Reporter at large

Backstage at the Grammys

An ebullient Herbie Hancock was thrilled for his album of the year win, the first for a black jazz artist and the second for any jazz instrumentalist. "It's immeasurable how surprised I am," he said. "I didn't even hear my name at first, and I was waiting to hear my name, and they said it, and I didn't hear it. Then I heard the word 'River,' and I said, 'Is this true? Is this happening?' " Hancock said he hadn't had a chance to talk with Joni Mitchell. "I have no idea what she may be going though!" he said. And don't expect any sort of battle to be waged between Hancock and Kanye West: "Kanye and I are cool. I saw him earlier, and I said, 'Good luck!' and he said, 'I'd love to wish you good luck … but I don't want you to get album of the year." When asked if he was thought of as a conservative choice in comparison to such other nominees as West and Amy Winehouse, Hancock laughed: "This is the first time I've been though of as a conservative choice! What's conservative about me, maybe the way I dress?"



Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow said he was "totally pleased" with the 50th anniversary telecast, which he called "three and a half hours of very entertaining but also educational and historical television." Asked about Kanye West's annoyance at being cut off while paying tribute to his mother, Portnow said, "We've got three and a half hours to do a whole lot. Kanye said what he needed to say." Portnow said West had accomplished what the rapper had told him in rehearsal: "I want this to be the best performance I've ever done onstage.' "



Mark Ronson won for nonclassical producer of the year, largely on the strength of his production on Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." "I wish she was here. This is really her night. I'm just along for the ride," said Ronson backstage, who called winning "a blur and surreal." Ronson recalled playing "Rehab" for Winehouse's A&R exec for the first time. "About the first 15 seconds in, he said 'rewind, rewind!' " he recalled, pointing his finger in the air. "I didn't think there would be dollar signs lighting up." He said there were no concrete plans for him and Winehouse to collaborate again, but that she is featured on his newest single, "Valerie," from his solo album. Ronson, who also worked with Lily Allen on her "Alright, Still," is now producing Australian artist Daniel Merriweather.



On winning best country song for Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," songwriters Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins said the tune's appeal to men and women — and pop and country fans — surprised them. Said Kear: "It's like a movie. You've got just enough sex and just enough violence … to appeal to both sexes. The fact that they just left it as a straightforward country record and it worked was a surprise, and pleasantly so." The song, they noted, originally was written for Gretchen Wilson, but Tompkins believes that Underwood's good-girl image actually helped the song's popularity. And, of course, "American Idol" didn't hurt a bit, he said. Kear said that Tompkins actually was in a band with another "Idol" contestant, Bo Bice, while the two were in Alabama.



Veteran winners said the experience of winning a Grammy never gets old. Country album of the year winner Vince Gill said of his 19th Grammy win: "I'll take as many as they'll give me," though getting there means working "four times as hard as the younger guys."



After a double Grammy win for best R&B group vocal performance with Mary J. Blige on "Disrespectful" and best R&B album for "Funk This," Chaka Khan called her total of 10 Grammys "a nice, even number." "Every time I get one, it just feels like I'm getting a new one for the first time. I'll be doing a world tour after this and go back into the studio again," said Khan backstage, where she said she had "deep feelings" for MusiCares Person of the Year Aretha Franklin. "When I started buying 45s, little records, I bought Aretha. I was often compared to her at talent shows and stuff like that. I cover a lot of her songs in my live shows," said Khan, who also is busy raising money for autism research.



"It's all been such a whirlwind," Carrie Underwood said backstage after her win for best female country vocal performance for "Before He Cheats." "Everything has happened so quickly and it's never slowed down." Asked what advice she gives "American Idol" contestants, Underwood said, "Don't take anything for granted. It can get to where people play the game a little too much and forget why they're in it … . Don't burn bridges. It's such a small industry that every single person you meet, you'll see later on."



Carrying a Grammy for best rap song (for "The Good Life") in one hand and holding a cane in the other, T-Pain's first shout-out backstage was to Kanye West. "If anyone says Kanye is arrogant, he has a reason to be," T-Pain said. Wearing a brightly printed top hat that matched the lining of his suit jacket, T-Pain's parting words were, "This is the good life!" The ubiquitous featured vocalist also has collaborated recently with Michael Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown and a litany of others. "I stole some dance moves from him," T-Pain said of Brown.



Josh Groban called his performance with Andrea Bocelli "not only a great thrill musically," but "a full circle moment for me." Groban said he was discovered when he was a 17-year-old stand-in for Bocelli at Grammy rehearsals in 1998.



Draped in silver lamé from head to toe, a beaming Jill Scott had a lot to smile about as she clutched her third Grammy, this time for best urban/alternative performance her featured vocal on Lupe Fiasco's "Daydreamin'." Scott said when she finishes touring in the fall, she'll head to Botswana to film the next edition of the Anthony Minghella-directed BBC series "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," where she plays a Botswanan detective. Having recently played the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival with Anita Baker and Diana Ross, Scott said she has been checking her childhood dreams off an actual list she made when she was 12 years old. Among the items? Winning a Grammy, owning a Picasso, living in Africa and being Storm from "X-Men." "I'm hoping to be Storm for Halloween this year," she said. "Why not?"



The Time has recorded a new album and intends to tour, the band said backstage after its performance with Rihanna. "It feels like we just left the stage yesterday," lead singer Morris Day said when asked how it felt to reunite with the group. "We got an album in the can that's so ridiculous, we can't believe we did it," bandmate Jesse Johnson said.



Broadway songwriter Henry Krieger, whose "Love You I Do" from "Dreamgirls" won for best song written for a movie, TV or other visual media, and "Dreamgirls" director Bill Condon are teaming again on a musical titled "Sideshow," which they will put on at New York's Roundabout Theater Company and hopefully on the big screen, Krieger said.



Composer Maria Schneider won best instrumental composition for her "Cerulean Skies" after putting her album out through ArtistShare, which allows fans to fund production costs. With her Grammy win, "I can tell all those fans through my Web site, 'We did it!' " said Schneider, accompanied by a fan-turned-executive producer. "We're in the best time for artists, because artists can take control of owning their own music and producing their own music."



Black:Guayaba won a Grammy for best Latin rock/alternative album for their "No Hay Espacio," beating Rabanes, last year's Latin Grammy winner in the category. Alejandro Sanz's "El Tren de los Momentos" won for best Latin pop album at the pretelevised Grammy ceremony at the Staples Center. Juan Luis Guerra and Calle 13 reprised their recent Latin Grammy wins, taking home Grammys for best tropical Latin album and best Latin urban album for "La Llave de Mi Corazon" and "Residente o Visitante," respectively. Los Tigres del Norte's "Detalles y Emociones" and El Chapo's "Te Va a Gustar" won for best norteno and best banda album, respectively. Pepe Aguilar won for best Mexican/Mexican-American album for his "100% Mexicano." The Latin Jazz album winner was the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet's "Funk Tango." In the Latin categories, only Black:Guayaba, Guerra and best Tejano album winner Joe Hernandez from Little Joe & La Familia were present to accept their awards, reflecting the far lower profile the mainstream Grammys have in the Latin music industry compared to the Latin Grammys, which give the artists a national TV performance platform. Guerra, who swept the top Latin Grammy categories last fall, including album of the year, said the mainstream Grammys were a unique honor because the voters "don't have as deep a knowledge of my music." Black:Guayaba, which came together eight years ago and put out their first independent album three years ago before getting picked up by Machete Music, hoped their triumph would get attention for Puerto Rico's oft-overlooked rock scene. On their home island, "There is also good rock, and I think we just proved it," band member Carlos Colon said.



Art director Zachary Nipper won indie label Saddle Creek's first Grammy — best recording package for Bright Eyes' "Cassadaga." Nipper collaborated with Conor Oberst on including hidden images and optical illusions in the album packaging. "The themes of the album are spirituality and the occult," Nipper said. On an indie label, "There's not anybody that's going to tell you it's not going to work or it's not going to market well."



Singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo won her first Grammy, for best contemporary world music album, after five nominations. She dedicated her award to her parents in Benin, to the African continent, to "the women of Darfur, the women who are fighting every day to give their kids an education," and to late Billboard editor Timothy White, whom she said encouraged her from the earliest days of her stateside career. With the Grammy win, "I really believe I can do anything," said Kidjo, who starts a U.S. and European tour at month's end.
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