2008 Grammy Wrap Up

If you skipped last night’s 50th Grammy Awards broadcast, you missed, among other things:

  • Kanye West donning battery-powered light-up duds to perform a song which included a heavy arsenal of samples from the Paris-based duo Daft Punk—computer voice and all—only to turn on a dime and deliver a heartening stripped-down rendition of “Hey Mama,” from his 2005 release Late Registration. The performance was rather poignant given the fact that West’s mother died last year. Of course this didn’t temper the rapper’s signature cockiness.

  • Amy Winehouse on short sabbatical from rehab to shimmy on stage while singing, what else, her hit “Rehab.”

  • And a slew of weird collaborations—from Morris Day and the Time paired with Rihanna, to Alicia Keys in duet with a video-projected Frank Sinatra. The best unlikely match: Kid Rock and old-timer Keely Smith.

Whether those names and the talent attached mean anything to you or not, the live broadcast also saw a little bit of classical and jazz in the mix—though if the American Idol-esque, YouTube sponsored My Grammy Moment contest is what it takes, we may not want the spotlight. The competition brought three young string players to the stage to perform three-second-or-less virtuoso laden licks, after which Jason Bateman instructed viewers at home how to vote for their favorite. As a result, the winner, violinist Ann Marie Calhoun, got the chance to sit in with the studio orchestra that accompanied the Foo Fighters as they performed “The Pretender,” which won a Grammy for best hard rock performance. Unfortunately, despite heavy evidence elsewhere in music this year, in this example the genre mixing was uncomfortably analogous to water and oil—I guess you can’t win them all.

The stars of classical and jazz shined much brighter when the ever-flashy Lang Lang teamed up with jazz legend Herbie Hancock to perform an abridged Rhapsody In Blue. Though the performance may not have been technically stellar, hugs and standing ovation ensued. Which neatly leads us to the biggest surprise of the evening when Herbie Hancock walked off with the Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters. Based on music and lyrics penned by Joni Mitchell, Hancock’s album marks the first time in 43 years that a jazz album has taken home the evening’s crowning prize. The last album to do so was American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto, which won in 1964.

The majority of the classical and jazz action takes place off camera, of course. So what happened before the two-and-a-half-hour show during which a whopping 11 trophies were handed out? Here’s a rundown of the not-ready-for-prime-time winners that were announced during a ceremony held before the live television broadcast:

  • Best classical album was awarded to Joan Tower: Made in America released by Naxos, which also took home trophies for best orchestral performance (Nashville Symphony, conducted by Leonard Slatkin), and best classical contemporary composition.

  • Best classical vocal performance went to the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson performing Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs (James Levine conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Nonesuch)

  • Best chamber music performance went to eighth blackbird’s Strange Imaginary Animals album.

  • Judith Sherman won classical producer of the year for projects which included eighth blackbird’s Strange Imaginary Animals album.

  • Michael Giacchino won for best score soundtrack album for Ratatouille.

  • Maria Schneider won for best instrumental composition for “Cerulean Skies” from her album Sky Blue.

  • Best jazz instrumental album went to Pilgrimage by saxophonist Michael Brecker, who died last year. “Anagram,” a track from the artist’s final studio session, won for best jazz instrumental solo.

  • Terence Blanchard won best large jazz ensemble album for his A Tale Of God’s Will (A Requiem For Katrina), released by Blue Notes.

  • Best Latin jazz album went to Paquito D’Rivera’s Funk Tango.