On Sunday night, many of the area’s music loving homers will be watching the 55th Grammy telecast to find out how many golden statues Akron’s scrappy blues indie rock duo turned arena rock stars (the Black Keys) will take home. But there will be another proud former area guy at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday who gets to amend his name with the phrase “Grammy nominated.”
Wally Minko, a keyboardist, arranger, orchestrator, first-call studio stud and recording artist, has been nominated in the best instrumental arrangement category for his work on Arturo Sandoval’s recording of A Night in Tunisia (Actually an Entire Weekend) from the famed Cuban jazz trumpeter’s 2012 tribute album to jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You).
“It’s really a great honor, it’s been good and it’s been good for business, too,” Minko said from his Los Angeles home.
Minko’s big band arrangement takes Gillespie’s most covered tune (there are more than 500 recordings of the song) and gives it what Minko calls “a 6/8 Afro-Cuban thing and some straight ahead jazz. It’s kind of a mixture of different styles.”
The nod from the National Academy of Recording Artists and Sciences, aka the Grammy givers, is the 51-year-old Manchester High graduate’s first Grammy nomination in a life in music that began with his first piano lesson at age 11 and his first professional gig at the age of 14.
A few years after graduating from high school, Minko left Akron and headed to Los Angeles, where he’s lived ever since.
“I didn’t even know anybody when I moved here, so I literally had to start from the ground up,” Minko said.
“I wanted to be involved in the music industry generally and I knew that was where it was based and specifically wanted to tour with (jazz/fusion electric violinist) Jean Luc Ponty — he was one of my heroes growing up,” he said.
Minko survived with odd music jobs including playing in a Top 40 band with a standing gig at a Chinese restaurant, and playing solo piano on a cruise ship for a year where he met a few L.A. musicians in traveling show bands, who, when he finally disembarked, hooked him up with gigs. Shortly thereafter Minko got to live his dream.
“In 1987, my phone rang and it was Jean Luc Ponty on the other end of the line and he said ‘Hey, would you like to come on the road with me?’ and that was kind of my big dream come true,” he said.
“I remember we went to South America in 1987 or ’88 and we were playing stadiums, playing jazz. It was like being in the Beatles or something … it was cool,” he recalled laughing.
Since living the dream, Minko has performed, recorded or arranged or orchestrated with artists such as Helen Reddy, Toni Braxton, the Chieftains, Barry Manilow, Pink and of course as part of Arturo Sandoval’s Latin Big Band.
While Minko admits he did have some dreams about becoming the jazz equivalent of a rock star, he truly enjoys his work as sideman and composer/arranger working in the music industry’s home base.
“I get to work with the very best players in town which is really some of the best players in the world,” Minko said.
“I find that most of the really great, great players are really nice people and the other thing that’s great is you can write anything you want and it gets played perfectly, and that’s really cool,” he said.
When he’s not backing up or writing for pop stars and music legends, Minko also serves as the worship leader of the music ministry at Calvary Church in Los Angeles.
Minko said he and his wife, Sujee, are both excited about going to the Grammy ceremony.
“We’ll do the whole tuxedo black tie thing and my wife is really excited about walking down the red carpet,” Minko said laughing.
The Grammy Awards ceremony telecast will start at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.