Tonight in New York City, five of college football’s greatest players will assemble to learn which one of them will be named winner of the 2011 Heisman Trophy.
Serenading them – and millions more watching on ESPN (8 p.m. ET, streaming on WatchESPN) – will be a would-be high school cornerback whose football frustrations helped push him into a rewarding musical career.
Electric violinist Ken Ford and his band mates will provide live music during commercial breaks and well as transitions during the Heisman Trophy ceremonies.
The musical first was conceived as a way to lighten the mood surrounding the announcement to be made in the Best Buy Theatre in Times Square.
“I’ve always felt like the theatre has a level of tension or quietness, a study hall, library-like feel,” said ESPN producer David Ceisler, who is working on his seventh Heisman Trophy show.
Ceisler thought adding music would help break the tension.
He consulted with ESPN Music Director Kevin Wilson, Coordinating Director of Music Claude Mitchell and Music Coordinator Joanne Strange on possible acts to incorporate. They presented him with a list of suggestions, including one from Press Reset Entertainment CEO Shanti Das. Her company had been pitching Twelve Music recording artist Ford as someone ESPN’s music department should consider.
“Probably half of the artists I had known about, half I didn’t,” Ceisler said. “But I immediately liked Ken.”
Ceisler said the Heisman Trophy Trust agreed with his suggestion to tweak the ceremony with music.
“Oh, cool, another gig,” Ford said when he was told ESPN was interested in his services about a month ago.
“But then I realized, like, wow, the Heisman Trophy! Wait a minute. It was a surreal kind of thing.”
Perhaps Ford’s unique jazz stylings will lessen the tension experienced by the five finalists : Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
It won’t be the first meeting of football and violin in Ford’s life, however.
More than 20 years ago, he was a freshman trying to make the Towers High football team in Decatur, Ga.
One drill left Ford sprawled on the Titans’ practice grass, dazed but perhaps more certain that he literally was in the wrong field.
“I was lying there thinking to myself, ‘Do I want to do this, or do I want to play the violin?’”
Ford walked to the sidelines and told his coach he was quitting and grabbed his civilian gear from the bleachers.
“Just imagine this little kid with football gear on, holding this violin, walking off the field,” Ford recalled.
Then he had to relay the news to his father.
“Dad, I got cut.”
His father was concerned: “Are you bleeding? What happened?”
“Not that kind of ‘cut,’ Dad.”
But Ford’s father reassured him that the violin – Ford’s favorite instrument since he was 9 years old – would reward him.
Ford will entertain the masses with cuts from his latest album State Of Mind (see the title cut in the video above) and older songs as well.
He’s played the national anthem before Atlanta pro sports events, but ESPN is providing an unprecedented platform.
Ford hopes his band’s music will provide “excitement and energy. We want energy in the room.
“When I’ve got the violin in my hand, people are like. . . I have their attention. I want it to be fun.”
The timing of this opportunity just happens to align with a goal of Ford’s: Teach children the concept that “music is a sport.”
Ford is concerned that music education programs are vanishing in schools. He wants young students to consider music as potentially as rewarding an outlet as sports are.
Music “is very physical. It’s very competitive. When you see me play, I’m running around. Half the time, I have on tennis shoes and I’m jumping off stage.
“You have to be physically fit to pull it off.”