to all the lessons of fear I’d learned growing up, those lessons of the Russians being the arch-enemy who were about to attack us at any moment and lead us into a nuclear firefight that would destroy the world. That’s some pretty heavy stuff for your average kid in a small town to carry around. Many of those memories came to the front of my mind, and experiencing the peaceful beauty of that scene was so extreme that it became a pretty emotional event for me. I guess I assumed if I ever came to this place it would be frightening, but fear never arrived. Only beauty.

I’m not that naive. I know there continue to be legitimate fears. There are armies and mobs doing horrible things to other people every day. But I’m happy to have a better memory of this one symbol of such a proud country – one beautiful, snowy evening spent with friends, with a full stomach and the slight spin of just a bit too much vodka.

I’m thankful my music leads me to places like this that allow me to see other perspectives on the how the world works. I’m thankful for communication and the internet that is connecting us more and more as one world and one people.

Here’s to peace.