Tag Archives: Temple University

Bill Cunliffe and the Grammy that got away

Bill Cunliffe and his Grammy from 2010. Cunliffe lost his bid for two in a row to Billy Childs.

This was a bittersweet year for me at the Grammys. I was there because the orchestral piece, “fourth stream… La Banda,” that I wrote for my friend, trumpeter Terell Stafford, and the Temple University Orchestra, was nominated for Best Original Composition, the first time I’ve been nominated in this category.

I regard it as my best work in this genre. The Temple faculty were so excited that a bunch of them came out, including Dean Robert Stroker, conductor Luis Biava, financial officer Linda Fiore, and development director Tara Webb Duey, and some of their family. The night before, we had a spectacular dinner at Spago, and there was lots of anticipation in the air.

In past years, I’ve never prepared a speech, and never thought I had a chance to win, but . . . THIS YEAR!? We rehearsed our moves, what to say, how for them to follow me up to the podium, etc, etc. We had hoped to be the little engine that could, the tough state school with young musicians and a first time nominee in the category.

But it was not to be. Billy Childs, a friend and colleague, and great composer and jazz pianist, won for his Chamber Jazz Project. A masterpiece, recorded with world class musicians.

The air went out of the room among us. But we put on our game faces, and sat through the rest of the ceremony.

I agree with Branford Marsalis when he recently said that today’s popular music isn’t really for his generation, and that he wanted to pursue what interested him in classical and art music. But, as a professor at Cal State Fullerton, I still am always curious about what the young enjoy in music.  I’m usually quite pleased by my students’ taste. They like things that are alternatively melodic, and, outrageous.

The afternoon ceremony was filled with good vibes; the highlight for me was Bobby McFerrin and Esperanza Spaulding singing an unaccompanied duet on Miles Davis’ “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Kathy Griffin was hilarious as MC, many of her comments unprintable here.

The evening ceremony, musically not for people over 50 like myself, nevertheless had some high moments. Barbra Streisand, with a huge orchestra sounding very good despite a shaky opening in “Evergreen;” Mick Jagger singing and strutting around like someone at least twenty years younger; Lady Antebellum demonstrating a pleasing country pop with a lovely female lead. And Cee Lo Green and Gwyneth Paltrow were surprisingly funky and fun.

The Grammys have made, I think, the correct choice in making the thing play well on TV, so the requisite Lady Gaga pop production and choreography got the crowd buzzing, as did Eminem, to me he is a one trick pony, but good at what he does. I might add that the trumpeter Conte Condoli said the same thing about Mussolini.

Hopefully see you again next year!

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