The Grammy Museum in the L.A. Live complex, which opens to the public Saturday, has an important closeup Wednesday: CBS’ Grammy Awards nominations concert is timed to give a significant plug to the Recording Academy’s newest project in addition to its annual honors.
Grammy Museum officials are pegging the venue as a 21st century museum, heavy on educational and interactive displays. Artifacts are used to enhance a story — a significant difference from other music-centric museums. The museum is organized to showcase the history of recorded music, dating back to 1870, and offers hands-on opportunities to learn about the recording process. A 200-seat theater will be used for symposia, lectures, Q&A sessions and performances.
The venue has a week of openings — media, school children and VIPs at the nominations ceremony — before the public can enter.
Only five Grammy Award statuettes will be on display in the museum when it opens to the public Saturday. One is the 1967 nod for the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The others, which will be among nearly 500 items on view, were being determined late last week while displays were being fitted, audiovisual elements tuned and artifacts positioned for perfect viewing.
“It goes way beyond celebrating the Grammy Awards,” museum executive director Bob Santelli said during a tour last week of the museum space. “It’s about making people more sophisticated listeners and inspiring critical thinking. If it inspires you to think differently about music, then it works.
“Young kids today live in the moment, and it’s up to us to make (history) relevant, to make them want to spend some time going back in time.”
Situated on the second, third and fourth floors in the L.A. Live complex next to Club Nokia, the museum dedicates each level to a different aspect of recorded music, using individuals and geography to tell the story rather than the Grammy Awards themselves. The fourth floor is the starting point, its hallway lined with two video screens that mix still photos and video of Grammy show performances; the songs overlap as a cacophonous symphony.
The floor’s exhibition space is divided into categories such as sacred, pop and classical and jazz, each with its own five-minute documentary, artifacts and audio elements. The centerpiece is a long lightbox with a touchscreen that explains about 150 different genres of music, their practitioners and how they overlap with other styles. Fourth floor’s final exhibit is devoted to songwriters; Santelli calls it a transitional space that leads to the third floor.
Recording and production — the science that co-exists with the art of music — is covered in the third floor space, with a Grammy Awards timeline along a wall and working mixing booths in the center of the room. Exhibits cover famous producers, session musicians, studios and legendary label execs.
In the entryway, a film explores the creation of three Grammy-winning pieces of music. It will open with short docs on the making of Joni Mitchell’s “River” by Herbie Hancock, “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Gone Gone Gone.”
Second floor will house temporary exhibitions, opening with “Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom,” and the theater that will unspool a 16-minute “Making of a Grammy Moment” film during the day and feature other programming at night, including weekly “Inside the Actors Studio”-type interviews. The schedule for the theater will be announced later this week.
Museum officials will look to stage concerts and programs with music at the Club Nokia and Nokia Theater as well as in the L.A. Live courtyard.
Santelli, a former rock music critic who has held curatorial positions with the Experience Music Project in Seattle and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and chief curator Ken Viste noted that the Grammy Museum has focused on acquiring items associated with icons: the trumpets of Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong, the guitars of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, the banjos of Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs, Lester Young’s saxophone and the Underwood typewriter that belonged to lyricist Sammy Cahn.
Then there’s the clothing: Luciano Pavarotti’s tuxedo, a Johnny Cash outfit from 1956 and perhaps the most famous piece of clothing associated with the Grammy Awards, the green dress Jennifer Lopez wore to the 2000 ceremony.
“When I told people I had taken this job, the first thing they’d ask was ‘Will we have the dress?,’ ” Santelli said. “It was one of the first things we went after and one of the last we acquired. We traced it to Versace, and they were kind enough to lend it to us. It took 2½ years.”