Phoenix Bach Choir and the Grammys

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By Steve Jansen

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of tagging along with the Phoenix Bach Choir and the Kansas City Chorale at the 50th annual Grammy Awards . At the end of the day, they took home one phonograph statuette for “Best Engineered Album, Classical” during a star-studded affair in Los Angeles. (For a full list of winners, go to http://www.grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/50th_show/list.aspx)

In 2005, the two groups together, under the direction of Conductor and Artistic Director Charles Bruffy, recorded Grechaninov: Passion Week. The ensembles and the album were so good that they were nominated for four Grammys.

Grechaninov: Passion Week was awarded a Grammy this past weekend.

Throughout my time hanging with them, I kept thinking about the Hickory High basketball team as chronicled in the movie Hoosiers, because there was definitely an underdog spirit in the air. One reason is because the Phoenix Bach Choir basically began in somebody’s living room fifty years ago, and this was the first time they were nominated for the highest U.S. music honor possible.

On Saturday, during a private reception at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. (where many of the 80-plus contingent of Choir/Chorale members and their guests stayed), Bruffy talked candidly about an editorial that appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post. In a piece titled, The Baton’s Been Passed Over,” staff writer Anne Midgette says, “For critics of all stripes, deriding the Grammys as increasingly insignificant is an annual ritual. But the classical Grammys are particularly irrelevant.” A calm yet visibly fired up Bruffy told the crowd that he wholeheartedly disagreed with Midgette’s sentiment, and even managed to drop a few other blasts against her. New Times “Brown Town” columnist and KJZZ 91.5 reporter Marcos Najera recorded the diatribe, but didn’t include any of it in his excellent post-Grammy piece that aired on Monday .

On Sunday afternoon, the pre-telecast (where 100 of the 110 category winners are announced) took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where I sat with the Bach Choir and the Chorale as they anxiously awaited their fate. (The nominations included Best Surround Sound Album; Best Engineered Album, Classical; Best Classical Album; and Best Choral Performance). When their name was announced as winner for Best Engineered Album, Classical, the 80-plus person contingent erupted -- by far the loudest in the hall that day. The award nod was especially satisfying for engineer John Newton, who is seen as a pioneer in the industry, but who had never won a Grammy.

Phoenix Bach Choir.

When their name wasn’t announced as the winner for the other categories, there was some initial disappointment, according to Joel Rinsema, Executive Director of the Phoenix Bach Choir. Some choir members that I spoke with felt like they had a good chance to take home a Grammy for Best Choral Performance. But once the reality of their one Grammy sunk in a bit, everyone came to the consensus that not winning anything would have been a real bummer.

As far as the CBS televised ceremony, I’m not going to talk, ad nauseam, about what’s already been said about the main event. However, I did want to list the big-timers that our party -- which included Phoenix Bach Choir Marketing Director and Phoenix Creative Music Movement founder Jennifer Rogers and Valley-based jazz musician Ted Belledin -- saw up close and personal:

• Yoko Ono • Evander Holyfield • Jimmy Jam • Herbie Hancock • Angélique Kidjo • Kurt Elling • N’dambi (or a serious N’dambi wannabe) • Patti Austin (pre-telecast co-host) • Peter Frampton (pre-telecast co-host)

Also, what you didn’t see during the high-profile Staples Center telecast:

• A super embarrassing performance by Koko Taylor. The legendary blues vocalist ain’t got it no more. • Since there wasn’t any food at the convention center, thousands of high-profile folks rushed to the Staples Center to eat. The only grub offered was stadium concessions. It was a trip to see countless folks in tuxedos and hot cleavage-revealing dresses chowing down on arena dogs and super nachos. • A nod to Michael Brecker during the telecast’s retrospective to musicians who passed in 2007. An outrageous shame, really, considering that the late jazz saxophonist won two Grammys during the pre-telecast. Brecker’s wife and son accepted each award for him, a truly heartbreaking moment. • The after party back at the convention center that included a super kickass performance by Cyndi Lauper. At age 54, the Grammy-award winning pop singer still has a sexy voice and a killer body to match. • If ten hours of music wasn’t enough, I was subjected to two and a half hours of the video game Rock Band at my friend’s house in Marina del Rey, following the after party. The fun and games didn’t end until 2:30 in the morning. Instead of Kanye West and Aretha Franklin (both of whom blew the roof off of the Staples Center), all I could hear in my head were drunken renditions of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer as I drifted off to sleep.

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