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Still Crazy for Paul Simon

The music industry honors the singer-songwriter for his dedication to unity.

February 21, 2001|GINA PICCALO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The music industry's Grammy Week opened Monday night with a tribute concert to honor iconic lyricist Paul Simon for promoting unity through his music.

The 16-time Grammy winner was named the 2001 Person of the Year by MusiCares, a charity of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences that has raised funds for needy musicians and their families since 1989. Simon also is nominated for a Grammy this year for his album "You're the One."

Simon, 59, whose career has spanned four decades, is a Long Island, N.Y., native and the son of jazz bassist Louis Simon. In the late 1950s, he and Art Garfunkel formed a doo-wop duo named "Tom and Jerry." By the mid-1960s, their style and name had changed and they were folk icons. After a successful career as half of Simon and Garfunkel, Simon decided to strike out alone in 1968. He went on to produce a series of hits during the next 20 years and earned respect from the industry's legends.

"If you go back every decade, he's never half-stepped," Quincy Jones said in an interview.

In the late 1980s, he co-founded the New York Children's Health Project to provide health care to homeless children in New York City. The organization is now a national network of 16 pediatric programs known as the Children's Health Care Fund that has treated more than 200,000 children.

Simon was praised by world leaders for his 1986 album "Graceland," which incorporated the native music of South Africa and helped bring attention to the plight of black South Africans struggling with apartheid.

It made a very powerful point gently, Simon has said.

On Monday, however, Simon's longtime friends Chevy Chase and Steve Martin added levity to the star-studded tribute at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, one of a series of events leading up to the 43rd annual Grammy Awards show scheduled for tonight at Staples Center.

They took turns poking fun at Simon throughout the show while the singer smiled modestly under a black baseball cap.

"You people say . . . Paul Simon, who is he?" Chase told a crowd of about 3,000. "Just another power hungry little guy" who writes songs "with a thesaurus in one hand and a joint in the other."

There were performances of Simon's songs by Macy Gray, Stevie Wonder and the Dixie Hummingbirds, Ruben Blades and Danny Rivera, Gloria Estefan, Ziggy Marley, Shelby Lynne, Brian Wilson, Shawn Colvin and Joan Osborne and the Chieftains.

"When I grow up, I want to be as great as you," Wonder told Simon.

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Estefan played Simon's hit "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on the same guitar on which she said she first learned to play the song as a 10-year-old. The song had special significance for her, Estefan said, because at the time her family was grappling with her father's return from the Vietnam War. "This song to me was my bridge," she told Simon from the stage.

Chase recalled meeting Simon nearly 30 years ago. Chase was writing for the upstart show "Saturday Night Live" and he and producer Lorne Michaels tracked down Simon in the studio recording "Still Crazy" and asked him to host the second episode of the show. "The first thing he said to me was: 'So, what do you think of me?' " recalled Chase. "And I said, 'I like you.' And then he did the show."

After an hourlong tribute by his fellow performers, Simon took the stage for three songs, ending the evening with his hit "Late in the Evening." He tipped his cap to the audience as he left the stage.

"I can't tell you how much fun this was," he said.

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