THE BALLAD OF VALERY PONOMAREV: Or... It's Their Way Or It's Their Way

I met Valery Ponomarev in Moscow in 1967 when I was on tour for the US State Department with Earl Fatha Hines, and he was, like 20. He could play Lee Morgan solos note for note - unusual for a soviet citizen. “Holy sheeit!" said the band, with hipster lucidity. Then he comes to NY ten years later and, ain't God great, ends up playing with Art Blakey.

Lately Valery has been in the news. Here's a story about him I picked up from the internet.

by roysol

(Front Paged at MLW)

Let me tell you a story...it won't take very long...about how far the Bushist doctrine of fear and power has spread.
How far, how deeply and how dangerously it has spread.

Security people at Charles DeGaulle airport broke the arm of the internationally famous jazz trumpet player Valery Ponomarev last week...an American citizen for over 30 years...because he argued with the gate people at an Air India flight to New York when they demanded that he gate check his trumpet rather than bring it onto the plane. A trumpet that:

A-Fits with no problem whatsoever in the overheads.

and

B-Had been properly tagged as carry-on baggage before he got to the gate.

Read on.

Now you must know that musicians try very hard to get their instruments onto planes whenever they can do so. Baggage handlers are notorious for breaking things, and a broken instrument is painful in any number of ways. So is a lost or misrouted instrument. It's not like you can just pick up another one before the gig and play at your usual level of competence. Even if you are lucky enough to FIND one, every instrument has its own quirks and personality, and most professional musicians own instruments that are not easily replaceable. Older instruments or ones that were custom built or modified to their specifications. And since 9/11 and the whole Homeland Security/Terrorism scare-scam, if you DO carefully pack an instrument in a special ape-proof flight case and allow it to be checked as baggage, the minimum wagers that are doing "security" work in the baggage department are often capable of opening the case, taking the instrument out to see if it's a bomb (Duh...a trumpet or violin REALLY looks bomb-like on an X-ray machine.) repacking it backwards and upside down and then forgetting to close the latches.

I have SEEN this happen.

So Valery... 63 years old, maybe 5' 5" tall, 140 lbs... pitched a bitch at the gate when some pissed-off functionary at a loading gate decided to pull rank on him. They called security and four (as he so colorfully put it to me today when he told me the story) "giant asshole cops" took him someplace where there were no witnesses, tried to forcibly take his trumpet away and when he would not let go of it with his right hand, pulled his left arm behind his back and broke it.

And people sniff and moan when the word "fascism" is used to describe what is happening in America and in much of Western Europe as well.

Vaslery did not try to fight these people. As he related today (I wish I could reproduce his great Russan accent) "I grew up in Soviet Union under Stalin and Khruschev. I know enough not to try to hit a cop. Let alone four of them. Big, stupid motherfuckers." (Here he stands on tiptoe and raises his remaining functioning hand as high in the air as he can.) "They were THS BIG!!! FOUR of them!!! I am not THAT stupid."

And indeed he is not.

Here is a man who grew up in Russia when playing "jazz" was almost an act of open rebellion and got so good that Art Blakey hired him to join the Jazz Messengers in the late '60s. And if you do not know how serious THAT was...Blakey was possibly the only equal to Miles Davis in terms of hearing and hiring the best of the best in the post-bop era.

Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter...that level.

The BEST of the best.

So here we have this INSATIABLY positive little Russian guy, authentically playing in an idiom that had its genesis in the riot-torn black ghettos of America during the Civil Rights era. Moving to New York, getting his citizenship, re-starting a life here...a true "American" success story, when there really was such a thing. Now seriously crippled...they had to operate because it was a complex break...and unable to even HOLD a trumpet, because George fucking Bush and his handlers have decided that they are the deciders and we are their subjects.

I just thought I would bring this general "fascism" discussion down to a more personal level. This can happen to ANY of us who do not totally surrender on any level whatsoever to the madness of these people.

It's their way or it's their way.