Musicians concerned about the health of their fragile instruments do whatever they can to keep them from the tender mercies of airlines baggage handlers. Perhaps it is possible for them to protest too much. Trumpeter Valery Ponomarev is suffering the pain of a broken arm and the inconvienience of an interrupted career following an encounter with zealous French police at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris. His confrontation with the gendarmes was on September 9. I heard of the incident shortly after, but held it because initial reports by way of a blog were third-hand, so emotional and accusatory that I could not be sure they were accurate. It turns out that they were, according to a story by Doreen Carvajal in today’s New York Times.
The incident grew out of strict application of Air India’s restrictive rules for carry-on luggage in the wake of fears about airborne terrorism. Short version: Ponomarev refused to let Air India put the case containing his trumpet and flugelhorn in the cargo hold for a flight from Paris to New York, where he has lived since 1973. He defected from the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers insisted, vigorously, that he be allowed to take the horns on board. Air India demanded that they be checked. Ponomarev objected, loudly. An Air Indian supervisor called the police.
Four policeman arrived. Ponomarev refused to give up the horn case. There was a struggle. He claims that he was taken to a back room where, he says, his left arm was bent behind his back and broken. The gendarmerie told the Times that the injury was Ponomarev’s fault.
“The officers tried to subdue him, and you can say that he hurt himself by rebelling,” said a spokesman for the airport police.
The Times reports that Ponomarev was out of commission–and out of work–for nearly a month but recently played a concert in his native Russia, a metal plate holding together the bones of his arm.
To read the Times story, go here.