Durham County

NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble to learn Grammy Awards fate. A look ahead.

The NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble has made the first round of voting for a possible Grammy nomination for “Take Note.” Director Lenora Helm Hammonds is at right.
The NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble has made the first round of voting for a possible Grammy nomination for “Take Note.” Director Lenora Helm Hammonds is at right. Submitted

North Carolina Central University’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Department of Music assistant professor Lenora Helm Hammonds are on the preliminary ballot for the 60th Grammy Awards.

The vocal ensemble, which is composed of NCCU students, is included in the first-round ballot for Best Jazz Vocal Album for its 2017 release “Take Note.” Ira Wiggins, director of NCCU’s Jazz Studies Program and Helm Hammonds, director of the Vocal Jazz Ensemble, produced songs on the album. It features compositions by artists like Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, along with original songs from the ensemble and vocalist Eve Cornelious.

“Rio Dawn,” a jazz album featuring performances by the Vocal Jazz Ensemble directed by Helm Hammonds, is on the preliminary ballot for Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals. It includes musical selections with Department of Music instructor Ed Paolantonio and NCCU students playing the guitar, drums, string and electric bass.

“When they first heard about it, they were like, How did we get that far?” Helm Hammonds said of the students’ reaction. “When you’re a young, emerging musician, it gives you a certain hope that your work could have a standard to be on the radar,” she said.

The ballot is the first stage in a two-part voting process for Grammy nominations. Recordings selected to be nominated for a Grammy Award are determined by the votes cast in this first round of voting, which ended Oct. 29. Final Grammy nominations will be announced Tuesday, , and final-round voting begins Dec. 7.

“Whether or not they make it to that list, they’re already excited,” Helm Hammonds said of the students.

NCCU was the first university in the state to offer the bachelor of music degree in jazz studies. The program now includes a comprehensive vocal jazz component and offers a master of music in both jazz composition and jazz performance. Alumni from the Jazz Studies Program include professors at the college and university levels, teachers of primary and secondary music education, as well as production and performance artists.

The recordings being considered for nomination are available for purchase through store.cdbaby.com/cd/northcarolinacentraluniv2.

Local musicians who have previously won Grammys are Branford Marsalis, who is also an artist in residence at NCCU, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Mamadou Diabate.

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