Monday, February 14, 2011

What would you call it?


That’s the only word that seems to fit this year’s primetime Sunday night glitz that was the 53rd annual Grammy Awards.

If you saw it, you know what I mean. If you missed it, you didn’t miss much, trust me.

Sure, there were scattered poignant moments – beginning with the opening tribute to the ailing Aretha Franklin.

But they were outweighed by the sheer spectacle of the night and artists who felt they had to make spectacles of themselves, starting with Lady Gaga’s eggular entrance. What? And then her blatant performance ripoff of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” in the guise of “Born This Way.” And how about the bicycles zooming around the stage near night's end? And the heavy use of the bleep button by the network censors all night long.

But let’s look at the important stuff, to me anyway, the jazz side of the night – two pros and a con.

- Drummer Roy Haynes – the oldest teenager in jazz – was honored with a richly deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.

- Esparanza Spalding’s first win by a jazz performer of the Grammy for Best New Artist was most welcome – and came out of left field. Particularly since the singer and bassist didn’t even have an album in the running this time. (Her third CD is just out on Head’s Up International). And today, that upset had the legions of fans of the $100 million teenypopper Justin Bieber atwitter with their outrage. I say, quality music prevailed. And to quote Ozzy Osborne at the end of the new Best Buy commercial “What’s a Bieber?”

Here’s the affront to jazz that took place moments later.

- Do you get outraged when your given a serious listen in a jazz club to a great band – and two or three people at the next table won’t shut up, oblivious to the music?

That happened last night when Spalding was performing with the Grammy student jazz ensemble. Two folks on stage – one of them a high-ranking exec from The Recording Academy – blathered on about their programs. Wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d shut up and given the millions who’d never heard of the 26-year-old Ms. Spalding a chance to hear the music she’s made of?

But, hey, we are talking Grammys. Why should I be optimistic something like that will ever happen.

And isn’t it curious that they can only find time to bestow 10 of the 109 awards during the 31/2-hour prime time event.

Despite those failings, jazz did show itself well in the pre-telecast portion.

Kudos to the winners:

Best Pop Instrumental Album

Take Your Pick, Larry Carlton & Tak Matsumoto (335 Records, Inc.)

Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals

”Imagine,” Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No 1, Jeff Beck and Oumou Sangare, from The Imagine Project (Hancock Records)

Best Contemporary Jazz Album
The Stanley Clarke Band, The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up International)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Emarcy)

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

“A Change Is Gonna Come,” Herbie Hancock, soloist. Track from: The Imagine Project, (Hancock Records)

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group

Moody 4B, James Moody (IPO Recordings)

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Mingus Big Band Live At Jazz Standard, Mingus Big Band (Jazz Workshop, Inc./Jazz Standard)

Best Latin Jazz Album
Chucho's Steps, Chucho Valdés And The Afro-Cuban Messengers (Four Quarters Entertainment)

Best Contemporary World Music Album
Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions Part 2: Unreleased Tracks, Béla Fleck, (Acoustic Planet Records)

Best Instrumental Composition
“The Path Among The Trees,” Billy Childs, composer (Billy Childs Ensemble), Track from: Autumn: In Moving Pictures Jazz - Chamber Music Vol. 2, (ArtistShare)

Best Instrumental Arrangement
“Carlos,” Vince Mendoza, arranger (John Scofield, Vince Mendoza & Metropole Orkest)
Track from: 54 (Emarcy/Universal)

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