I was on a scouting expedition. We hope to have crossed the threshold of 200 Berklee alumni Grammy Awards, and we want to celebrate that feat next year. Reconnaissance was on the agenda: How to create our own nook of celebration amidst the explosion of promotional fireworks?
Between gymnastic, nunchucking ninja dancers with Justin Bieber and Usher, Lady Gaga emerging from a translucent egg, and faux mayhem surrounding the British power trio Muse, the Roman Colosseum had nothing on this event. Despite this, the music most often held its own. In particular, I found the tribute to Aretha Franklin very moving and musical. And “Forget You,” Cee Lo Green’s naughty throwback hit, had more hooks than a Gloucester fishing trawler.
I had the pleasure of representing Berklee two nights before the Grammys at the MusicCares tribute to Barbra Streisand. Linda and I were joined by Berklee alumni nominees Esperanza Spalding, Juan Luis Guerra, and Makeba Riddick, as well as Film Scoring Chair and former NARAS chairman Dan Carlin, Peter Gordon of Berklee’s L.A. office, and several trustees and friends of the college. Trustee Phil Ramone produced the event; it was extraordinary, with Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Stevie Wonder, and many others performing moving tributes. But the zenith was Barbra Streisand’s inspired performance at the end of the evening.
And then, on to the Grammy event itself.
We are all rightly a little skeptical of awards and competitions in any endeavor, but especially in music. Even august awards like Nobel Prizes or Pulitzers often miss the true pioneers. In entertainment, commerce most often trumps art—hype often trumps substance. So I had suitably low expectations for the awards. Like most everyone, I was shocked and delighted when Esperanza—someone many of us know quite well—received the award for best new artist over reigning teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
Now, I am not naïve. This does not signal a sea change in the musical tastes of the mainstream. This will not usher in a new era in sophisticated listening. Most people who are spurred to listen to Esperanza’s music will probably find it very inaccessible and beat a hasty retreat to Eminem, Lady Antebellum, or Katy Perry. And of course, she is only one of a talented cohort of young artists trying to authentically express themselves through music. Her career has surely been blessed by great mentors—many right here at Berklee—ranging from our own Joe Lovano to Prince and President Obama.
But for this one night and an appropriate month or so of afterglow, I choose to simply be happy for Esperanza, for Berklee, for virtuosity, for creativity, for adventurousness, and for joyful expression.