The Grammy Awards are tonight, but they're going to have to be awfully incredible to top Clive Davis' annual gala. The unbelievable mix of A-list diners and top-notch entertainment converged at the Regent Wall Street ballroom in the midst of some of the heaviest security seen in New York to date. (There were actually attack dogs and camouflaged soldiers with machine guns.)
But the only explosions were metaphorical ones -- and no guns were needed. Aretha Franklin proved that she's still the Queen of Soul, delivering a buttery version of "It's My Turn" and a raucous "Think" with Alicia Keys on keyboards. (The 22-year-old Keys, looking sensational in a red silk dress, had no time to rehearse but joined Aretha like a pro.) Rod Stewart wowed the audience with two tunes from his hit standards album from J Records, using surprise guest Lou Reed on Sam Cooke's "Havin' a Party."
And that's what Clive Davis was doing: having the biggest party of his life to celebrate his status as the record industry's premiere showman. No one does it like Clive, who this year had newly-elevated Sony Music exec Don Ienner (Tommy Mottola's successor) introduce him -- a superior move on the chessboard of the record biz. Ienner now rises in his own company's estimation as his two superiors, Andy Lack and Sir Howard Stringer, were right there to watch it happen.
There was, of course, the usual flood of famous faces that first went to a building across the street from 55 Wall for cocktails and photo ops. Then the whole gang of 800 marched through a covered tent that crossed Wall Street into the Regent. Among the glittering: Aretha, Rod, Carly Simon, Keys, Reed, Usher, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Marisa Berenson, Kid Rock, Kim Cattrall, P. Diddy, Naomi Campbell, Andre Harrell, Kelly Rowland, producer Jimmy Jam Harris, Phil Ramone and all the members of 'N Sync -- Justin, Lance, JC, Chris and Joey. Even American Idol star Kelly Clarkson was there.
But did I mention Sharon Osbourne with Kelly and Jack? This extraordinary woman, who has had a bad time of it this year, looks fantastic and, by the way, is full of life. She is also the funniest thing on two feet. A real trouper!
Stewart told me he was anxious to do the sequel album to his American Songbook and was already working on new versions of old songs like "Skylark."
"Now that I have the confidence I'm going to do really hard songs," he told me.
When his manager introduced this reporter to Rod as "the one who reported you fell asleep on Penny (Lancaster, his 5'10" girlfriend) three years ago here," Stewart didn't even blink.
"And why not?" he said. "She has an ample bosom."
During his performance with Reed, Stewart high-kicked and strutted as if it were 1971 and he was singing "Stay With Me" with the Faces. Apparently, he is unsinkable.
Prince slinked in late with several bodyguards, took a seat and said nothing to anyone all night. When Davis introduced him from the stage, the musical genius got a standing ovation. This prompted Sharon Osbourne, who couldn't see him due to his vertical challenge, to shout out, "Where is he? Where is that little Prince?" in her best cockney accent. I don't know if she ever got to meet him, but she tried.
There were also folks from the non-music side: Bryant Gumbel (who chatted about golf with MTV's Carson Daly), romance author Danielle Steel with her three beautiful daughters; CBS's Les Moonves; as well as Howard Stern with girlfriend Beth, Evander Holyfield, Oscar-winner Faye Dunaway, Denise Rich and Martha Stewart. The latter ventured out twice yesterday to Grammy events and was met with a lot of acceptance, by the way.
The room was also graced with the presence of legendary writer Kurt Vonnegut and his photographer/author wife Jill Krementz. Davis may be the only one left in the record biz who holds onto the idea of camaraderie and community but he does it, as he says, with love. He introduced Atlantic Records co-founder and legend Ahmet Ertegun just that way. It's kind of touching, considering the business is in turmoil and most of the people in the room would slit each other's throats for a hit right now.
"I feel like I've invited you into my living room," Davis told the audience as one by one his stars came out to perform. Davis introduced three newish acts he has high hopes for -- and with good reason. Heather Headley, the Tony-winning Broadway star, has the potential to become Whitney Houston without the baggage. Her voice is phenomenal and she's very, very attractive, which doesn't hurt. Tyrese, a modern soul crooner, is already a hit with the ladies and can sing like crazy -- though I wasn't crazy about his material. Someone needs to get him some songs with real hooks. And Gavin DeGraw, a sort of Bruce Hornsby/Billy Joel type, will launch an album this spring. He looks like he'll be the real deal.
More tomorrow from Davis' party of parties, along with coverage of tonight's Grammy's and all the trimmings! I do wonder though if the Grammy's will stay in New York after the terrible weather we've had this week. Even the most anti-Hollywood types are longingly recalling the warm Los Angeles breezes and clear night skies as they step through 3-foot-deep puddles. Last night there were not only sheets of hail but thunder and lightning, too. Our Hollywood friends are learning about the seasons big time this weekend!