Armando ‘A.J.’ Conti’s Thoughts on the Meaning of Friendship, and Life

At a dinner my friend at ORG records asked “Anyone play an instrument?”

Nobody at the table of 10 or so did.  I answered that I knew I should have, I loved the recorder in the mandatory 6th grade mini-course, and found myself zoned out when I could play a song with my eyes closed….I was somewhere else.  I called it being on “auto-pilot”.  Years later, never forgetting the feeling, I called it “in the zone”. 

So, I’ve felt that I was meant to play….but also meant to be in a technical field designing.  Somehow, a bastardized, compromised version of each ended up with me being in audio.  Bastardized and compromised because the zone does not happen, the satisfaction is not the same, and because what passes for “technical” in this industry is fraudulent 90% of the time. 

A day after the dinner I was roaming at the show and noted my friend at Silverline’s room, so I went in.  A man named Ed Sheftel was playing the system, using an amp he was involved with as a sales guy.  He was playing way too loud for me, screaming “Isn’t it great?”  “Just like real music!”  It was blistering loud.  Trumpet players.  Enough said.

He knew who I was immediately, but it took me some effort, though I fuzzily recalled he had bought a Vector a dozen years ago when he imported Tom Evans’s stuff.

We started talking music…  We got on the subject that he was a studio trumpet player, without him bragging.  I asked him “How often do you get into a zone where you are just ‘somewhere else,’ automatically playing?”  I related my experience with the recorder.  He commented that it might happen twice a year with some musicians, once every few years for others, and for others never.  He said I was lucky to have experienced it. 

After the conversation, coupled with the guilt I always felt that I did not play, which I felt the night before and then again speaking with him, (not guilt regarding the people, the guilt of wasting something I was given) I vowed to return home and rent a sax. 

Every few months, he would send me an e-mail.  “Practicing?”  “Don’t forget to practice, are you sticking with it?”

I would answer back, “I can’t stop.  I don’t need to force myself.  This is a lifetime addiction.”

Our conversation was long, and he told me much of his personal history. 

About a year later, I recently found myself buying a good drum kit, as the addiction to the sound of drums won’t go away.  I had thought the sax would push that sound out, but I was wrong.  I was thinking, “I might get to play sax with Ed on trumpet on this trip, and I have to tell him about playing the drums”.

I searched him to see if he would be at the show, figuring I would come across a listing.  Either way, he had urged me to come to his home in the LA area, where I have 2 days (wind down) after the show.

Instead of show listings I found obituaries.  He suddenly died toward the end of February.

People touch you, then poof, gone.  Either moved, or just unplugged, and in some cases, dead.  Ed did me a huge favor, without trying.  Eventually, I would have been playing.  But maybe I would have waited a year, two years, who knows.  You have to put one foot in front of the other, and that takes time, effort, some magical confluence of events.  Ed glowing when talking of playing, of his relationship with Louis Armstrong when he was a kid, and of how rare the zone can be, were important little emotional data points, making my brain work at night and at times when I did not know it was working.  One of Ed’s obits:  

“Ed graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Music Education degree and then went on to receive a Master of Music from Yale University. He was the lead trumpet in the original production of the iconic musical Hair for the entire two- year run at the Aquarius Theatre in Los Angeles California. Ed then played lead trumpet in Tommy, the rock opera by The Who, followed by Jesus Christ, Superstar which opened the Universal Amphitheater. Ed also enjoyed a long career in the Los Angeles area as a studio trumpet player in television, movies and recordings.”

Ed is survived by his wife Nancy and his daughter Monica.”

Connections, people who affect you without even knowing it.  Crazy chance meetings that do have an effect, even for years later.

I had let Ed know that he was an important data point for my playing.  I’m glad I did tell him.

Enjoy every day. They are not guaranteed.

Let the folks who have affected you or influenced you know.  The next time you communicate could be the last.

Having lost a brother, mother, and father relatively young, each suddenly with absolutely no warnings and no goodbyes, this is in my mind every day.

I’ve been listening to trumpet a lot lately.  Miles Davis. Sweets Edison.  Must be Ed pushing me.   

I thought I would share this with you, my friends.

Armando “A.J.” Conti