Stars perform for Paul Simon — but no Garfunkel, no Denise Rich at Grammy charity dinner
We're in Los Angeles now and Grammy week has begun with a bang.
Last night, NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) gave its annual MusiCares dinner, this time saluting Paul Simon. No sign of Art Garfunkel, but plenty of other stars including the magnificent Stevie Wonder with the Dixie Hummingbirds, Shaun Colvin, Ziggy Marley, Joan Osborne, and Macy Gray all performed Simon's songs before the big little guy himself performed a selection of his hits.
Among the non performing stars who attended were Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 and his beautiful wife Marisol. Thomas told me his group will hit the road this summer for a big tour but don't expect to hear his Santana hit, "Smooth," in the show. "We'll leave that to Carlos and his experts," he told me.
Also on hand: legendary Chic performer and producer Nile Rodgers, and Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner with a bevy of bunnies. And Quincy Jones, still ever the swinging star of all popular music-especially in Los Angeles-wearing a crushed velvet Nehru-type suit, standing on a long line for the men's room. Hey, Quincy-who's produced more hits and written more arrangements than any other living human-is like 70 something and his girlfriend is about 25. He's in a dead heat with 80 year old Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun who came to the show with not one, but two babes. Hallellujah!
Missing in action so far: Denise Rich, perpetual Grammy attendee who never misses a party if there's music and celebrities involved. She's laying low lest there be questions about her ex-husband Marc and his presidential pardon. Her assistant Jimmy Hester did arrive, though, with former tennis great Andrea Jaeger. Readers of this column will recall that Andrea founded and runs an important children's charity out of Colorado for kids with terminal illnesses. It was great to meet her in person at last.
Friends of Denise Rich who came to last night's show, by the way, insist that she's too naïve to have instigated the pardon by donating millions to the Democrats. It was too nice an evening to disagree with them.
The NARAS folks must have thought it was cute to put this columnist and a couple of others at a table in the Century Plaza Hotel banquet hall so far away from the action that we might as well have stayed home in New York. But lo and behold, I struck up a conversation with a lovely woman who was also sitting at our table. Her name is Laura McIntyre, and she said she's a professor of mathematics at Kent State University in Ohio. So what brings her to the dinner, I ask? "My daughter is singing in the show with Paul Simon." I figured she was a backup singer, the daughter. What's her name, I ask?
"Macy Gray," says Dr. McIntyre.
Suddenly a warm yellow soothing light pours over poor little table 148.
Indeed, Macy Gray opened the show, doing a splendid rendition of "You Can Call Me Al." Then Ms. Gray — who will probably win a Grammy tomorrow night for her hit "I Try" — crossed the gigantic ballroom and came and sat with us. What a nice girl, she wanted to be with her mom. During the rest of the show Macy — whose real name is Natalie McIntyre — was extremely attentive to her mom and her brother Nate, who was also with them. Nice family.
Dr. McIntyre told me a lot about Macy-that she's the mother of three toddlers, that she studied film at USC, and that this "Macy Gray stuff" is very new to all of them back in Ohio. "She's only been Macy Gray for a couple of years!" her mother said. Until recently, while she was touring, Macy let her kids stay back in Ohio with the McIntyres so they would have some stability. "But she came and got them at Christmas," said Dr.McIntyre, sounding like a disappointed grandmother. "She wanted them back!" (I know from personal experience that grandmothers would prefer to keep those kids if they could.)
The artists who followed Macy on stage were all very good, including Colvin who was nervous but performed a wonderful rendition of my favorite Paul Simon song, "American Tune." This song so relevant right now, someone should cover it and make it a new hit.
But it was Stevie Wonder who absolutely stole the show, performing "Loves Me Like A Rock" with the Dixie Hummingbirds. This moment in the show demonstrated the difference between artistic genius and the average talent we've come to accept as art. Stevie is so far beyond mere mortals in terms of musicianship and personal aura that he should be the first person who is cloned when that whole business starts up. We need to have a couple of back-up versions of him ready at all times.
The Hummingbirds, by the way, wore matching suits the color of lime green sherbet. They've been together well over 50 years, one of them said, "73," but I hope he was kidding, and they've never sounded better. They have a greatest hits record on House of Blues Records on which they sing "Loves Me Like a Rock" with Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.
Brian Wilson, the legendary Beach Boy, also performed — he doesn't sing that well anymore but he put over a choral version of "The Sounds of Silence" that was just fine. Wilson will do the honors at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction next month for Simon when he gives a rare testimonial for the singer. I wonder if Garfunkel will be invited to that...
MusiCares does a lot of important charitable work, by the way, doing community outreach, music education in schools across the country, and provides financial and health support services to musicians in need of help. As at most fundraisers, they provide a hefty book listing sponsors and showing off letters of support and proclamation from politicians and other celebrities.
My absolute favorite of those included in the book came from former Illinois senator Paul Simon, now the director of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. He wrote:
"I cannot tell you how pleased I was to hear that Paul Simon is your Person of the Year. That you should have heard about my singing debut at age 71 pleases me. I sang Hello Dolly! For my daughter's bluegrass group, my one and only venture into public singing...But that was a few months ago and I guess it takes time for the word to get around. That you have designated me Person of the Year gives me great satisfaction. My talent is finally being recognized."
Gee, if he'd been that funny 12 years ago he might be president now.
PS--The real Paul Simon finished the show, with outstanding versions of Graceland, Late in the Evening, and The Boxer. He was introduced by no less than Steve Martin and Elton John.
The MusiCares gift bag was a mysterious box in gold wrapping paper. Inside: a lite-up Elvis that you plug in. I don't know if it sings. Best quote of the night came from beautiful Linda Thompson Jenner Foster, songwriter and wife of producer David Foster. She dated Elvis in the mid 70s. Where is Elvis tonight, I asked her over drinks after the show? "Elvis," Linda said, "has left the building." And we all raised a glass to him.