By George Halas
Now that the trivial Oscars and Grammys have been put to bed, the real awards season starts, as The 34th Annual WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Awards Show will be held Sunday, April 27, at the Fox Cities PAC in Appleton.
The show, which The Inquisition understands turns into one of the year’s better parties, will provide the vehicle to announce the winners and honor all the nominees––individuals, groups, songs––in a wide range of musical categories. A number of the nominated artists will perform as well.
The nominees were announced in mid-March and a trend continued.
“This year there’s a ton of Fox Valley folks nominated, and they are starting to recognize the Fox Valley more than in the past,” said drummer Mike Underwood. “The Fox Valley has a lot of great musicians and we can bring it with anybody.”
Underwood is the reigning WAMI Drummer of the Year and has won previously as a member of The Jazz Orgy (twice), Greg Waters and The Broad Street Boogie and Andy’s Automatics. The Jazz Orgy has been nominated once again for best jazz band.
“I think that the WAMI’s are a good thing. It’s nice to be recognized,” Underwood added, “and we’re glad they still like us.”
When The Jazz Orgy won for the first time in 2010, the group was serving as the house band for the awards show.
“It was really cool to be playing for everyone and then win the award,” Underwood said. “The presenter, John Harmon, walked the award from the stage to the balcony where we were playing.”
“It was really a double honor,” he continued, “to win the WAMI and receive it from John Harmon.”
The JO’s bassist/vocalist Andy Mertens also remembers it well.
“I was super-excited to be nominated as a band and the win was extra special because we were the house band for the ceremony, and the award was presented by one of my musical mentors, the great John Harmon,” Mertens recalls. “My wife and parents were in the audience. They were so happy for us. I was very surprised to win, as I thought we were a long shot. It was really a great night.”
“To be recognized twice as the best jazz band is a huge honor. I would hope that we continue to improve as a band and be recognized locally, nationally and internationally, so I would like to win again this year,” Mertens added. “If we don’t win, I understand, as there are so many great jazz bands in Wisconsin. I am super-happy to be included in that conversation.”
Underwood was “shocked” when he learned of his individual award.
“I had already been nominated four times, and there are so many great drummers, so I got used to thinking it was an ‘honor just to be nominated,” he said. “I wasn’t at the show. We were playing a gig, so when I got a text from (drummer/fellow nominee/former winner) Matt Gieseke saying that I had won, I was shocked.”
“As an individual, it is an honor to be recognized,” he added. “As a drummer, it’s hard to be in the forefront because I’m always in back, but the award means that people are seeing me as making a difference and not just a side man.”
Mertens is nominated for the second time for Bass Player of The Year. The Inquisition emphasizes that this is a much-deserved and long overdue honor.
He will also be a winner if Vic Ferrari Symphony on The Rocks prevails in the Big Band category as a first-time nominee. The Inquisition applauds and commends this nomination as it recognizes one of the most ambitious and highly successful musical undertakings in the state.
“We never take anything for granted and we are happy to be part of it,” said Vic Ferrari multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist Mike Bailey. “We have a show that’s good enough to be sold out just about everywhere we play. People are paying good money to see it. The nomination is very cool.”
As previously mentioned in this space, Vic Ferrari Symphony on The Rocks combines the talents of one of the best rock bands around with the Fox Valley Symphony and features original orchestral arrangements by Vic Ferrari keyboardist Aaron Zinsmeister, who is also nominated for Keyboards Player of The Year.
His arrangements are nothing short of phenomenal.
“His talent is obvious,” Bailey said. “Who writes an overture for his own show the night before from a clean slate?”
“Aaron is one of those guys who doesn’t look for recognition and doesn’t get it because he’s not looking for it,” Bailey continued “He leads by example and his work speaks for itself.”
Zinsmeister has been nominated for the keyboard award once previously and is, “really honored that people in the area felt I am deserving of that type of award,” but can’t say which nomination holds more meaning for him.
“The keyboard nomination hits closer to home, but The Symphony on The Rocks has been such a growth experience. We’re having a really good year and we are selling out just about everywhere we play,” he said. “The WAMI nomination means that the community of musicians is recognizing us as well as our fans.”
The Fox Valley’s own international jazz star and multi-WAMI winner Janet Planet is being given a lifetime achievement award.
“The “Hall of Fame” award has been awarded to one other woman in the history of the WAMIs, Ruby Starr. Now, they’ve got a ‘Planet,’” she joked.
“Seriously, and I’ve been thinking on this, what it means to me is more of a celebration of where we come from. Wisconsin! she continued. “I was born and raised here and, although I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past 10 years, it’s still a wonderful place to call home. The WAMI Hall of Fame award, in my opinion, acknowledges the music of Wisconsin musicians and the quality thereof. Wisconsin is a beautiful state and I believe the dynamics of our environment feed in to us as artists. When I travel, I tell people I live in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, not, ‘just north of Chicago’ if you get my drift.”
“What it does is affirm, what I’ve always believed, it’s not where you live, it’s how you dream,” she added. “It’s your work ethic, it’s continuing to grow, learn and practice. It’s about giving back, not looking back.”
Planet’s multiple WAMI’s have been awarded in the Best Female Vocalist and a number of jazz categories.
“The very first award experience was in a word, ‘interesting,” she said. “I won’t go into detail but I was a little perplexed as to how I was treated in the Milwaukee Journal the next morning.”
“Having said that, it was a memorable evening,” she continued. “I went down to Milwaukee alone and sat next to a guy from a radio station. We became WAMI friends that night and when my name was called for “Female Vocalist,” the crowd was stirred but clearly unaware of whom Janet Planet was. My new WAMI friend clapped extra loud and I got the sense that the audience was wondering what all the commotion was about.”
As far as the show itself is concerned….
“I think everyone should come,” Planet urged. “I’ve been able to assemble the original Fire and Ice band: John Harmon, Tom Theabo, Tom Washatka, Tony Taylor and John Gibson. We’ll be doing an original song by John Harmon that was an anthem for me at a time when I doubted myself. Now, I want to share it with all of those fellow Wisconsin musicians. Let’s celebrate!”
Mertens echoed her sentiments:
“I always have enjoyed playing in the house band for the ceremony. It is so great to see all of the Wisconsin musicians who are performing and attending,” he said. “There is no other time all of those musicians would be in the same room at the same time, so it is really a unique experience where metal, rap, jazz, country, reggae, rock, and pop can toast each other and meet perhaps for the first time.”
As previously mentioned, The Inquisition has heard rumors that the show evolves into one of the better parties of the year. The Inquisition has also heard rumors that going to work on Monday is overrated.
For ticket information, a complete list of the nominees and other pertinent data, go to wamimusic.com.
Just a reminder––as noted in last month’s Inquisition, Sly Joe and The Smooth Operators will be releasing their new CD and premiering their new music video at Becket’s on April 19.
Inteview with Janet Planet
George Halas: Have you won a WAMI(s) previously? What did that mean to you?
Janet Planet: I have won quite a few WAMIs. I’d have to look back (or in my attic) to give you the number.
I know that I’ve been recognized for “Female Vocalist”, “Traditional Jazz”, “Contemporary Jazz”.
I’ve been nominated several times.
GH: What does that mean?
JP: The very first award experience was in a word “interesting.” I won’t go in to detail but I was a little perplexed as to how I was treated in the Milwaukee Journal the next morning.
Having said that, it was a memorable evening. I went down to Milwaukee alone and sat next to a guy from a radio station. We became WAMI friends that night and when my name was called for “Female Vocalist”, the crowd was stirred but clearly unaware of who Janet Planet was. My new WAMI friend clapped extra loud, and I got the sense that the audience was wondering what all the commotion was about.
What I love about the WAMI event is watching all the young musicians that represent the various genres, surrounded by their fans and comrades for the big night. It’s that “fantasy” side of the music business that draws many of us in, in the first place. That, and the big bucks.
GH: What are your thoughts on the lifetime award?
JP: The “Hall of Fame” award has been awarded to one other woman in the history of the WAMIs. Ruby Starr. Now, they’ve got a “Planet”.
Seriously, and I’ve been thinking on this, what it means to me is more of a celebration of where we come from. Wisconsin! I was born and raised here, and although I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past 10 years, it’s still a wonderful place to call home. The WAMI Hall of Fame award, in my opinion, acknowledges the music of Wisconsin musicians and the quality thereof. Great music, creative individuals, young up and comings, older up and comings. Wisconsin is a beautiful state and I believe the dynamics of our environment feed in to us as artists. When I travel, I tell people I live in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Not, “just north of Chicago” if you get my drift.
GH: One of the other lifetime inductees is Woody Herman; does that change your perspective on your career and what you’ve accomplished?
JP: No. What is does is affirm what I’ve always believed, it’s not where you live, it’s how you dream. It’s your work ethic, it’s continuing to grow, learn and practice. It’s about giving back, not looking back.
GH: Any other thoughts on the WAMI’s and/or award?
JP: I think everyone should come. I’ve been able to assemble the original Fire and Ice band. John Harmon, Tom Theabo, Tom Washatka, Tony Taylor and John Gibson.
We’ll be doing an original song by John Harmon that was an anthem for me at a time when I doubted myself. Now, I want to share it with all of those fellow Wisconsin musicians. Let’s celebrate.