April 27, 2005

 autographs: david byrne

finally, i saved the best for last: david byrne.


i had the extreme honor of interviewing mr. byrne in 1997. it was a nerve-wracking experience. i idolized the man, and trembled at the thought of being in the same room with him. the thought of actually speaking to him gave me the vapors.

overall, the interview went well (though i forgot to turn the tape recorder on until a few minutes into our discussion) and just as it was ending i figured i might as well throw all caution to the wind and ask for an autograph. by then he had to have known what a huge fan i was... i'm sure my stuttering and profuse sweating gave it away.

it's no surprise that david's is my favorite autograph in my collection. not just because he means more to me than the others, but also because it's more casual. ("christa! hey!") it's silly and fun, and each time i read it i thought, "here's a guy who really likes me."

i don't know whether that's true or not, but i suppose that's part of the power of an autograph.

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April 26, 2005

 autographs: john williams

here is the composer & conductor john williams:


at this point in my life i was heavy into classical music... i wasn't really interested in film music at all. i didn't consider it "classical." i don't know why. i was just a teenage snob that way. i preferred mahler to indiana jones.

i went to this concert with my step-mom. actually, in retrospect i'm a little amazed that she was interested in the show... she wasn't into film music at all, either. perhaps it was just because a famous person was coming to indianapolis.

regardless of our feeling about the music itself, the lure of celebrity is powerful... we both decided to go backstage afterwards and crash the reception. my step-mom nudged me towards mr. williams at one point, pushing me through the throng of people surrounding him, and she got his attention and said "this is christa... she wants to be just like you when she grows up!"

i was mortified. i wanted to be a professional french horn player.

i didn't want to be anything like him when i grew up. he wrote film music!

(besides, i was 18 and was pretty sure i was already grown up.)

still, i shook his hand politely as my step-mom foisted the program towards him for an autograph.

he already had his pen out. (my opinion of celebrities, from time to time, has probably been largely determined by whether they have a pen at the ready.)

this was probably the least climactic autograph of my life.

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April 25, 2005

 autographs: johnny rutherford

my parents split up when i was 6. my mom stayed in texas and my dad moved us kids to indianapolis.

to many people, "indianapolis" means only one thing: the indy 500.

i never really cared much about the race, but it's such a big part of the city's culture that it's hard to avoid it. inevitably you learn a little something about the drivers and the cars. so from a very young age i remember being aware of the names al unser, mario andretti, and johnny rutherford.


though our primary residence was indianapolis, every summer and every christmas rob and i would fly to fort worth to spend time with my mom. we travelled alone and we travelled a lot.

i was probably about 10 years old, my brother about 8, and we were on a flight to DFW to visit mom for the summer. i heard people seated around us talking about johnny rutherford being on the plane. there was a buzz circulating about: "johnny rutherford! johnny rutherford!" i'm sure this was the only flight on earth where anyone would even care about johnny rutherford... he was flying from the indy 500 to his home town of fort worth.

a little spark of courage got into us and rob & i left our seats (after the "fasten seat belt" light was turned off, of course... we were good kids) and walked up the aisle to the first-class curtain. i pushed it aside (brazen, too!) and found the man that looked most like johnny rutherford.

"mr. rutherford??" i timidly asked. he turned his head to us and smiled.

whew, i got the right guy. "can i have your autograph?"

he said yes and waited for me to produce a piece of paper and a pen. of course i didn't have either of these things... i was only 10 and had never asked for an autograph before. i wasn't even sure what i was supposed to do with the autograph. put it in a scrapbook, i guess. i'd need to get a scrapbook.

mr. rutherford found a big 4x6 card somewhere in his carry-on bag and borrowed a pen from someone, then signed his name for me. we said thank you, turned around and went back down the aisle to our seats in coach class.

the experience was a little dizzying (or maybe that was just the altitude) -- even though i didn't care very much about the indy 500, i knew he was a celebrity and that other people would be impressed that i had johnny rutherford's autograph.

oh, and i did, in fact, get a scrapbook that summer. it's actually just a photo album. i keep a lot of ridiculous stuff in there, including these autographs and class photos from elementary school.

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April 20, 2005

 autographs: maynard ferguson


keeping with the jazz theme, here is maynard ferguson's autograph.

my high school jazz band (mentioned in the ed shaughnessy entry) went on a field trip to see maynard in 1987. i remember the concert being not exactly my taste. too much fusion.

still, i was excited to be seeing a legend in concert. my mom was excited to send me off on this field trip, too... she had fond and specific memories of maynard ferguson: he played at her prom in 1963. before i left for the concert she dug out her prom program and asked me to have maynard sign it. i think she was excited about getting the autograph of someone who had touched her life in a small way and who went on to make it big.

so after enduring the concert i headed to the backstage area, but mr. ferguson had a zillion bouncers who wouldn't let me go further than the hallway. i played up the sentimentality of the prom program, "just look at this... he played at my mom's prom more than 20 years ago!!" but no dice. the head bouncer dude said he would be happy to take the program to maynard for a signature, but i couldn't take it back myself. i handed it over to him, and as he walked away i shouted, "my mom's name is marta! tell him to make it out to marta!!"

so i waited in the hallway. and waited. and waited. i fantasized that maynard was looking at the old program, overtaken with emotion at the memory of playing a little girl's prom so many years ago. maybe tears were even welling up in his eyes. he was keeping me waiting because he had to compose himself... yeah, that's it. that's why this was taking so long. maybe.

but no. the bouncer came back with the signed program about 10 minutes later and then shooed me off.

i wished i could have returned home with a better, more romantic story to tell my mom. it would have been a nice for her to have another fond memory to attach to that old prom program. when i told her what had happened she wasn't really even interested in keeping the autograph for herself, so it now resides in my scrapbook with the others.

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April 16, 2005

 autographs: doc severinsen


i honestly can't remember whether this autograph came before or after ed shaughnessy's. everything from that era exists in a fuzzy area of my brain. (most of my memories of senior year in high school seem to have been obliterated by overindulgence of bartles and jaymes wine coolers.)

regardless of the timing of the two autographs, the fact that i have one from both ed & doc kind of amazes me. ed shaughnessy, of course, played in doc severinsen's tonight show band for decades, but i wasn't going for any kind of "six degrees of separation" of autographs or anything. it just happened. though i likely got these signatures within a year of each other, i met ed in a strictly jazz context while i met doc at the symphony.

i don't remember much about doc's concert, but i do recall being fascinated by his silver rhinestone suit. it looked like he had rhinestone dandruff, with a heavy concentration of sparkles on his shoulders, with the density tapering off as it reached his ankles.

i was working part-time as an usher at the indianapolis symphony; that's how i came to be at this concert. i liked the job because it provided me free entry to concerts, as well as easy access to the backstage area. sadly, i don't remember a thing about my interaction with doc... that intense period of wine cooler consumption clearly did a tremendous amount of damage to my memory cells. i assume i simply crashed a reception backstage, asked for the autograph and left. i would like to think i'd remember talking to doc severinsen.

anyway, what i find most intriguing about this particular piece of paper now is not so much the signature, but the masthead... erich kunzel is one of the biggest names in pops orchestras in the world (and i'm sure i didn't even throw him a passing glance when i saw him backstage back then) and william henry curry is currently the associate conductor of the north carolina symphony.

i guess the most fascinating thing about this particular autograph --for me-- is that it happens to represent a couple of "six degrees" situations. also intruguing is the fact that i barely remember obtaining meeting the guy.

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April 13, 2005

 autographs: ed shaughnessy

the other night i found myself talking about my small collection of autographs and thought it would be a nice little series to blog about.

i've never really been an autograph-seeker, partly out of shyness and partly out of respect for the celebrity's privacy. however, when i happen to find myself face-to-face with a notable person, i usually ask for their signature during the course of our conversation. i just don't really go out of my way for an autograph, waiting in a long line for little more than "make it out to christa, please". that seems kind of weird and rude to me.


this man is ed shaughnessy... a name that not everyone knows, so apologies if this first installment in my autograph series doesn't bowl you over.

ed shaughnessy was the drummer in the tonight show band for something like 30 years (many of those years under doc severinson). he also drummed for duke ellington, benny goodman, count basie, jack teagarden, billie holiday, charles mingus... god, the list goes on and on. here's a "drum battle" between ed & buddy rich.

when i was in high school my band director convinced me to play the bass in the jazz band. i was already a good classical french horn player, and i guess she was trying to help me branch out a little. more likely she was just desperate for a bassist. so i took a casual lesson or two from the jazz band's guitarist (who enjoyed playing KISS more than jazz), learned where to push my fingers down on the strings, and began fumbling my way through rehearsals. when the director programmed a difficult number, i would ask if i could play the bass line on the little roland organ instead of the bass; sometimes she would agree (she was THAT desparate for a bass line) and sometimes she would urge me to just figure it out on the bass.

the worst thing about reharsals --and everyone in the band would agree with this-- was when the director made us improvise solos. we were all terrified of that... adolescent, inexperienced musicians who never wanted to take a chance and risk embarrassment. we were all happier playing in unison. luckily there isn't much call for that kind of improvisation on the bass; the closest i came was having to improvise a "walk" during the few charts that didn't have the bass line written out. (those numbers would simply have the chord changes printed, and i'd improvise the bass line that supported the rest of the ensemble. it was difficult... i always preferred having the specific notes written out for me. that's the way it was when i played french horn!)

our director pushed us hard. we had one of the best high school jazz ensembles in the state, and we also hosted a big jazz festival every spring which drew relatively big-name talent to the area to perform in the final concert. this celebrity would perform with our band after the closing ceremony. the year i picked up the bass, ed shaughnessy was the celebrity performing with our band.

we had one rehearsal with him before the concert and he was NUTS. full of energy, tons of words spilling out of his mouth... yammering about african drum beats and all kinds of things that were foreign to us. he was extremely magnetic, but we were all slightly terrified of his non-stop excitement for music. during that rehearsal he encouraged us ALL to take solos. i thought --being the bass player-- i was safe. but i was wrong.

during rehearsal of a song called "mr. c's boogie" ed turned to me and shouted, "8 bars! go!!" i panicked!! i didn't know what to do. my fingers froze. i fumbled through something ridiculous, and he stopped the band to poke gentle fun at me. i remember my face turning red, my eyes welling up with tears. even though it wasn't his intent, he could see he'd hurt my feelings and he apologized for it afterwards. he didn't know i was so new to the bass. he hugged me and i felt a little better.

when the piece came up during the concert i thought i'd be off the hook. ed knew i couldn't pull it off. he knew i didn't have any experience. besides, the auditorium was PACKED with people... there's no way. no way he'd ask me to do that again. still, my heart was racing.

please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me.

he shouted during the piece for the saxophone player to take a solo. next, the trombone.

please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me.

now he took a solo himself. then the trumpet player. everyone was getting through it pretty well. as relief washed over all of us we started to really enjoy the groove.

then he yelled out, "bass solo! go!!" my heart stopped.

i own a tape of the concert, so i know i actually played something: a slightly funky "walking" bass line. but honestly, the most vivid memory i have are the tortured thoughts echoing through my head:

breathe, dammit. think. THINK! shit, that was a wrong note. keep going. ok, that's 6 bars. 7 bars. 8 bars! maybe a couple of clunkers, but you did it!!

i got through 8 bars!! i couldn't believe it! a huge wave of relief washed over me. i even heard a couple of shouts of appreciation from the audience as i was finishing.

then ed yelled "one more!! take another 8!!"

geah!! i gave everything i had on the first 8!!!

i slapped the bass a little. ouch... feedback. my luck was running out... things were going downhill fast. maybe more walking might help... on down to the lowest notes possible. oops, buzzing strings. not good. humiliation setting in... i'm going to faint... ugh, a terrible last note...

finally my solo was over. ed looked over at me and smiled. i felt disconnected from my body.

thankfully the piece ended shortly after my solo and i forced myself to sit, breathe deeply and recover. the director acknowledged the soloists by name, and the audience applauded for each of us. then ed did something i'll never forget. he stood up from his drum set, microphone in hand and said, "i would like a special recognition for this young lady on the bass... chris has never played a public solo before! how 'bout the BASS!! yeah!!!"

and everyone applauded. loudly. with that extra bit of support ed turned that wholly terrifying event --something that would have lived forever in my mind as a terrible experience-- into one of the proudest moments in my life. i smiled at him and about cried.

the happy photo and autograph happened right after the concert.

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