The Grammy Awards: To Be or Not To Be?
Only recently, the Grammy committee dropped many categories, going from 109 to 78, reducing and consolidating its R&B, American roots music, classical, Latin, jazz, country, pop and rock fields, leaving those artists "in the lurch." The main thrust of these televised shows is pop, rock & roll and country music. The jazz winners are announced and given their Grammy Awards on a different day in a non-televised event. When Esperanza Spalding won in 2010 for New Artist, and she accepted the Grammy onstage in front of the TV audience, I for one was hocked that the Grammy committee was even aware of her talents. This was a big deal. She beat out Justin Bieber, the biggest teen idol on the planet, making his millions of fans very angry. Realizing that even though Spalding is with a major label, and in spite of her talent, it took tons of money in promotion for the public and the Grammy committee to become aware of her.
In spite of jazz having the Downbeat Critics' Awards, The Jazz Journalist Awards, and there are many other websites and magazines that have their top ten lists and best artist lists in all categoriesBest Solo, Best Recording, Best Composition, Best Instrumentalist, etcthe one thing none of these outlets have is television exposure.
As much as Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center have done much to expose the world to jazz including outreach programs, have they really expanded the jazz audiences to where we would like them to be?
The truth is I hope it has, but I don't know. I do know that jazz clubs and audiences have been dwindling since the seventies, even with the so-called reemergence of jazz. The colleges and universities, with their jazz programs, are ideally meant to expand the jazz audience, but all they do is graduate and expand more out-of-work musicians. Over the last ten years or so, there have been arguments and speculations over how the jazz community can have more exposure.
This year, UNESCO webcast the first International jazz Day from Paris. Everyone agrees that TV is the answer, and yet this program and its two associated concerts in New Orleans and New York were not televised. This was an enormous undertaking and yet the only way I knew about it was through Jazz Promo Services. This event should have been splashed all over TV, with major news coverage and a TV special.
Many CDs don't make it to the review desks of the jazz journalists. Knowing many of the journalists, I know they are inundated with too many CDs and downloads, without enough time to review them all. That's why the same people win these awards year after year.
Does that mean that we, as artists, don't care about awards or award shows? I sent out a small questionnaire to Grammy and non-Grammy winners. Here are some of their answers:
Pat Martino, legendary guitarist and Grammy winner:
"The Grammy Awards, like some other professional events, have implications that not only depend upon the individual artist but at the same time coordinate through the multiple interactions of a number of individuals. Within a larger group, artists, along with their musical colleagues, supportive management, producers, engineers, booking agents, etc., bring to fruition the collective resultthe sum of its partsand that's what's awarded by the Grammy Awards, through public recognition."
"The Grammy or Emmy Awards, as well as a number of other similar public events, are industrial crescendo's that are in many ways corporate, as opposed to being based upon individualized aesthetic achievements.
Do we need them and why?
"Yes, I do think we need them. Music can be seen, and defined as a craft, or a universal language. Both of these support each other by leading us toward important learning experiences. Whether or not the result causes the amplification of public recognition, or self- esteem is solely up to the individual, but the presence of both is decisively valuable."
Can the music world get along without them?
"I'm sure that the music world, (like a chameleon that it is) can adapt to any change that provides opportunity."
Are they important to you?
"In an imaginative way, combinative vehicles offer movement into social, as well as cultural areas that objectively expand ones scope. In this way all things are important to me."
Are they fair?
"As to what's fair, or unfair, when seen from a position outside of those polarities, one is no longer subject to a condition that that initially seemed myopic.
Very simply put, they are important; we need them; and what's fair in one persons' eye is unfair in another's. When I read Pat's answer I was leaning to "they aren't important." jazz is so much more than awards and there are too many jazz musician/vocalist that are not given a chance.
Roseanna Vitro, jazz vocalist and recent Grammy nominee, answering the same questions, looks at it a little differently:
Do we need them and why?