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Cunliffe Lands Fifth Grammy Nomination

Composer Is Up for Best Instrumental Composition for 'Overture, Waltz and Rondo'

Dec. 10, 2012

Bill Cunliffe and Grammy Award

Bill Cunliffe and his 2010 Grammy Award.

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Music professor and performer Bill Cunliffe, a 2010 Grammy Award winner, has again been nominated for the music industry's coveted award.

Cunliffe's "Overture, Waltz and Rondo" is up for Best Instrumental Composition. The work was recorded by the Temple University Symphony Orchestra for BCM&D Records, with Cunliffe at the piano. Selections from the three-movement piano concerto can be heard on his website.

"This is something I really had a ball with," he said about the recording session in Philadelphia. He and his friend Terell Stafford, "the great trumpeter," performed jazz solos for the concerto.

The CSUF composer's competition for the Grammy includes Chris and Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Bill Holman and Chuck Loeb, who are nominated in the same category. Along with Cunliffe, Corea and Holman are previous Grammy Award winners.

It's Cunliffe's fifth Grammy nomination. The celebrated jazz pianist's 2010 award was for Best Instrumental Arrangement for his 2009 “West Side Story Medley.” His prior nominations have been for both arranging and composing.

“The thing about the Grammys is that it’s still a really big deal,” he said. "But now, the fifth time, my friends — and even to a certain extent, my students — are a bit blasé: 'Oh, you got nominated again. That’s great; what else is new?' Which is fine with me, but let me tell you, I’m not blasé about it at all. I was counting down the hours and, as before, was very excited when the nomination was announced,” he added.

“Most of my nominations have been for arranging, but this is the second one for Best Instrumental Composition, which for me is a little more special. In my view, this category is more personal, celebrating original creation rather than the adaptation of someone else’s work.”

Behind the Scenes

Reflecting on his first instrumental composition Grammy nomination, for his 2010 concerto for jazz trumpet, Latin percussion and orchestra, “fourth stream … La Banda,” Cunliffe offered: "The performance and recording went on without me, as I was unable to attend. They did a nice job, but I thought, wow, I would have done a few things differently. For 'Overture, Waltz and Rondo,' I showed up, played in it, produced it and mixed and mastered it — with the help of some great pros, of course. So it represents for me much more, and I believe it’s a lot more successful as a piece. I’ve learned that, as a composer, what you write is only about one-third of what makes a piece great to an audience. Another third is how well it’s played, and the final third is how well it’s recorded. And for this piece, I was able to control all three elements quite well.”

Cunliffe also has an appreciation for the instruments of music and his fellow musicians.

"The piano was an amazing nine-foot Steinway. The Baptist Temple on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, where the piece was recorded, is a very fine-sounding room, and the Temple orchestra, although a student ensemble, is a very good one. And I played pretty well. I’d never recorded a 35-minute concerto for piano before, not to mention in only about four hours! Thank goodness I wrote this thing, so if I make a mistake or two or get lost, I can always improvise my way out of it. I would have loved a couple of months to practice the piece, but that wasn’t meant to be. I had completed the writing just a few weeks before the recording."

Though his journey for this latest Grammy-nominated work led Cunliffe to Philadelphia, he returned to the Southland for an important element for the final mix.

"Another factor working in favor of this piece was that unlike 'La Banda,' it didn’t have a rhythm section. That is difficult to record with an orchestra in any room under any circumstance, because the drums will cover up the strings unless you have great isolation and a lot of miking. We later recorded Walter Rodriguez on Latin percussion in Los Angeles and added it to the mix."  

Streaming the Awards 

The 55th annual Grammy Awards of the Recording Academy will be presented Feb. 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The pre-telecast ceremony will be streamed live online at 1 p.m.

Until then, Cunliffe will be busy on stage, on campus and elsewhere. He is the director of the Fullerton Jazz Orchestra and co-director with Chuck Tumlinson of the Fullerton Big Band.

Coming up Friday, Dec. 14, Cunliffe will lead the 17-member Fullerton Jazz Orchestra in Meng Concert Hall, where guest artist Claudio Roditi also will perform on trumpet. The Rio-born Roditi is a Grammy-nominated musician and veteran of the New York jazz scene. Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are available online.

Two nights later, on Dec. 16, Cunliffe will be seated at the piano at the House of Music and Entertainment in Beverly Hills for a 7:30 p.m. performance by the Bill Cunliffe Trio. His other performing gigs this month:

  • Friday, Dec. 21, 9 p.m. at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles with Trimotif —David Shostac, flute; Chris Bleth, oboe; and Phoebe Ray, bassoon.
  • Saturday, Dec. 29, 8 p.m. at Vitello's in Studio City with the Joe La Barbera Quintet—Joe La Barbera, drums, Bob Sheppard, sax, Clay Jenkins, trumpet, Tom Warrington, bass, for Joe La Barbera's Annual Pre-New Year's Concert & Party.

Meanwhile, his latest classical recording, "Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra," conducted by Cunliffe with tubist Jim Self and the Hollywood Ensemble and released this year by Metre Records, earned praise from Jim Svejda on KUSC-FM's "The Record Shelf": "Hugely entertaining and idiomatic ... a major contribution not only to this instrument's repertoire, but also to the American concerto itself."

Teaming Up With Other Artists

Heading into the new year, Cunliffe is juggling a variety of projects both on and off campus. The latter includes scoring a film noir by Singaporean director Ying Tan, and arranging and producing a new Freda Payne CD. "She had a big hit with the song 'Band of Gold' in 1970, but this is a jazz album, and she sounds terrific," he said.

He's also finishing "a large wind symphony piece" for colleague Mitchell J. Fennell, director of big bands and professor of music. In March, concert-goers will get the chance to see Cunliffe perform his concerto and the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances during a two-piano classical recital on campus with colleague Alison Edwards, assistant professor of music.

By: Paula Selleck, 657-278-4856

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