Celebrity Jews

Grammy time

As the Grammys approach, on Sunday, Feb. 8, we will highlight some of the Jewish nominees, as we did last year. There are more than 100 categories and only a small number of the awards are actually given on the TV broadcast. If you visit the Jewhoo Web site — look for the category “Grammys 2004” — all the Jewish nominees have a link to a full bio after their name.

In the classical categories, as usual, there are a number of Jewish nominees, including San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas for best classical album for Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. The best instrumental soloist category includes three Jewish pianists: Andras Schiff, a Hungarian, for his performance of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”; Evgeny Kissin, who moved to the United States from Russia in 1992, for a Brahms piece; and Emanuel Ax, a Polish-born, Canadian-raised musician who has long delighted audiences. He’s nominated for his performance of several of Haydn’s sonatas. In the best opera category, you’ll find the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “La Juive” (The Jewess) by Jacques Halévy (1799-1862). Tenor Neil Shicoff, who sang the male lead, is one of the “La Juive” performers nominated.

It’s a Jewish composer sweep in the musical show category. All are revivals, except for Billy Joel‘s “Movin’ Out,” which is based on his old hits. Revivals are “Flower Drum Song” (Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, whose father was Jewish); “Gypsy” (Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne); “Man of La Mancha” (Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion); and “Nine” (Maury Yeston). Yeston, like Shicoff, is the son of a cantor.

Jewish composers nominated for best song in a film include Fred Ebb and John Kander for “I’ll Move On,” from “Chicago”; “Lose Yourself,” from “8 Mile,” co-written by Jeff Bass; and “A Mighty Wind,” co-written by Eugene Levy, from the movie of that title. (“Lose Yourself” is also nominated for “song of the year” and best rap song.) In the related best film score category you’ll find Philip Glass, for “The Hours”; Howard Shore, for “The Two Towers”; and Randy Newman, for “Seabiscuit.”

Oscar and Grammy nominations are on a different schedule — so some 2003 Oscar nominees reappear in this year’s Grammys, including “Lose Yourself,” which won the Oscar last year for best song.

In the jazz categories, the multi-Grammy-winning Brecker brothers have scored multiple nominations: Michael Brecker for best large-ensemble album, best instrumental song, and best arrangement, and Randy Brecker for best contemporary jazz album.

Three Jews show up in unexpected places. Mark Levine and his band, The Latin Tinge, are nominated for best Latin jazz album. Ray Benson, the biggest Jew in country, is nominated for best male country vocal performance for “Annabelle” and for best country instrumental performance for “Ain’t Chet Yet.” As noted earlier in this column, Sean Paul, a young Jamaican fellow who is Sephardi on his father’s side, has been nominated for best new artist (in any category of music) and for best reggae album.

Less surprising is the presence of Al Franken and David Cross in the comedy album category. Franken, it was announced last week, will be the host of a new liberal radio network. Cross, now co-starring on TV’s “Arrested Development,” finished second in Bravo’s just-concluded “Celebrity Poker” show. He wore a yarmulke while playing until he decided, after some bad hands, that he hadn’t put on his “lucky yarmulke.” (Bill Maher is also nominated. While he’s Jewish on his mother’s side — he was raised Catholic.)

The Divine Sarah

Nicole Kidman, who is just about the hottest actress around, has reportedly sold a story about the legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt to Steven Spielberg. The main focus of the film will be about the rivalry between Bernhardt (1844-1923) and Eleonora Duse (1858-1924) for the title of “world’s greatest actress.”

Bernhardt’s Dutch Jewish mother moved to Paris, where she became a high-class courtesan. Bernhardt, “father unknown,” was sent to a convent school and converted as a child. Her Jewish ancestry was almost unknown until she proclaimed it while supporting Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish army officer who was falsely convicted of treason in 1894. From that point on, she involved herself in Jewish charities, including a New York benefit for the victims of Russian pogroms, that she co-hosted with another legend — Mark Twain.

Nate Bloom, the columnist, is the Oakland-based editor of www.Jewhoo.com.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.