The Berkshire-Grammy connection
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 15, 2003) – Unbeknownst to them at the time, Berkshire concertgoers over the past year were treated to several handfuls of performances by artists who are potential Grammy Award winners next month.

No fewer than a dozen of the nominated artists in pop, folk and jazz categories announced last week performed in the Berkshires within the last year or so. These include Norah Jones, who was nominated for Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist, among other awards, and James Taylor, who was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Jones, who also received nominations for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Song, and who is a good bet to walk away a big winner at the Grammy Awards ceremony in New York on February 23, performed several times at Club Helsinki over the last few years as a member of the band Wax Poetic, before she left the group to pursue her solo career.

Taylor, of course, performed at Tanglewood last summer, as he does most summers, in a concert with the Boston Pops that set an all-time record for the largest crowd, estimated at over 25,000. Taylor’s nomination was for best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for the title track to his excellent new album, “October Road.”

At that same concert, the audience heard John Williams conduct some of the Grammy-nominated music he composed for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” -- the soundtrack was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack Album, and “Hedwig’s Theme,” which the Pops played, was nominated for Best Instrumental Composition.

But it doesn’t end there. Diana Krall, who performed as a headliner in the Tanglewood Jazz Festival this past Labor Day weekend, garnered two nominations, including Best Jazz Vocal album for “Live in Paris” and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for her duet with Natalie Cole on the latter’s “Better Than Anything.” And trumpeter Roy Hargrove, also a headliner at Tanglewood last year, shared a nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for “Directions in Music,” his collaboration with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker.

Club Helsinki and its promoting arm, Helsinki Presents, scored big in 2002 with about a half-dozen Grammy-nominated artists, including Doc Watson, who pulled down two nominations, including one for Best Traditional Folk Album, and the Blind Boys of Alabama, whose “Higher Ground” was nominated for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album. Helsinki brought Watson and the Blind Boys to the Mahaiwe Theatre.

Unfortunately, the Mahaiwe is apparently no longer available for such concerts, at least for the foreseeable future, for the time being leaving Helsinki without a theater-sized venue in the Berkshires.

Grammy-nominated acts that played Club Helsinki included guitarist John Scofield, who received the nod for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for “Uberjam.” Scofield also appeared locally at the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, or “BerkFest,” at Butternut Basin last August. BerkFest scored with two nominees – in addition to Scofield, Brazilian singer Angelique Kidjo, who also performed at BerkFest, was nominated for Best World Music Album for “Black Ivory Soul.”

Alvin Youngblood Hart, who has played Helsinki several times, received a nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album for “Down in the Alley.” Canadian jazz artist Jane Bunnett, who packed Helsinki with her hot Afro-Cuban band, will vie for the Best Latin Jazz Album nomination against the Caribbean Jazz Project, which performed at the Berkshire Jazz Festival at Butternut in August.

And just a little over a year ago, Tom Paxton, who is nominated for Best Musical Album for Children, inaugurated the Berkshire Museum’s popular “Originals in Song” series.

In another Berkshire-Grammy connection, superstar drummer Kenny Aronoff, a native of Stockbridge and graduate of Monument Mountain Regional High, played on Willie Nelson’s “Great Divide,” which is nominated for Best Country Album, and on Michelle Branch’s debut album, “The Spirit Room,” helping to garner Branch a nomination for Best New Artist.

Branch’s album was produced by Aronoff’s former bandmate in Melissa Etheridge’s group, John Shanks, son of Ann and Bob Shanks of Sheffield. Shanks also co-wrote half of the songs on Branch’s album, on which he played most of the instruments. Shanks also co-wrote and played on Sheryl Crow’s “Steve McQueen,” for which the singer was nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal. The song, which was a hit single, appeared on Crow’s recording “C’mon, C’mon,” which was nominated for Best Rock Album.

Not a bad record for a quaint, out-of-the-way region where nothing exciting ever happens.

Radio Rogovoy

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Pretenders, “Loose Screw” (Artemis)
2. Patty Larkin, “Red=Luck” (Vanguard)
3. Donald Fagen, “Kamakiriad”
4. Hazeldine, “Double Back” (Okra-Tone)
5. The Wallflowers, “Red Letter Days” (Interscope)
6. Maria Tanase, “Ciuleandra” (Oriente Rien)
7. David Bowie, “Heathen” (ISO/Columbia)
8. Pharaoh’s Daughter, “Exile” (Knitting Factory)
9. Sofia, “Bukovina Songs” (Oriente Rien)
10. Pink Floyd, “Is There Anybody Out There?: The Wall Live 1980-81” (Columbia)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 17, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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