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One lone Grammy RSVP

Many jazz ensemble nominees, including the winner, were too busy making music (and ends meet) to attend.

February 10, 2006|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

Bill Holman wasn't at Staples Center on Wednesday afternoon with the throng of other Grammy nominees. If he had been, he'd have heard Dave Holland Big Band's "Overtime" announced as the winner in his nominated category, large jazz ensemble.

It's not that Holman had something more pressing to do; certainly he wasn't boycotting anything. The Grammys just aren't that big a deal to him.

"It's the afternoon thing, not the TV presentation, and so usually we feel like we're bringing up the rear anyway," said Holman, nominated for his "Bill Holman Band Live" album. The composer, arranger and bandleader added that he hasn't belonged to the Recording Academy in years.

Big band music doesn't pay enough to justify the $100 annual dues -- making the annual awards ceremony a whole different world for Holman and dozens like him in the lower-profile categories than it is for the pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B and country stars who soak up TV camera time each Grammy night.

"I never have made a living from the band," Holman, who began his career in the 1940s, said this week from his home in Hollywood Hills. "Nobody does."

In the upper echelons of pop music, success is measured in millions of units sold and, it seems, tons of bling on display. Nominees in the album of the year category have total sales of nearly 15 million copies.

In Holman's section of the Grammy program, sales totals seem to be short a few zeros -- some 15,000 units combined for all five large jazz ensemble finalists, according to a Nielsen SoundScan tally of sales through retail outlets. Not surprisingly, the winning entry, Holland's album, accounts for 12,000 of those scanned sales. The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble's "A Blessing" is at the low end of the SoundScan tally, with 100 copies.

The artists and their labels point out that their actual totals, supplemented by sales at gigs and through websites -- and typically not tracked by SoundScan -- is closer to 20,000. That's still just a sliver of the 5.2 million copies Mariah Carey's "The Emancipation of Mimi" has sold.

For these relative unheards fronting large jazz bands, a Grammy, while nice, probably won't transform a career. A few extra commissions might come through, a hall might get booked a little more easily. But there will be no need for Ray-Bans and floppy hats, or checking into hotel rooms under assumed names.

Still it's better to be nominated, and to win, than to be ignored, said Holland, who won Grammys in 2003 for large jazz ensemble album, and in 2000 for jazz instrumental performance, individual or group. It "lends credence to your work," Holland said before the ceremony from his home in Ulster County, N.Y., where he was writing new music for a follow-up to "Overtime." In fact, he's never been to the Grammys, blaming lack of time and a disinclination to travel cross-country for a bit of industry elbow-rubbing.

Though it's rare for contenders for a top award to miss the Grammys, only one of the five large jazz band ensemble nominees took the time to be there Wednesday. That was Chris Walden, a Los Angeles musician whose career is built on writing and arranging for other performers, Diana Krall among them. Walden was nominated for "Home of My Heart."

Most of the other finalists were busy doing jazz. Sue Mingus, director of the Mingus Big Band, nominated for the "I Am Three" album, was in San Francisco for a gig, and Hollenbeck, the experimental percussionist, was at a sound check at UC Riverside's University Theatre for his evening performance with singer-performance artist Meredith Monk.

"It certainly gives a lot of validation to the music," said Hollenbeck, a New Yorker whose West Coast appearances this week were planned before the Grammy nomination came down. "It gives a lot of hope to a musician like me. It's possible for the mainstream world to accept it a little bit."

Hollenbeck says he's already noticed the effect.

"It's always an upward battle for someone like me," Hollenbeck said. "I do my own bookings, and it's opened a few doors already for me."

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