Sunday nights are usually reserved for catching up on school work, planning for the week ahead and sometimes a microwave dinner in front of the television. Picking up a Grammy amidst a sea of the nation’s hottest celebrities? Now that’s a different story.
Associate Professor William Cunliffe made Titan history Jan. 31, scoring a win for Best Instrumental Arrangement for his Oscar Peterson-inspired piece, “West Side Story Medley.” The Cal State Fullerton Department of Music instructor, who specializes in jazz, had twice before been nominated for his work, but had yet to receive that little golden gramophone to solidify his musical accomplishments. At the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, his efforts were finally rewarded.
“We wanted to do a tribute to Oscar Peterson, who was at one time the most popular jazz pianist in the world,” explained Cunliffe. Cunliffe said that he came up with the idea to have the “West Side Story Medley,” and the record company decided to “do it in a big-band style, to make the sound bigger and more exciting.”
Cunliffe chose a mix of different instruments to create a lyrical undertone to the bold, exciting fanfare that usually accompanies big-band music. He interjects his speech with sounds where he cannot use words, explaining his work as only a true musician can. “What makes me feel good is making music,” Cunliffe said.
Although acknowledging that the experience of attending the Grammys was fun, Cunliffe seemed a bit disappointed in the lack of focus on the music. He noted that the awards show had become more focused on grabbing an audience with flashy show, rather than spotlighting the music itself. For a man whose job is to teach music, it was more of a theatrical performance than a showcase of sound. And while winning a Grammy was certainly the highlight of his personal development, Cunliffe still has big plans for his future.
“Right now, I’m working on a 25-minute classical concerto that should be finished by next week,” he said. “After that, I’ve got a couple of other projects in the works, including starting up a big-band group with a friend.” For this busy musician, it hardly seems feasible that he can juggle both a music career and an associate professorship at CSUF. Yet his colleague, Department of Music Director Dr. Charles Tumlinson, knows that Cunliffe is a great teacher. “I was proud to be his colleague before the award, and am certainly proud now. He is an amazing, versatile musician and human being,” said Dr. Tumlinson.
“It’s cool. I mean, how many schools can say they have a Grammy award-winning teacher?” said Rhoadell Sudduth, a senior music performance major.