The Grammy Awards were a good reflection on the University of North Texas College of Music. Between nominees and winners of the Sunday music industry awards show, the names of UNT alumni and at least one current student filled an entire length of letter-size paper.
The biggest news was the hard-to-catagorize Snarky Puppy, a band full of UNT grads who are officially renegades from the proper jazz scene, but unofficially bridge the small gap between jazz and rhythm and blues with a funky, elastic material all its own.
If the 2013 documentary film Snarky Puppy: Ground UP was a sneak peek at the Grammy Award for best R&B performance, the huge band’s collaboration with the smoky-voiced chanteuse Lalah Hathaway must have been an alchemical musical moment.
Snarky Puppy lists 18 musicians as its membership, and while its rare for all of them to take the stage live at a gig, the band still packs more people on stage than usual. Band founder and bassist Mike League sat for an interview with public radio producer Lyndsay Knecht, herself a UNT graduate, to describe the song from the band’s 2013 album, Family Dinner: Volume 1, “Something.”
“I knew she was amazing,” League told Knecht about Hathaway. “But I had no idea she would open her mouth and sing three notes at one time.”
League wasn’t exaggerating Hathaway’s stealth skills at ornamentation. R&B is alternately loathed and loved for the baroque, sometimes self-indulgent melismatics.
In his interview for Dallas-Fort Worth radio, League avoided the trite promise that it’s an honor to be nominated. Instead, League appeared to be pleased enough to share a moment of magic with his bandmates and a master such as Hathaway.
The UNT exes who recorded the award-winning track, “Something,” are: League, trumpet player and keyboardist Justin Stanton, electric guitarist Bob Lanizetti, trumpet player Mike Maher, keyboardist Shaun Martin, guitarist Chris McQueen, percussionist Nate Werth, tenor saxophone player Chris Bullock and trumpet player Jay Jennings.
There were other winners under the big Grammy jazz tent with UNT connections. Pacific Mambo Orchestra took home the golden Victrola for best tropical Latin album. Among the corps of the orchestra are 1993 UNT graduate Steffen Huehn, co-leader of the group and trumpet player, and Aaron Lington, a saxophone player and composer who earned a master’s degree at UNT in 2001 and a doctorate in 2005.
Vocalist Cameron Beauchamp was one of the artists in A Room Full of Teeth, the winner for the Grammy Award given to the group with the best chamber music or small ensemble performance. Beauchamp studied at UNT from 1998 to 2008.
First-year UNT doctoral student, tuba player Seth Shafer, recorded Modern Vampires of the City with the group Vampire Weekend. He and the band won the Grammy for best alternative music album.
Other UNT graduates and attendees were among the nominees in various jazz categories.
Saxophone player Rob Wilkerson, who graduated with a master’s degree in 2000, recorded with the Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society on the 2013 album Brooklyn Babylon. Associate producer John Guari, who got his bachelor’s degree in 2007 and his master’s degree at UNT in 2009, also worked on Babylon.
Wilkerson also recorded on the Alan Ferber Big Band project March Sublime. Saxophone player Tom Kuer, who went to the College of Music from 2002 to 2004, recorded with the Dave Slonaker Big Band on the 2013 album Intrada. All three groups were nominated to win a Grammy for the best large ensemble album. The winner was Night in Calisia by Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio and Kalisz Philharmonic.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.