The big news at last year’s GRAMMY® Awards concerned the reduction of categories announced in the summer of 2011, bringing the total number of categories down from 109 (the year before) to 78.
The biggest publicity before last year’s GRAMMYs concerned the scorched-earth reaction of a vociferous segment of the Latin jazz community, which heatedly protested the loss of the Latin Jazz category in the restructuring. Brandishing some laughably conspiratorial accusations, this group went so far as to file a lawsuit against The Academy.
The news at this year’s ceremony is that the Latin Jazz category has risen like Lazarus.
The Recording Academy Board of Trustees voted last spring to reinstate the category. Officially, the decision had nothing to do with the protests; Academy insiders feared that it would set a precedent if the Board were seen to have caved to outside pressure. So Sunday afternoon – when the Latin Jazz GRAMMY goes to the main firebrand leading the charge (see below) – the reactions, both official and unofficial, will certainly bear watching.
For most jazz fans, that’s more than can be said for the GRAMMY telecast itself. Relentlessly focused on the top-selling pop artists who can drive up ratings, the show pays short shrift to all of the “niche” genres (including jazz, blues, classical, most Latin, and “world” music) that make the American scene so vibrant.
As I pointed out in Part One of this series, the vast majority of the GRAMMY categories are announced in a “pre-telecast” segment, which will stream live on the GRAMMY site Sunday afternoon from 4 till 6:30, Chicago time. (The big broadcast begins at 7, aired over WBBM-TV in Chicago.) Several years ago, The Recording Academy remade this once perfunctory event into a full-scale production; it now features a live band, several musical performances, fairly high-profile guest presenters, and celebrity emcees.
In fact, the pre-tel has rapidly evolved into a quite watchable production, filled with artists you may actually care about. (Admittedly, I’m presuming there’s not much crossover between fans of jazz and Frank Ocean, Kelly Clarkson, and Mumford & Sons. If I’ve got that wrong, do let me know.)
The proof of the pre-tel’s current stature lies in the demand for tickets: instead of a few hundred folks wandering in for free, as was the case a mere 6 or 7 years ago, the event is now sold out, with a couple thousand or more paying a minimum of $300 for the opportunity.
Whether you’re there in formal wear or watching for free on line, here are more of my picks for those who deserve to win, plus those most likely to take home the Gramophone (two different things) – preceded by the disclamatory reminder that your Chicago Jazz Music Examiner is a voting member and former national officer of The Recording Academy, as well as a proud member of the organization’s Chicago chapter.
- Best Latin Jazz Album
In addition to writing the durable Latin standards “Morning” and “Pensativa” (both near the beginning of his five-decade career), the venerable composer-arranger Clare Fischer – who died at the beginning of 2012 – also recorded some 50 albums under his own name. Of those, “Ritmo!” marks a wonderful summit. The music paints colors as vivid as a macaw, in passages as intricately layered as Aztec architecture, with ornate details chiseled into the soaring heights. (I chose “Ritmo!” as #4 in my year-end wrapup.) Enough Academy members were aware of this self-released gem to help push it toward a nomination, and I’d love to think that enough more will have listened during the voting period for it to actually win. I’d also love to have this Ferrari, which is an only slightly less likely proposition.
If Fischer can’t win, the award could deservedly go to either the quiet and nuanced “Duos III” from vocalist Luciana Souza, or to the voluptuous and audacious “Flamenco Sketches” by pianist Chano Dominguez. But Bobby Sanabria made a big-band album with plenty of flash; he also made quite a splash within the Latin jazz community by spearheading that lawsuit against The Academy. I can imagine mainstream Academy members might have a problem awarding someone who made himself such a thorn in their side. But the Latin jazz fans who bemoaned the loss of their category – and rightly or wrongly see Sanabria as the hero responsible for its return – will have no such qualms.
In addition to the five awards within the jazz field, several other GRAMMY categories boast a predominance of nominees from the jazz world, even though those categories accept entries from all genres. Here are my picks for those as well.
- Best Instrumental Composition
Who will win: Chris Brubeck & Dave Brubeck (ditto)
This might as well be a jazz category, especially this year. All six nominees cut their teeth as jazz musicians, although in two cases – the legendary Dave Brubeck (working with his second oldest son, Chris) and pianist Bill Cunliffe – it’s a matter of well-known jazzers stretching into classical territory.
I’ll predict that this category provides a rare exception to the Chick Corea Rule, which states that almost every time the influential pianist-composer receives a nomination, he’ll add another GRAMMY to his collection. Corea is nominated for the sprightly “Mozart Goes Dancing” (which actually has little to do with either Mozart or dancing), from his thrice-nominated album “Hot House” (with Gary Burton). But I think he loses this time to the hallowed Brubeck name, which was elevated in voters’ minds by Dave’s passing at the end of December, shortly after the ballots went out. More to the point, Dave developed into a respected symphonic composer in the latter half of his career, and Chris has ably picked up where Dad left off.
- Best Instrumental Arrangement
Who should win: Michael Philip Mossman, “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite For Ellington” from Bobby Sanabria Big Band’s album “Multiverse” (Jazzheads)
Michael Philip Mossman started out as a sensational trumpet soloist in Horace Silver’s quintet and the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Joe Henderson, but he’s always had one foot in Latin jazz: one of his first big gigs was with the legendary Machito Orchestra, and he has been a mainstay in Latin jazz bands for the last 25 years. During that time, though, his writing has all but eclipsed his flammable trumpeting. (Chicago jazz folk know this better than most: Mossman was commissioned to compose and/or arrange several works for the Chicago Jazz Ensemble as led by Jon Faddis.)
Mossman has deserved the recognition that comes with a GRAMMY for some time, and the high profile of Sanabria’s album might just get it for him. But Gordon Goodwin is no slouch himself; what’s more, he commands considerable respect within both jazz and the commercial-studio industry, having won a previous GRAMMY and three Emmys, as well as orchestrating more than 30 films, including “The Guardian,” “National Treasure: Book Of Secrets,” and “Snakes On A Plane.” (And who didn’t love the music in “Snakes On A Plane”?) With 13 previous GRAMMY nominations, he also has plenty of name recognition among Academy voters. His nominated arrangement is a delight, but it’s his track record that should bring this one home.
- Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists
Who should win: Gil Evans (posthumously), “Look To The Rainbow,” sung by Luciana Souza on Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project album “Centennial – Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans” (ArtistShare)
The widespread acclaim (even in mainstream media) for young Ryan Truesdell’s project – comprising previously unrecorded compositions and arrangements from the genius Gil Evans – garnered him three GRAMMY nods, and I think he’ll win one, in the “Large Jazz Ensemble” category. I’d say that he and the long-departed Evans deserve another for this arrangement, which somehow channels a propulsive drive through its pastoral translucence.
But he’s up against Esperanza Spalding, the brilliant bassist, busy composer, Banana Republic model, and (two years ago) the first jazz musician to ever win the award for “Best New Artist” – one of the “big four” GRAMMY categories (beating out, among others, Justin Bieber). Let’s see: iconic deceased composer vs. radiant and talented young black woman, who spent the year touring in support of her impressive new album . . . now who’s gonna win that one?
- You’ll find still more jazz names among the nominees in other categories: Robert Glasper in “Best R&B Performance,” for a track featuring soulstrice Ledisi from his crossover album “Black Radio”; and up-and-coming vocalist Gregory Porter in “Best Traditional R&B Performance,” for a track from his sophomore album “Real Good Hands.” Porter scored a jazz nomination in 2010 for his debut album “Water,” and this nomination – in a quite different (though related) category – speaks to his much-touted appeal across genres.
- From the beginning, the GRAMMYs have honored liner-note writing, and for many years, the jazz scribes held sway in the “Best Album Notes” category; after all, liner notes were found throughout jazz and classical music, and rarely anywhere else. But the proliferation of multi-disc boxed sets in all genres – with accompanying liner-note books that sometimes rival novellas for length – opened up the category to plenty of historical rock and pop collections. This year, for instance, only one jazz writer got a nomination (for a single-CD project, no less, as opposed to the big boxes that usually take home the prize). The album is “Piazzolla In Brooklyn,” a strong set from bassist Pablo Aslan’s quintet, with well-informed notes by longtime music journalist Fernando Gonzalez. It doesn’t stand a chance against bigger, splashier historical collections of The Beatles, Ray Charles, and Janis Joplin. But as they say, it’s nice just to be invited to the party.
- And finally, in the “Best Surround Sound Album” category, there’s the remastered “Modern Cool,” originally released 15 years ago by homegrown singer-songwriter-pianist Patricia Barber on Chicago-based Premonition Records. It’s up against four sound-surround discs that I haven’t heard; and truthfully, I claim none of the technical expertise that would allow me to judge this category even if I tried. But the nominees include my pals Mike Friedman and Jim Anderson – the producer and engineer of both the original album and the new 360-degree version – so I’m pulling for them anyway.