For 42 years now, “The Clive Party” — officially Clive Davis and The Recording Academy Present “The Pre-Grammy Gala” — has been the hottest ticket in the music industry, a night-before-Grammys tradition with a guest list like none in the world: Last year’s ranged from Jane Fonda and Metallica to Nancy Pelosi and Chance the Rapper. The performances include specially anointed newcomers (Alicia Keys famously made her industry debut there) to perfectly matched tributes (like Beck and the surviving members of Nirvana paying homage to David Bowie with a mesmerizing version of “The Man Who Sold the World” in 2016) to rousing performances from legends like Neil Diamond, Lionel Richie, Mary J. Blige and many others.
This year is different, not just because Davis is coming off a big year himself — with the recent release of “The Soundtrack of Our Lives,” a documentary on his life and career — but also because the Grammys and the party have returned to New York for the first time in 15 years, and the gala is being held at the Sheraton Times Square instead of the usual Beverly Hilton. The performers are generally kept secret until they appear onstage, but Davis usually tips his hand a tiny bit in the annual Thursday interviews, and this year was no exception: He revealed to Variety that the show will have a special segment honoring Broadway that will feature performances by “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. and “Dear Evan Hansen” breakout Ben Platt.
And although Davis didn’t reveal Logic’s name, as we left the Sheraton on Thursday afternoon, the rapper’s suicide-awareness anthem “1-800-273-8255” could be heard blasting from the ballroom as a rehearsal took place — so do the math on that one …
Have you been pleased with the reception “The Soundtrack of Our Lives” has gotten?
I’m overwhelmed! First of all, the iTunes charts — usually I’m on the other side, watching my artists, but to see this documentary enter iTunes at No. 1, stay there for five weeks, stay in the Top 10 for three months and now, with [Davis’ appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” earlier this week] to see it explode to the top again, it’s very exciting. I’m very proud of the documentary, even though I had nothing to do with its making, but to see Simon and Garfunkel, Patti Smith, people who you know don’t normally do [documentary appearances like] that, it’s very touching. And they captured both sides of Whitney —they talked honestly about her drug addiction but they also showed her soaring, and you can see why in our industry everybody thought she was the best singer in contemporary music. So when I see it in the theater or do a Q&A — and every Q&A has been sold out, from London, France, Boston, Newport Jazz Festival, L.A., New York — you see people not just laugh but cry and be moved by it. It’s been such an incredible experience — much beyond what I ever could have anticipated.
How has it been to have the party back in New York after all these years?
You know, today’s the first day we’re feeling it, and it feels great! This is my home — I grew up here — and we’ll get an audience that’s the regular wondrous mixture of politics and heads of studios and networks and every company in music all over the world, but also, it’s nice to see Jerry Seinfeld’s name as an RSVP, and Tina Fey and Rob Reiner and a number of people who will bring a New York flavor. Everybody’s dying to come, it’s the hottest ticket!
You’ve had some amazing tributes in recent years, between Beck and Nirvana honoring Bowie and Maxwell honoring Prince. Do you have any in mind this year?
Yes. (Silence, then laughter.) I’m not trying to be coy, you know we don’t give the evening away, but there will be a tribute.
Do you have any special memories from Pre-Grammy parties that were held in New York?
What I’ve not repeated this year is a tradition I used to have with every New York party: prior to the [gala], I would have the non-music celebrities, whether it was [media and real-estate mogul] Mort Zuckerman or Martha Stewart or Melanie Griffith or Esther Williams or Donna Karan or Calvin Klein, come to my apartment to meet artists like Carly [Simon] or Whitney, so that by the time they got to the [gala], they wouldn’t feel like they were strangers. Also, to see certain artists, like Ray Davies of The Kinks meeting Whitney or Alicia Keys, they all want to know what the other artists are really like. And of course being the host of it — I have an apartment which is the top two floors of a building with 360-degree views of the city and Central Park, they wouldn’t want to leave!
Now, I think I did that so many times that [many of] these people have already met each other, so I’m not doing it. Plus, we used to be able to fit everybody into the Plaza [Hotel]’s Grand Ballroom, which held about 450-500 people, but we’re double that right now, and I think as contemporary culture as grown, those people coming from outside of music mix well [with the music-industry crowd]. But those cocktail parties were amazing.
You usually give us a tip on a performance or two. How about this year?
(Laughs) Apart from showcasing special Grammy-nominated performers that I’ve chosen for the night, I am going to celebrate New York and Broadway in a special way. So from Broadway I’ve chosen two performers who knocked me out over the last two or three years and show why Broadway is healthier than ever: I will have Ben Platt singiner “Waving Through a Window” from “Dear Evan Hansen” and I’m going to have Leslie Odom Jr. from “Hamilton” do his great number [presumably “Wait for It”], so I want everyone in that room to see why Broadway is still so vital and special and unique and why these two performances not only got Tony Awards, but brought the house down every night.