By Chuck Crisafulli
Taylor Swift to the left. Alice Cooper to the right. Kiss' Paul Stanley chatting up George Lopez, while the Jonas Brothers hit the hors d' oeuvres and Barbra Streisand strolls by arm in arm with James Brolin. Is that Rihanna waving hello to Quincy Jones? That's got to be Stephen Colbert down by the stage, and there's no doubt that's Katy Perry just a couple tables away. And with this much star power shining, should I really be surprised to see original moonwalker Buzz Aldrin standing next to Earth, Wind & Fire?
Any other night, I'd assume that these kinds of celebrity sightings were the product of some kind of disturbing fever dream, but when you're lucky enough to find yourself at Clive Davis and The Recording Academy's hot-ticket Pre-GRAMMY Gala, the A-list celebs are all over the place — there to celebrate an incredible night of music just like any other fan.
For the second year in a row, the party — once the province of legendary music man Davis — was an official part of GRAMMY Week, and incorporated The Academy's GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons presentation (which went to Universal Music giant Doug Morris), now more than half-a-decade running in its own right. And this music-oriented blowout lived up to its reputation. Davis — "the man with the golden ears" — was the consummate host, welcoming all and making a point of recognizing such special genre-spanning party attendees as Jane Fonda, Smokey Robinson, Chick Corea, Jay-Z, India.Arie, Motown founder Berry Gordy, and Kings Of Leon.
But what excited Clive — and the rest of us — most were the night's unique musical performances. The Black Eyed Peas took the stage first, and quickly demonstrated that this was going to be a one-of-a-kind night when Slash joined to add guitar to a Fergie-powered version of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine." "We're here for the music," announced will i. am, before launching the group into a high-energy version of "I Gotta Feeing."
Up next was R&B crooner Maxwell, who got the crowd worked up with the seductive, all-out plea of "Pretty Wings." He was followed by Harry Connick Jr., who pumped up the energy with some New Orleans-style piano work (in honor of his hometown Saints going to the Super Bowl) before being joined by Carrie Underwood for a heartfelt duet on the jazz standard "All The Way."
Then came the recognition of Morris. Before he got to address the crowd though, he was treated to a performance he'd requested — Mary J. Blige doing a, well, über-dramatic pass at "No More Drama" — a performance that ended with her collapsing against the onstage grand piano.
Carlos Santana strapped on his guitar to power through a cover of the Cream hit "Sunshine Of Your Love" with Rob Thomas providing vocals — and then, barely a pause before the pair segued into their signature hit "Smooth." Clive introduced singer Jennifer Hudson to sing a mini-tribute to Streisand, and the Dreamgirls star hit things out of the park with soaring versions of "People" and "The Way We Were." The evening wrapped up with Jamie Foxx and T-Pain kicking out the jams with “Blame It" and "Overdose."
It truly was a night to be remembered, and at one point Clive put it all in perspective for his music industry guests. "Hey, this is three hours of amazing live music," he said, "If you can't handle it, then you're in the wrong business."
(To view photos from the Pre-GRAMMY Gala and other GRAMMY Week events, click here.)