What's Happening at the Symphony

Lifetime Achievement Grammys too late for some

Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Pierre Boulez, the Louvin Brothers, Ray Kurzweil, the Bee Gees and others honored at Saturday's Special Merit Awards

This review was featured on the UT San Diego and written by George Varga. 

LOS ANGELES — The ability of great music to transcend the life of the artist who created it was underscored at Saturday's 2015 Special Merit Awards Ceremony, at which Lifetime Achievement Grammy honors were given to seven bands and solo performers. While blues guitar giant Buddy Guy, jazz saxophone icon Wayne Shorter and Tex-Mex accordion dynamo Flaco Jiménez were on hand to give acceptance speeches, other recipients were either deceased or unable to travel because of health reasons.

Those in the latter category at Saturday's ceremony included: former Beatle George Harrison (who died in 2001 at the age of 58); pioneering country-music vocal duo the Louvin Brothers (Charlie Louvin died in 2011, while Ira Louvin was killed in a 1965 car crash); and the Bee Gees, whose sole surviving member is Barry Gibb (Maurice Gibb died in 2003 at the age of 54, while Robin Gibb died in 2012 at 63). 

"We never thought of ourselves as a group. We were brothers," Barry Gibb told the audience at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. "I miss them all very much."

Harrison's son, Dhani, 36, accepted his father's Lifetime Achievement Award, following a video salute that included footage of George Harrison with the late Indian music legend (and former Encintas resident) Ravi Shankar, who was posthumously presented with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in early 2013, soon after his death in December, 2012.

"(George Harrison) was one of the most extraordinarily complex and perfectly simple people you could ever meet," Dhani said of his fab dad.

"He did everything with a big, open heart (and) with a lot of love. I think the the best lesson he ever taught me is: Anything can be accomplished, as long as you set out to do it with love."

Love and family were also on the minds of Ira Lovin's daughter, Kathy Louvin, who accepted the award along with her sister, Denise, and their cousin, Charlie Louvin Jr. Once mainstays on the Grand Ole Opry, the Louvin Brothers were a key musical influence on the Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and others who followed in their footsteps.

"The Louvin Brothers possessed a skill to make others want to sound like them," Kathy Louvin said. "And they had the courage to sing about things that were painful, true and memorable. Greatness is too often scarred by the humanness of us all. Maybe that's because only God is great. I'm sure (that) from their spot inside the pearly gates, (Charlie and Ira) are all smiles tonight."

Another Lifetime Achievement honoree, visionary French classical music composer and orchestra conductor Pierre Boulez, 89, was ailing and unable to attend. His award was accepted by his longtime friend, Martha S. Gilmer, who last July was named as the new CEO of the San Diego Symphony.

She hailed Boulez for his tireless devotion to taking creative risks and embracing experimentalism. She also noted his influence on, and friendship with, former San Diegan Frank Zappa.

"If he were here today," Gilmer said of Boulez, "he would say to all of us for whom art is a critical part of our culture: 'Don't stop. Keep going'."

Shorter, 81, expressed a musical philosophy that would surely win approval from Boulez.

"Music is a vehicle to make me grow as a human being and find ways to change the world," Shorter told the audience, which included fellow jazz luminaries Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding and Herbie Hancock (with whom Shorter performed in the fabled Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s). "I like to use the best of the past as a flashlight to the future... What does 'faith' mean? Faith (means) to fear nothing."

Blues great Guy, who performs April 11 at San Diego's Balboa Theatre, thanked some of the musicians who influenced him. They included, he said: "Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker and all the great guys I got my (musical) education from."

Guy, 78, invoked words of wisdom he learned from his mom.

"My mother said: 'Buddy, if you have any flowers for me, give them to me now. I won't be able to smell them when I'm gone'," he recalled. "I got this (Lifetime Achievement Award) now, and I can see it."

Jiménez, 75, was a vital force in helping to popularize Conjunto Tejano music, a fusion of German polka and Mexican Conjunto, more widely known as Tex-Mex music.

He recalled his many years of being ignored by radio stations and recording as a virtual unknown for small, independent record companies, with no funds for promotional campaigns. That changed after he began recording with such diverse artist as Dr. John, Ry Cooder, Peter Rowan, Bob Dylan, Buck Owens and the Rolling Stones, who featured him on the English band's "Voodoo Lounge" album.

"With rock and country music, I just tried to be coached, because it was not my tortilla, you know," Jiménez said, eliciting appreciative laughter from the audience. 

All of the Lifetime Achievement Award-winners received standing ovations. So did most of the other honorees in other categories.

They included Technical Grammy Award-winner Ray Kurzweil, whose Kurzweil synthesizers revolutionized pop music in the 1980s and Music Educator Award-winner Jared Cassedy, a high school music teacher in New England. The category he was honored in was introduced just last year.

There were also three Trustees Award-winners: pioneering jazz and folk-music festival producer George Wein, 89; veteran album producer Richard Perry, 72, who was accompanied by his girlfriend, Jane Fonda, and whose production credits range from Captain Beefheart and Tiny Tim to Fats Domino, Carly Simon and Rod Stewart; and husband-and-wife songwriters Barry Mann, 75, and Cynthia Weil, 74, who co-wrote such classics as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and The Animals' "We've Got to Get out of This Place."

"I don't know which is more nerve-wracking," Weil said. "Sitting in the audience, knowing you may win an award, or sitting in the audience knowing you are winning an award, and tahat you have to give a speech."


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