For the Official Grammy After Parties, Entertainment Comes Courtesy of Students
As the Grammys descend on New York City for the first time since 2003, the famed after parties that surround it do as well. Like any glitzy show business soiree, these exclusive bashes involve avalanches of food, waterfalls of booze and a who’s who of the biggest names in the industry. But when it comes to the music for the parties that take place during the medium’s biggest night, who entertains the entertainers? In lieu of today’s chart-toppers or tomorrow's stars, the answer lies in a ragtag group of high school musicians.
Culled from around the nation, it’s an idea facilitated by the Grammy Museum’s Grammy in the Schools program and is designed to give talented student jazz instrumentalists a shot to experience what it’s like to be at the pinnacle of a career in music. “People know the Grammy Awards for one night a year, but the reality is that in addition to the work the academy does, it’s the non profit organizations that spend the other 365 days of the year chasing the mission of music advocacy,” explains Scott Goldman, the executive director of the Grammy Museum Foundation.
Whether it was the after party for the MusiCares gala honoring Fleetwood Mac on Friday, a bash held for this year’s nominees on Saturday or the official Grammy after party after the ceremony itself on Sunday, the soundtrack will be provided by the same group of 18 student jazz musicians.
“The goal is to showcase our programs in front of the most important people in music, which is good marketing at a very basic level,” notes Goldman. “Equally as important is that we want these kids to give a sense what it’s like to be a working jazz musician. You’re going to go from one gig to the next.” In that spirit, before the post-MusiCares bash at the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan, the 18 students played a gig at legendary Big Apple jazz venue Iridum a few blocks away.
“It’s insane,” said Veronica Leahy, a junior at Charlotte Latin School in North Carolina who scored a coveted position in the Grammy band playing baritone sax. “I’m so thankful to have this opportunity. A lot of the serious jazz musicians in high school across the country know about the band, and it’s kind of the band to make.”
With only a handful of open slots and countless applicants, the audition process is cutthroat and involves Grammy band hopefuls submitting videos of themselves playing various styles of jazz. “I remember hearing about it from word of mouth last year, but I applied and I wasn’t even close,” laughed drummer Varun Das, a senior at Edison, New Jersey’s John P Stevens High School. Das submitted a video of himself drumming away to the jazz standard “Billy’s Bounce” and scored a coveted slot as the band’s sole drummer. “This year I tried my best to do all the necessary work, practice and time in order to get in. I’ve never really had an opportunity like this, so it’s something I will cherish for sure. I just want to make the most of it.”
When it comes to past veterans of the Grammys' various student programs, it includes country star Maren Morris, who won a Grammy of her own last year for best country solo performance and is nominated again this year in the same category. In addition, Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste is also a former member, and gave back to this year’s crop of students by performing with them at a Grammy in the Schools reception on Thursday and invited the aforementioned Leahy to sit in with his band Stay Human for a recent taping of the Late Show.
However, Goldman knows that not everyone will end up pursuing the grueling life of a musician as a career. “It’s very much about the variety of careers you can have in music,” he explains. “Even if they’re guitar players right now, by the time they get out of college they might be a studio engineer or manager. There are a lot of ways to feed the passion.”