(Is this the wrath of Bieberites?)
Latin Jazz Heavyweights Protest Grammy Snub
By Larry Blumenfeld
Wed., Apr. 13 2011 @ 12:00PM
The scene outside the New York Institute of Technology Auditorium Monday night suggested a Latin jazz celebration; pianist Eddie Palmieri, pianist/bandleader Larry Harlow, drummer Bobby Sanabria, trombonist Chris Washburne, and trumpeter Brian Lynch milled about. But this wasn't a concert, nor was it a celebration; it was an informational meeting organized by the New York chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) where the musicians gathered would soon sound off in polite yet impassioned protest of the Grammys' elimination of the Best Latin Jazz Album category.
Last week, as part of several reforms, NARAS announced a reduction in the number of Grammy prizes to 78 <http://blogs.villagevoice.
But where will that home be, and what effects will the move have? Many genre distinctions--traditional blues, Hawaiian album--were eliminated or "merged," as the NARAS officials put it. The consolidation of categories will particularly affect jazz; it's lost key categories, a point not lost on drummer Roy Haynes, who was also present. In the case of Latin jazz, the move touched a delicate nerve. One by one, musicians and music-label executives stepped up to testify as to why.
Palmieri, who has won nine Grammy Awards and whose /Listen Here!/ won the category in 2006, described his work within the organization through the years, including serving as a past governor. "This hurts so much," he said, "I can feel it in my heart. It's like a Grammy scar." And he reflected on his first Grammy victory, for /Sun of Latin Music/, which won the Best Latin Music category in 1975. "It felt like I was representing every Latin-jazz artist in the world that night."
Sanabria, who has been nominated in the category twice, called the change "an insult. It strikes me as cultural insensitivity," he said. "It's the denial of things we've worked long and hard to achieve." Randy Klein, who runs the Jazzheads label, claimed the category changes flew in the face of NARAS' commitment to music education. "By cutting the Latin-jazz category, we stop mentioning it, stop teaching people what this is," he said. "A name is important," added Ileana Palmieri, Eddie's daughter and an independent music executive. "When it's tied to an ethnic identity and a cultural tradition, it's a source of pride."
The powerful response highlights a conundrum. Most jazz musicians, listeners and critics in the U.S. have long recognized basic signposts to the intersections of Latin music and American jazz: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's work with the Cuban bandleader Frank "Machito" Grillo and with percussionist Chano Pozo in the 1940s; Louis Armstrong's 1930 recording of the Cuban song "El Manisero"; Creole pianist Jelly Roll Morton's even-earlier assertion that jazz had to have a "Spanish tinge" to be authentic. Still, Afro Latin culture had widely been regarded as an exotic "other."
Latin-jazz musicians have celebrated the acceptance in recent years of their music into the broader mainstream jazz canon. At the Grammys, the Best Latin Jazz Performance category was established in 1994, and renamed Best Latin Jazz Album in 2000. Also, there exists a specific awards showcase for Latin music, the Latin Grammy Awards, established in 2000. But many Latin musicians feel that's a ghetto. "There are no two Oscars," said Mr. Palmieri, "no two Emmys." Many within the Latin jazz community feels it important to retain a specific identity not just as a cultural signifier within the mainstream but, especially in the case of the Grammys, to achieve commercial viability. Sanabria noted since that Latin-jazz recordings will mostly compete within the overall jazz category, "We don't have a chance in hell now."
On the phone from his office yesterday, Blue Note Records president Bruce Lundvall-who signed the great Cuban band Irakere to Columbia Records; their 1979 Best Latin Recording Grammy led to American followings for pianist Chucho Valdés and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, among others-groaned as he assessed the new Grammy system. "It is a terrible mistake to eliminate this very valid category," he said. "It should be reinstated immediately. Grammy recognition was absolutely the key ingredient in building an American market for one of the most exciting avenues of new music, and I don't know how we would have done it otherwise."
Portnow defended his organization's decisions Monday night, saying that the changes were carefully considered-and that they needn't be permanent. "If you don't like what they decided," he said, "throw the bums out of office." He drew a comparison to Congress: "They didn't ask you how you felt about the budget, they just voted on your behalf."
Perhaps the analogy was unfortunate, because Washburne seized on it. "It's almost like what the Tea Party wants to do-repeal all the things that have happened in the past few decades." He challenged Portnow's determination that the "collage" created by 109 categories was problematic. "Of course it's a collage," Washburne fired back. "That's what we are."
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The following is from Bobby Sanabria:
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Below is a timeline I've constructed that I think puts things in perspective...
2001 - Progressive Jazz Rock group Steely Dan wins Record of the Year Grammy over Eminem. Hip Hop. Pop music industry/community is in shock
1990's - to present - Small independent record companies (mostly begun by artists themselves) steadily begin to demonstrate their presence as nominees and winners of Grammys culminating with Multi-Cultural jazz musician Esperanza Spalding's win for Best New Artist over teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber.
2008 - Jazz legend Herbie Hancock wins Record of the Year Grammy over Kanye West. West's and his management are incensed. Hip Hop, Pop music industry/community again in shock. NARAS begins secret meetings in earnest after the telecast to explore the possibility of downsizing the Grammy Awards because they have become "devalued" because according to current President Neil Portnow, "The Grammys have become a huge collage." President Portnow's own words at NYC Chapter Emergency Meeting, Monday April 11, 2011 - 6pm at New York Institute of Technology Auditorium 61st St. & Broadway, NYC.
2011 - Indie record labels are nominated and win more Grammys than at anytime in the history of the Grammy Awards. Multi-Cultural jazz artist Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist Grammy over teenage Pop sensation Justin Bieber. It is the first time a musician wins over an entertainer. Pop music industry and the World in general are in a state of shock.
Immediately after the Grammy telecast Stephen Stoute, an industry insider and employee of Jay Z takes out a FULL one page ad in the New York Times blasting NARAS stating that they are out of touch with current popular society and must be RESTRUCTURED. He insults Esperanza Spalding and the Grammy membership. It was the membership who gave her the win for her incredible musicianship. THE FIRST TIME A MUSICIAN IS CHOSEN OVER AN ENTERTAINER IN THIS CATEGORY. NARAS DOES NOT offer a rebuttal to defend the Academy and/or its members.
Justin Bieber fans begin an anti-Esperanza Spalding campaign that goes viral globally insulting her and Academy thus insulting the membership. Again, no response from the Academy.
Legendary Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jimmy Jam (of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) who is second in command to President Neil Portnow approves ALL category cuts in secret meetings with Grammy Board members in the Los Angeles Mother chapter. The question begs to be asked, how is this person even a Grammy executive? Is there not a conflict of interest?
Black Wednesday - April 6, 2011 - NARAS sends out a mass e-mail to its membership stating to follow a link for a major announcement regarding the Grammys. The announcement states that a RESTRUCTURING (DOWNSIZING) OF THE GRAMYS HAS BEEN DECIDED UPON. The original 108 categories are now cut by 31. Some categories are CONSOLIDATED into unrelated categories thus giving no chance for independent record companies to compete. For example: Latin Jazz and Contemporary Jazz (two completely different styles) are now consolidated into JUST Best Jazz Recording and Best Large Jazz Ensemble, thus giving Latin Jazz artists virtually no chance to compete for a Grammy. Other categories like Hawaiian, Polka, Zydeco, Cajun, etc. and as a final insult, Native American, are cut. MOST OF THE CUT CATEGORIES ARE ETHNIC CATEGORIES. THE DECISON BY NARAS IS MADE IN SECRET WITHOUT CONSULTING ANY OF ITS MEMBERSHIP OR CITY CHAPTER BOARD OF GOVERNORS.
Music community, particularly Latin Jazz and Jazz community are in shock.
Realizing there will be flak, NARAS decides on a 13 city damage control/emergency tour to all major NARAS Chapter cities to explain how the NEW RESTRUCTURING gives PARITY to all artists and that no one is shut out from competing.
APRIL 11, 2011 - NARAS A FEW DAYS EARLIER sends out a mass e-mail inviting its NYC membership to come to the first meeting on Monday April 11 at 6pm at the New York Institute of Technology auditorium located at 1871 Broadway at 61rst. The e-mail specifically states that NON-MEMBERS are invited as well. THERE IS ABSOLUTLEY NO ANNOUNCEMENT IN THE E-MAIL THAT AN RSVP IS REQUIRED.
Members and non-members show up as do Larry Rohter of the NY Times, Monika Fabian of the Daily News, and Larry Blumenfeld of The Wall St, Journal and the The Village Voice who were contacted the night before, (Daily News contacted the day of) by yours truly. WE ARE ALL TOLD THAT IF WE DIDN'T RSVP WE CAN'T GET IN. EDDIE PALMIERI 9 TIME GRAMMY WINNER AND FORMER BOARD OF GOVENOR MEMBER AND THE PERSON WHO FOUGHT FOR 17 YEARS TO GET LATIN JAZZ RECOGNIZED BY NARAS AS WELL AS LARRY HARLOW, LARAS LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD WINNER AND 3 TIME GRAMMY NOMINEE AND THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING SALSA RECOGNIZED AS A GRAMMY CATEGORY TOLD TO WAIT OUTSIDE, THAT THEY/WE CAN'T GET IN UNLESS THEY/WE RSVP'D. BOB SANCHO SHOWS PRINT OUT OF E-MAIL INVITE TO NARAS REPRESENTATIVE PROVING THERE WAS NO RSVP REQUIREMENT. LARRY LEAVES IN DISGUST STATING OUT LOUD "THIS USE TO BE A CLASSY ORGANIZATION". A current Member of the Board of Governors arrives and greets/speaks to Paquito D'Rivera's wife (Brenda Feliciano). Brenda informs her of the situation. The Board of Governor representative speaks to those in charge and insists to "Let these people in, they are NARAS members." A representative of NARAS FINALLY informs me on the side that somehow something got screwed up. Some received RSVP invites, others (like us) did not. She apologizes and informs me that we will all be finally let in after the RSVP"s are let in first. After two opening questions about Blues and Hip Hop categories from audience attendees entire comments made by attending members are about the elimination of the Latin jazz and Contemporary music categories. FILMING OR PHOTOGARHY IS NOT ALLOWED BY NARAS AND SECURITY GUARD TRIES TO REMOVE ALFIE ALVARADO WHO HAS A VIDEO CAMERA AT THE READY. NARAS THINKS TWICE AFTER NOTING THAT REPORTERS ARE PRESENT AND TAKING NOTES. MS. ALVARADO PREVAILS AND VIDEOS THE ENTIRE APPORXIMATELY THREE HOUR MEETING BUT IS WARNED BY NARAS EXECUTIVES FROM THE NYC CHAPTER TO NOT POST ANYTHING ON YOUTUBE. PHOTOGRAPHER LENA ADASHEVA SECRETLY FILMS WHAT HAPPENS IN LOBBY WITH A FLIP PHONE AND RECORDS AUDIO OF MEETING AND LATER POSTS SHORT EDITED VERSION ON YOUTUBE.
Public outcry begins as musicians, fans, and the general public begin to e-mail NARAS President Portnow at firstname.lastname@example.org <http://us.mc651.mail.yahoo.
Next Grammy Chapter meeting for so called explanation of NEW Grammy RESTRUCTURING by NARAS President Neil Portnow scheduled for May 10th in San Francisco. If you receive an invite NO MATTER WHAT, RSVP. Meeting is open to non-Grammy members. Call the San Francisco NARAS Chapter offices if you wish to attend and get an invite.
The Recording Academy
San Francisco Chapter
1702 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
For a full accounting of what went down at the NYC Chapter meeting with President Portnow go to...
Ache' and in solidarity,