A night of magic moves to Vitello’s

For one night only: The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

One of the biggest thrills of my life was winning a Grammy Award earlier this year.

I’ve been nominated three times, and, really, that’s enough. It means your peers respect you and know about what you’re doing, and that’s good enough. I’m savvy enough to know that as a jazz player I’m competing with the universe. But the arranging category is a bit smaller, so the odds of recognition are a little better.

But, I was honored, with the 2010 Best Instrumental Arrangement Grammy for the chart I wrote for Resonance Records’ “Tribute to Oscar Peterson.”

If you go on grammys.com, and scroll to minute 27 of the awards, you can see me, breathlessly running up to the front. I had been sitting in the back with my girlfriend, Wanda Lau, and friends Tierney Sutton and Alan Kaplan, her husband. I wasn’t expecting to win, obviously, so I was way in the back, just talking.

For whatever reason, I had sketched out my “bullet points” in the bizarre case of having to make a speech –  you gotta thank George Klabin, the owner of the label, Resonance Records; the cats in the band; your girlfriend; Oscar Peterson, since I’d borrowed much from him in the arrangement. And, of course, Leonard Bernstein.

When I got up on the stage, I saw a lot of friends sitting in the band – Ron King, Brandon Fields, etc – and I said, to no one in particular, “Yeah, getting an award is nice, but you guys have a GIG! Get me on it!!”

I’ve heard from so many friends about the award, and it’s been a wonderful experience, but I returned to earth very quickly. The next day, I was sitting in my living room with dozens of Cal State Fullerton student schedules sprawled around me, trying to figure out who’s playing in the jazz small groups there. Sigh.

I’m lucky to live in Studio City, just two blocks from a very fine Italian restaurant, Vitello’s. Many of you remember it from the Robert Blake days. I used to take people on my Studio City/Hollywood tour. I’d take them to Blake’s old house, where once, tagged on a wall, were the words “Mata Hari Ranch.” eeecchh! Then I’d take them to Vitello’s and show them “the dumpster.”

Well, OK, not THAT dumpster, but any old one I saw. You just make up things, like the double-decker bus drivers in NYC do. According to them, Madonna lives in about eight different apartments. Then I’d take them to the Brady Bunch house, on Dilling, the one they showed at the beginning of the program. Quite the contrast, don’t ya think?

April Williams has been managing the music at Vitello’s for more than a year now, and she’s a great lady, supports the cats, does everything right. The room is acoustically excellent, and the young sound guys are cool, into the music, and do their job. April has had a few big bands into Vitello’s, and it sounds fantastic.

So I decided to do, perhaps, the dumbest thing, the most foolhardy thing, a musician could do. Start a big band. Well, for one night, anyway.

My old friend Bruce Paulson did this for a gig in Alaska, announcing, “This is the first AND last gig of the Bruce Paulson Big Band.” And it was, too.

Next Saturday night, April 17, will be a little less stressful at Vitello’s. In just an hour and a half, we’ll finish with the Grammy-winning “West Side Story” arrangement, then we’ll do some other material. It will be a bit of a surprise.

I’m getting as many of the cats from the original session that I can. We’ll start with champagne at 7:30, and the band kicks off at 8:30 until 11.

This should be fun and if you have a lot of champagne, we’ll sound even better.

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1 Comment

Filed under Jazz Piano

One response to “A night of magic moves to Vitello’s

  1. Laura (Gordon) Spittle

    Every once in a while you read something that just makes you wish like anything you could be there. This is, indeed, one of those times:-). Best wishes.

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