In 2005, jazz composer and french horn player Tom Varner left New York for Seattle, where he put together a nine-piece band of local players. Their new album is called Nine Surprises. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that Varner can really write, and they can really play.
When the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots meet in the 2015 Super Bowl on Feb. 1, the broadcast booth will be anchored by a man who has done the play-by-play for eight previous Super Bowls. Al Michaels, the announcer for NBC's Sunday Night Football, knows how to put emotion into his broadcasts.
"I've always felt that the game itself is pretty much a melody and I am there to provide the lyrics," Michaels tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "You want the lyrics to match the melody because if you are composing a song or recording a song, it's cacophonous if they don't match."
Michaels' broadcast career dates back to the 1970s. He's the only broadcaster to have covered the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, not to mention the Olympics, the Triple Crown and plenty of other obscure events.
Michaels and Davies discuss the big game, when he fell in love with sports and the hardest sport to announce.
On when the sports bug first bit him
The first thing I can remember in life is my father taking me to Ebbets Field [in New York] and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn at that time. How many kids could grow up in an environment where you could walk out of your apartment building and walk to a Major League Baseball game that included people like Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale? This was my youth. ...
I'll never forget walking in to Ebetts Field with my father. I must have been, I'm guessing, 6. My mouth must have just dropped; [my] jaw must have hit the ground because it was beautiful: The grass was so green; the Dodger uniforms, in the words of [sportscaster] Vin Scully through the years, wedding-cake white; the signage on the outfield walls. I mean Ebbets Field was the most wonderful ballpark in the world and the Dodgers were my team. I could walk to the game and they played a lot of day games in those years so I saw a lot of games. When I was a kid, all I kept thinking about is, "Man, I want to be here every day. How do you get to be here every day?"
On how his mother would take him out of school to go to the horse races
My mother was one of the great characters of all time. I describe her in the book as a combination of Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. She had a fantastic sense of humor; she was always the life of the party. My friends loved her. Our house was like the clubhouse: People couldn't wait for school to be over and they'd come over the house and my mother would regale them and entertain them.
My mother also loved gambling and she loved horse racing. So when I was in high school, on occasion my mother would come at about 12:30 to school and go to the assistant principal's office with a note that I had a dentist appointment and then she would take me out of school.
The "dentist appointment" was either at Hollywood Park or at Santa Anita [racetracks], because we had to get there in time for the daily double. So she went right into the mother's hall of fame and then it was all over and done with.
By the time I was a senior, she came to school one day and had a note for one of my friends as well as me because we both had appointments at the same time. And then we hit the trifecta one day when she came with three notes — and I think that's when the principal began to look a little curiously at what was going on. But the three of us all hopped into my mother's car and were in Santa Anita an hour later.
On the hardest sport to announce
Hockey is actually the hardest sport to announce because there's so little scoring. Hockey on radio is, I think, the most difficult because in basketball you know that one team has possession and you can see a game that is being called on radio in your mind's eye. In hockey, the puck is moving so quickly and it's going from one zone to the other and you might have four or five different players touching it over a 10-second span, two or three guys from one team, two or three guys from the other team — that's difficult.
It's been a good year for Benedict Cumberbatch. The English actor has earned an Oscar nomination for his starring role in the film The Imitation Game, and he's won critical acclaim and a big following for his performance on TV's Sherlock.
In The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the brilliant, eccentric mathematician who led the team that broke the Enigma code used by German forces to encrypt their radio transmissions during World War II. Years later, in 1952, Turing was convicted of homosexuality, which at the time was illegal in Great Britain.
Cumberbatch tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that because there are no visual or audio recordings of Turing, his portrayal of the man — including his stammer and awkwardness — relied on written anecdotes and the Turing family's own memories of the mathematician.
"The nieces I met ... were fantastically candid and had incredibly fond memories of this wondrous man and talked of him as someone who made them feel equals as children. ... They loved his company," Cumberbatch says. "They remember being very at ease; they don't remember being embarrassed or awkward about his stammer or him being embarrassed or awkward around them. That told me a lot. That told me a lot about who this man was — the arrested development in him; the idea that he could sympathize with the innocence of children because of everything the world had thrown at him to corrupt him, to destroy him, to make him an outsider."
Cumberbatch also starred in the HBO miniseries Parade's End and played WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the movie The Fifth Estate. His other film credits include War Horse, 12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County and the Hobbit film series, in which he played the voice of Smaug the dragon.
On empathizing with Turing's social awkwardness
I've turned up to costume parties in the wrong costume. I've made social faux pas a plenty. I've put one foot in front of the other and fallen over. If you've ever experienced the idea of feeling slightly outside, or the creeping paranoia of a teenager where you just feel that you don't quite fit into anything, where you're just finding out who you are and everyone else seems to have got it sorted, [you can relate]. ... I think what formulated very early in his life was this incredible sensitiveness to the world and his environment and the way people treated him, and that was born out of having a stammer.
On Turing's prosecution for being gay
The choice then for men who were arrested and prosecuted for being gay was the choice between two years imprisonment or two years chemical castration through weekly estrogen injections. This is less than 100 years ago in a country that had just been liberated from the threat of fascism by one of the very men that they then punished for his sexuality. It's barbaric, it's frightening and sadly it's not a history lesson — it's something that we need to be equally wary of in our current climate of intolerance. ... He, in that period, chose the estrogen injections rather than the imprisonment in order to be able to continue his work. The estrogen injections not only corrupted his mind but started to eat away at his body. ... He lost this athletic body but he also lost a mind that was attuned to the one thing he was left to love and focus on, which was his work.
On playing Smaug, the computer-generated dragon in the Hobbit trilogy
[The voice is] not a natural thing to sort of switch to — it always leaves its scars. But how often do you get to play the dragon of all dragons? So it's something you commit to. It's endlessly dynamic and challenging both to how you produce the sound and what the sound is and crawling around on your belly. You're stretching, you're over-articulating your neck, so there were all sorts of journeys of discovery with that which were great. ... They did a lot of facial recognition motion capture as well as full body [work]. ... You're a child. You're playing again. You're utterly free, there are no restrictions — no hair, makeup, continuity marks, camera lens sizes, there are hardly any other actors. You're freefalling. It's great, great fun, and you get Peter Jackson all to yourself, which is a rarity on a production of that scale.
On Sherlock's sex appeal
Being really hyperobjective about it, I kind of ... do understand it because he's aloof, he's pretty cold and mean; but he's utterly brilliant, can be incredibly charming, incredibly capable and smart and funny but also flawed. I think he's rather a thrilling person to spend time with.
On his own sex appeal
It's a projection of work, and that's why you're right to ask the question about whether Sherlock is sexy, because I sure as hell ain't. And I've been around for 10 or 15 years before this happened and I wasn't on any lists of the millionth most attractive. ... It's just very flattering and it makes me giggle, as [fans] know, because it is — it's sort of silly. ... I think it is a reflection of the work and hopefully how I come across when I'm talking about the work, rather than what I actually have got.
I'm still getting used to all of it. There are days when, like everybody, you feel not your best and not yourself and uncomfortable with who you are and not in your own skin and you'd rather be at home under a duvet doing what you do at home. You crave privacy, basically, and you have to get along in the world and see a colleague and go into the office with your cold or your hangover or just whatever the thing that's griping you. And that's the same with fame, I guess. There are days you wear it lightly and you don't mind that people you've never met before recognize you when you walk in a room, or there are days when you just wish you were invisible.