Last night: the annual MusiCares Person of the Year dinner in Hollywood, the pre-Grammy wingding thrown to raise money for the recording academy’s important educational charity.
Every year a big star is chosen as the honoree, and he or she — well, so far, he — gets to pick acts that come and play the honoree’s songs.
James Taylor has two kids who are musicians, two siblings who are musicians and a famous ex-wife musician. Let’s cut to the chase: None of them made it to the stage.
Only one of them made it to the audience, Livingston Taylor, James’ brother. And he was only a last-minute addition, as Sweet Baby James was not that kind about inviting his blood relatives. However, by the end of the show, his twin toddler sons, dressed in mini suits, were hopping around on stage for the finale.
So we didn’t get to hear Livingston’s gorgeous voice, or that of Kate Taylor, either, or James’ talented kids Ben and Sally. At least he mentioned the latter pair in his remarks.
"How strange to be at an event like this and still be alive," Taylor quipped when he finally took the stage at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Well, maybe his adult children will be at his funeral.
In the meantime, plenty of stars turned up for this tribute to his career. Neil Young and Brian Wilson were in the audience, but they did not play. Actress Maria Bello represented the film world. "Soul Man" Sam Moore was resting his voice for the Grammys, but he was front and center to cheer on pals Bruce Springsteen and Sting, each of whom did a Taylor number.
The Springsteens and the Stings sat together at one table, and although there were recent gossip items about both couples having problems, they sure acted like they were happy as clams all night.
My only problem with the Springsteens was that, for a "working class" couple, they carried a lot of firepower with them. Their security detail was a little embarrassing, given that it was an invited audience. Even Nicole Kidman and boyfriend, Keith Urban, — certainly a "hotter" attraction — had less of a force field around them.
But Springsteen was compelling as usual on Taylor’s "The Mill," and Sting was perfection on "You Can Close Your Eyes." The Dixie Chicks got a lot of kudos for "Shower the People," although they cheated a little by using a male soul singer as an alternative lead.
If they hadn’t, the night would have been a little bland. There was not a lot of color. Luckily, India.Arie commanded "The Secret of Life" like a pro. And Taj Mahal with Dr. John made "Everybody Has Got the Blues" a hot piece of property.
There also were performances by Paul Simon, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt (with Jackson Browne and David Crosby on vocals), Alison Krauss and the aforementioned Urban, who was surprisingly good on a rocking version of "Country Road" once he got organized.
Comedians Cheech Marin and Kevin Nealon each did some jokes, although Marin’s assertion that "JT hasn’t had a hit single in 71 years" maybe was not what Taylor wanted to hear in his honor.
Nealon made no jokes about the revelation yesterday that he’d been named as a victim in the government’s indictment of screwy private eye Anthony Pellicano. I guess he didn’t find anything funny about that.
The only conspicuous no-shows were Randy Newman, who was supposed to be there, and Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney, who should have been there. Like the rest of her family and in-laws, Carly Simon was also, obviously, omitted.
In the end, though, it was Taylor himself who did the best with his own material. After a duet with Carole King on "You’ve Got A Friend," Taylor ran through a couple of his own songs, "Copperline" and "Shed a Light."
They were fine, but when he finally came up with "Fire and Rain" to close, it was the most compelling moment of the night, almost transcendent.
Considering that Taylor didn’t want to accept the MusiCares honor, this last number almost seemed like an acceptance.
It was a good night for MusiCares, raising some more hundreds of thousands for their coffers — money that goes into music education and stipends for indigent musicians.
There were plenty of interesting miscellaneous guests, too, such as Denise Rich, who generously took a table that included Berry Gordy’s son, Kerry, and the singing niece of Usama Bin Laden (don’t worry, she doesn’t know him, and she seemed very nice).
I ran into old friends like Phil Quartararo of EMI Music; Jason Flom of Virgin; Donnie Lenner of Sony; Peter Asher of Sanctuary; Linda Moran of the Songwriters Hall of Fame; producer Jimmy Jam Harris; music catalog expert Mary Jo Mennella; and music legal beagles Joel Katz and Allen Grubman.
Also, there were actress Kelly Lynch and husband-screenwriter, Mitch Glazer; Norman Chesky of Chesky Records; Evander Holyfield; and the whole fun gang from BMI Broadcast Music Inc. including Del Bryant, Charlie Feldman and Frances Preston.
And let the record show that Sony Music’s Andy Lack, the most not-fired-so-far exec in the biz, was front and center and looking very much employed.
Indeed, 2,300 people attended this year’s dinner, a record number, and you could feel it: It was just huge! People magazine threw a cool after-party at the Four Seasons, on a much smaller scale, with guests including LL Cool J, Benny Medina, India.Arie and Natalie Cole. Cool J told me his new album hits stores in mid-March, and the first single is produced by Jermaine Dupri and features Jennifer Lopez.
"She’s no Southern gospel singer," Cool J observed, "but she can sing." He wanted to reassure me that he didn’t use backup singers. I’ll take him at his word.
I’m sorry to say that I had to miss Gotham Magazine’s 6th anniversary celebration last night. Rudy (he used to be mayor) and Judy Giuliani were scheduled to be the hosts, and the Sugar Hill Gang was going to perform, all at Seth Greenberg’s cavernous Capitale down on New York’s Bowery.
Gotham is the brainchild of Jason Binn, whose Niche Media started in Miami with Ocean Drive magazine and has since become a force to reckon with thanks to Hamptons, AspenPeak, L.A. Confidential, Boston Common and Capitol File.
When Jason started Gotham in 2000, there was a lot of snickering. The conventional wisdom was that between New York magazine and the then-upstart Time Out New York, Gotham would be just a vanity project. Oh, right, and it wouldn’t last long.
How wrong the naysayers were. Gotham, which this month sports a beautiful cover portrait of Beyonce, is a hit. All of the Niche magazines are beautiful and full of sumptuous ads, and they all take their cue from Gotham.
Somehow another Jason — Jason Oliver Nixon — edits these massive tomes without having a nervous breakdown. He should be commended.
But the real hero of Niche is Binn. When he was younger he had a distant resemblance to Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman. He was also ubiquitous. If there was a hot event, Jason was somewhere in the center of it.
Sometimes, this was annoying. But then in 2002 I got to work with him as we put out the first issue of Los Angeles Confidential as an Oscar magazine.
Once you work with Jason, you get to see his other side. He is the hardest-working man in show business. He is a relentless salesman, and a most effective one. Advertisers want to be with him. By putting into the magazines pictures of all the beautiful people in town, Jason also attracts a loyal following. They want to be with him too. And the unique thing is, even with investors, he is entirely self-made.
The entire concept of Niche is quite brilliant, and my hat is off to him. He has to compete with giants like Conde Nast, Hearst and Time Warner. But Jason holds his own spectacularly well, and I think he’s going to keep on doing so for a long time.