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Top of the Charts. . . Seating and Pop : Tonight's Grammy Telecast Plans to Cross Genre Lines


Tony Bennett paused midway through "Moonglow" Monday morning at the Shrine Auditorium, during rehearsals for tonight's Grammy Awards show.

"I just realized something," the silver-haired singer said, turning to k.d. lang, who had just joined him on stage for a duet.

"When you walk out, you're gonna get a lot of applause. Instead of you just starting to sing, why don't I have the band vamp a little and then I'll introduce you so they can applaud longer."

Said a broadly grinning lang, "I love this guy."

Bennett's graciousness may set the tone for tonight's awards show, which will be telecast at 8 p.m. on CBS, hosted by "Mad About You" star Paul Reiser. The show's unofficial theme: bridge-building.

Backstage after the rehearsal, Bennett, 68, beamed about his three nominations, including album of the year for his "MTV Unplugged" collection, and cited his success on MTV as a positive trend indicator.

"What I like best of all these days is when I'm in an airport or somewhere and someone my age comes up and says, 'I'd like to thank you (because) your music is the first thing my children and I agree on in years,' " said Bennett, attired even for the run-through in his customary double-breasted blue suit.

But Bennett's spot on the show with lang, reprising their duet from "Unplugged," is just one of the moments designed to bring different generations or musical styles together.

That process begins with the opening number--Bruce Springsteen' AIDS-themed "Streets of Philadelphia"--and ends with a finale teaming folk-rockers Crosby, Stills & Nash with soul-pop star Luther Vandross on "Love the One You're With." The Stephen Stills composition earned Vandross a nomination this year for best male pop vocal. (This will also be David Crosby's first public appearance since his liver transplant surgery late last year.)

Another cross-genre performance will feature country singer John Michael Montgomery joining R&B vocal group All-4-One on the song "I Swear," which was a hit for both last year in their respective fields.

"It's all about access to music," said Mike Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which sponsors the awards.

Greene hopes that these segments will help take some of the sting out of perennial criticism that the Grammys are out of touch and conservative.

Greene had wanted to rectify that to some extent with a tribute to Nirvana's leader Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide last April. He hoped to get several leading alternative-rock figures--including R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder--together for a performance of Cobain's "All Apologies." But both R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are on tour abroad, and the plan was scrapped.

"It wouldn't have been because he's dead," said Greene, sitting in the Shrine foyer. "I just wanted to show people who might never have heard his songs what a wonderful songwriter he was."

One area where Greene says bridge-building has taken place is with the community of Los Angeles, which in recent years lost its status as the No. 1 choice for the Grammy show to New York. But Greene says that L.A. has shown enough interest this year that he now calls it even.

"Mayor Riordan has made the difference," said Greene, pointing to the city's enthusiastic support for the academy's Grammy in the Schools education programs and for MusiCares, the support system for musicians in health or financial need.

A Grammy in the Schools event held Monday at USC that drew more than 2,000 high school students from the L.A. area and a MusiCares dinner honoring Bennett as the person of the year scheduled for Tuesday at the Universal Hilton were centerpieces in a series of high-profile "Grammy Week" activities. The event series concludes Sunday with a "Grammy Jazz" concert at the Wadsworth Theater.

One person Greene won't be building any bridges with tonight: House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was Greene's political science professor when he was a student at the University of Georgia in the '60s. Greene will make a speech during the telecast decrying the new Republican congressional majority's plans to cut funding for the arts.

"No," said Greene, "Newt won't like my speech."

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