Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yet another Grammy dustup

Could the Grammys exist without healthy doses of skepticism and controversy? I think not.

Skepticism, mostly during the awards season, for all of the hype and pop/hip-hop glitz that seems to minimize the celebration of real music. However, as mentioned a while back, quality turned the tables on pop phenomenon when singer and bassist Esparanza Spalding was this year's upset winner in the Best New Artist category, much to the dismay and even outrage of Justin Bieber fans.

Controversy erupts, as it did a couple of weeks ago, when the powers-that-be decided to trim back a number of awards categories from 109 to 78, a reduction of roughly 30 percent, for next year's voting.

The changes were announced by National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences President Neil Portnow (the dude who prattled on over Spalding's Grammy performance). The changes come amid longstanding criticism in the music industry that too many categories were diluting the Grammys’ impact. (The Grammys had only 28 categories when they began in 1959.)

There has been a firestorm of reaction from record companies, producers and musicians, particularly among impacted categories.Nobody has had their knickers in a twist (to borrow a U.K. term) more than the Latin music community, particularly Latin jazz. The award for Latin jazz has been eliminated under this revision. Bandleader Eddie Palmieri called it "an insult to our genre and many others.”

Some would argue that among the aggrieved parties, the Latin categories may have the least to crow about. Latin music is the only genre that has a separate but related showcase with the Latin Grammy Awaards, that have been held annually since 2000. Those awards do include Latin jazz categories.

At a NARAS regional chapter meeting in New York, Palmieri told academy executives that there needs to be a greater Hispanic presence at the main event, implying that the separate Latin Grammy Awards, held in the fall, are far less significant. “There’s no two Oscars, no two Emmys, no two Tonys,” he said. Later, in a written statement, Palmieri said NARAS is "marginalizing our music, culture and people even further. Let me be clear: we have been discredited, we have been discarded and we are being wiped out."

NARAS has also cut categories for best contemporary jazz album, best traditional blues album, best metal performance and best rock instrumental performance, as well as four classical music categories.

Still, there are no separate Jazz Grammy, Classical Grammy, Blues Grammy Awards programs. So Latin Jazz seems to have a leg up in some respects over some other impacted genres.

Drummer Roy Haynes summed it all up by saying this latest tweak means the remaining jazz categories are going to be a lot more crowded, and that it’s going to be harder than ever to win a Grammy.

Only time will tell whether the howls of protest will lead to a reconsideration - or further tweaks to a system that seems geared more and more toward commercial appeal and TV glitz.

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