Café Underscore

musical portraits


Most all the photos for Café Underscore were taken by the fabulous Trillia Fidei-Bagwell.  Check out Trillia’s blog, coming soon.

Thanks to my family, especially Susan and Richard Horn, for valuable input.

Don Stiernberg played the mandolin on Antonio.

The Process

I make my living writing and producing music.  Though I own a recording studio, when I’m composing I like to be out among humanity.  Technology has advanced to the point where my laptop is equipped with nearly everything I need for work.  I can create musical scores for television programs on a plane or in a park.  Most often I head off to a local coffeeshop near Northwestern University and sit for a few hours, eating and drinking my way through the menu while struggling to meet a deadline. 

At some point inevitably I’ll hit a brick wall.  My focus is gone.  I’ll get up, walk outside, order another muffin, chat with the staff, anything to reboot.  One day when faced with such a block, out of pure whimsy and self-amusement I focused on a fellow in the café and thought to myself, “What if my job was to underscore him?”  In other words, I picked someone in the room, imagined who he might be or what he was experiencing, and tried to score that image.  Kind of like making an artist’s sketch, but with music. 

Since I had a full recording studio on my laptop I was able to easily create a few musical phrases and play them back over my headphones as I watched this fellow go about his activities.  It was fascinating, amusing, and ultimately, just the distraction I needed to reset my brain and get back to work.  I began using this technique regularly.  Occasionally I’d come up with an idea that I really liked, so I’d save it in a file. 

Over time I realized I was generating a kind of gallery of little musical portraits of relative – or sometimes, complete – strangers.  I took the pieces back to my studio, added some live instruments, polished the mixes, and Café Underscore was born. 

Café Underscore is an ongoing series with musical portraits created at my favorite café (The Unicorn Café) and in other locales. Visit to hear new portraits as they become available.  Links are provided for you to purchase downloads of the music if you like.  By the way, if you want to hear these pieces the way I originally heard them, use earbuds or headphones.

– Steve Rashid

Contact us at:

Click here for more information about Steve Rashid and his music