UM dean in running for Grammy award

The dean of UM’s music school has earned his first Grammy nomination for arranging an X-Files-themed jazz song.

12/30/2012 5:26 PM

12/30/2012 6:13 PM

After more than three decades in the music industry, Shelton “Shelly” Berg is a man who holds many titles: nationally-recognized jazz pianist, recording studio musician and arranger to artists such as Arturo Sandoval and Gloria Estefan. Not to mention dean of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.

Now Berg can add another distinction to the list: Grammy award nominee.

The 2013 Grammy nominations, released earlier this month, include a nod for Berg in the “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)” category. The nomination is for Berg’s work with jazz vocalist Lorraine Feather on the song “Out There.”

Berg co-wrote the song with Feather, but it was his work as arranger on the track (deciding which instruments play which part, creating the overall background feel and atmosphere) that earned him a Grammy nomination from The Recording Academy of music-industry professionals.

Over the years, Berg has contributed to multiple albums that were Grammy-nominated or actual award winners, ranging from hard rock (a 1999 nomination for Kiss’ Psycho Circus) to latin jazz (Sandoval’s Latin Grammy-winning A Time for Love). But in those cases, it was the artist themselves — not Berg — who had a chance to actually receive the coveted statuette.

“I’ve never had the nomination that was just for me,” Berg, 57, said. “It’s just different to see your name as opposed to something you worked on ... when your peers single you out, that’s really gratifying.”

Discovering his name among the nominees was a surprise, said Berg, who recalled scrolling through the list, thinking he might merely spot someone that he knew. Instead, he received “as wonderful a validation as you can get.”

The song that earned Berg the nomination, “Out There,” is an eerie, otherworldly-sounding romantic track that was inspired by The X Files television series. It’s written from the perspective of character Dana Scully.

“The world we traveled grew darker by the day,” Feather sings at one point. “A grave informant and a dog-faced boy/Were waiting out there.”

The song appears in Feather’s album Tales of the Unusual, and fits perfectly with its overall theme of strange, eccentric tales — both real and fictitious. Feather penned the lyrics; Berg wrote the music and provided the arrangement.

“It felt very X Files-ish, creepy,” Feather said in an interview, noting that it was a “stormy day” when she and Berg sat down to compose it. There’s piano notes blending with violin, and an ominous guitar intro that has been compared to thrash-metal band Slayer.

The song can be heard at www.lorrainefeather.com. The Grammy winners will be announced during the Feb. 10 awards ceremony, which will be broadcast nationally on CBS.

In the meantime, the Cleveland-born Berg is keeping busy. He oversees more than 700 students and 100 faculty members at UM, and he’s spending time in the studio writing arrangements for Estefan, who is recording an album of jazz standards. In January, Berg heads to London to play three concerts with a symphony orchestra.

Berg said his time spent composing or performing can sometimes pay dividends for the university, as he’s always looking for moments when he can promote the music school.

“There are people all over the place who might be your donors, so I try to combine those things,” Berg said.

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