WASHINGTON — When he isn't outrunning some of the toughest defensive backs in football to snare passes for the Washington Redskins, Calvin Muhammad likes to play the majestic trombone passages of a Brahms symphony.
And while some of his fellow Redskin bachelors might be cruising the Georgetown singles bars, Muhammad can be found in the basement recording studio of his suburban Reston, Va., home, taping an album of his own jazz compositions.
His band is called "Saleem," which happens to be his middle name, and he's the whole band. He plays every part--fluegelhorn, trombone, soprano sax, bass and lead guitars, drums, keyboard and synthesizer--on an eight-track system that enables him to record each instrument on the same tape.
Muhammad, a quiet, very private man of 26, hopes to finish the yet-untitled album before September, when he returns to his very public profession as one of the fastest, nimblest wide receivers in the National Football League.
Millions of fans watching on TV saw Muhammad, acquired in a trade with the Raiders last October, catch an 80-yard touchdown pass against the Dallas Cowboys in his second game as a Redskin. It was quarterback Joe Theismann's longest bomb ever, the longest reception in Muhammad's career and the longest play of the Redskins' season.
But few of Muhammad's neighbors even knew of his musical interests until a few weekends ago when he appeared in tuxedo as a trombonist with the Northern Virginia Symphony, a local community orchestra. He had discovered the orchestra rehearsing Brahms' Symphony No. 2 at the Reston community center, where he had gone for a swim, and asked conductor Larry Wheeler if he could join.
"He was quite good. We are very happy to have him with us," said Wheeler, who plans to include Muhammad in a Baroque brass quartet for the orchestra's next concert in late April.
Born as Calvin Vincent Raley in Jacksonville, Fla., the son of a dairy machine operator, Muhammad took piano lessons briefly at age 6, fell in love with drums in the seventh grade, played trombone in his high school band and "went from one instrument to another" with ease.
He quit the band to play football and became an All-American high school track star, clocking 9.3 seconds in the 100-yard dash. "But my music never left me," he said at Redskins Park, where he works out in the gym three times a week.
Muhammad won a football scholarship to Texas Southern University, where he majored in music. After a stint in the Canadian Football League, he joined the Raiders in 1982. While Raider "bad boys" cultivated a reputation for eating glass for breakfast and breaking opponents' bones on Sunday afternoons, Muhammad spent his spare time playing trombone with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra.
He took his Muslim name in college. Muhammad means "praiseworthy," he said, and Saleem means "one who maintains a peaceful state not easily upset."
"The only time I'm frustrated is when I make a mistake, when it's my fault," he said. "I am not intimidated by my opponents. Sometimes it seems that way, but that's a show. I growl on the field because if you seem weak to them, they'll knock your jock off."
When his football days are over, Muhammad wants to continue writing and recording jazz. After further study, he intends to embark on a career of composing and conducting classical music.
"When I can sit down at a piano and play something I've heard somewhere," he said, "I think, 'Where does this come from?' All I can say is it must be a blessing, a gift from God."