A New England trumpeter reports
EDITOR'S NOTE: Chris Elliott is a part-time trumpeter (and full time technical writer in Cambridge) whose band is playing a week's worth of gigs in Baghdad. Here's his first post home.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 15 -- A few months ago I fielded a phone call outlining the most interesting gig I've ever been offered in the thirty or so years that I've been a weekend warrior, part-time professional trumpet player. It paid a modest per diem, but the terms of the gig included transportation to and from the venue. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a big deal, but in this case, the gigs were taking place in Baghdad.
To shorten a long story, I recently worked with a fine cover band out of Manchester, New Hampshire called Groove Alliance. You can check them out at www.groove-alliance.com. The band plays a wide variety of horn-oriented dance music including material by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder, as well as some more modern rhythm and blues.
The star of this show is a superb male vocalist named Mike Pacheco. Pacheco has a preternaturally clear, bell-tone tenor voice, and also possesses all of the extras that a great lead singer needs; high energy, good humor, and quick-wittedness. Pacheco is also a major in the US Army.
About a year ago, he was deployed to Iraq as an economics coordinator in the Iraq reconstruction effort. Over the course of his stay there, Pacheco befriended an executive with the Kubba group, a large holding company headquartered in Baghdad. Major Mike showed him the Groove Alliance website, and the two began scheming a way to get the band to Iraq to play a week of dates in the former Green Zone, now called the International Zone.
Arrangements were made to have the gear and the band flown into Baghdad, and after months of planning and arranging funding, the appropriate mountains were moved, and I now write you this evening from Baghdad.
The human cargo began traveling on Thursday, starting in Manchester, N.H., and stopping in New York, Paris, and Amman, Jordan, before finally touching down in Baghdad. As we came closer to the epicenter of the unrest, security became more intense, with Amman to Baghdad proving to be a particular headache. Flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday, but we finally got here at about noon today.
We attempted to rehearse today, but power issues were our undoing, and the frustration at this point is high. I am confident that this is a mere tipping point, a fulcrum that will spill into a rewarding week of music and humanity, with the final date being a performance in the Army hospital. Injured soldiers ambulatory enough to attend will be a large part of our audience; after our frustrating evening, I heard helicopters coming in tonight, bringing the wounded, and the solemnity of our mission became clear to me.
We're a very good band, and we can really deliver when we want to. Well, we want to. And we will. I'll let you know how it goes with a few hundred words every day this week. It's one o' clock now and I'm jet-lagged and half-crazy right about now, so good night, and stay tuned.