NEWS - There's a new girl in the band! Meet Mrs. Gunderman

Jennifer, I need you for my touring bandBy Priyanka Aribindi

When nine-time Grammy award winner Sheryl Crow personally called Professor Jennifer Gunderman asking her to join her touring band, she didn’t pick up the phone. “I didn’t recognize the number — it was blocked — so I let it go to voicemail,” Gunderman said.

“She left a message, and the first thing she said was, ‘It’s Sheryl, and I know teaching’s important to you and you work at Vanderbilt, but I need a keyboard player for my touring band, and I was wondering if this would be something you’d be interested in,’” Gunderman said. “I guess she had heard from my husband that I like my job here.”

For the past 10 years Gunderman has worked as a part-time lecturer at the Blair School of Music, teaching courses in the history of rock and American popular music and using the rest of her time to pursue her professional career.

“I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays and gig a lot at night and do a lot of recording sessions, sometimes I go out of town on the weekends,” she said. “It’s a bit of a juggling act.”

While Gunderman is no stranger to working with

industry heavyweights, having performed and recorded previously with artists such as Kris Kristofferson and Lyle Lovett, among others, it was actually her husband, guitarist Audley Freed, who brought her into contact with Crow.

“For the last year it was my husband who’s been in the band, so in the year that he’s been playing with her I saw her and met her a few times, and she’s great to be around,” Gunderman said.

Though Gunderman is a classically trained pianist, she’s set to assume many more roles on Crow’s upcoming tour, playing the organ, piano, electric piano, strings, accordion and percussion as well as singing.

“She is a wonderful multi-instrumentalist,” Gunderman said of Crow. “She, in my opinion, is one of the greatest singers around. That’s actually the most terrifying part of the gig right now for me, trying to think about singing harmony with her because I’ve never thought of myself as a very good singer, but I have to jump in and do it, which is a good challenge.”

Singing with Crow isn’t the only thing Gunderman has to prepare herself for. “There’s a lot of work to do to try and learn all these songs,” she said. “The rest of the band is already on the road together — I’m being added sort of as additional personnel. I’m flying to Vegas in a couple of weeks and am just going to soundcheck and jump into the gig. It’s pretty rock ’n’ roll of her.”

Through all of the stress of learning and rehearsing, Gunderman strives to maintain the same standards in her classes. “My goal is that my students will not notice that I‘m frantically trying to prepare for this tour,” she said. “The only thing I’ve had to do is move a couple office hours — I hope that’s the only thing that has affected my students.”

Though Crow’s tour dates currently extend into August of 2013, Gunderman has been granted the entire 2013-14 academic year off of her teaching duties to accommodate the schedule. “It really depends on how album sales go,” she said. “She’s an artist now that can tour all the time, she doesn’t necessarily need to have an album out, but the short answer is that I don’t really know how long the tour is going to last.”

Gunderman has said that it would take something really special to entice her away from her position at Vanderbilt, but that’s exactly how she describes this opportunity.

“I feel like this has taught me that wonderful things can drop out of the sky at any point in your life,” she said. “You have to be ready to say yes when the opportunity comes up.”


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