The Latin Jazz Grammy
An editorial in two parts
A year ago, NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) eliminated 31 categories from the Grammys awards.
Published on LatinoLA: July 23, 2012
In early June, 2012, NARAS restored the category of best Latin Jazz album to the awards line up. It was done after a year of national protests, demonstrations, law suits, mass emails, petitions, and public statements from high profile artists and public figures.
Musicians and jazz fans are asking themselves "Where do we go from here?" and "How did we get here?"
Part one: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Now that the award for best Latin Jazz album has been restored, it's time to make the music visibly and audibly present. Let's relieve the unrelenting assault of pop rhythms presented on the show with the presentation of a truly iconic American music. Let the world know that there are many people whose taste in music runs to the perfect combination of beautiful melodies and harmonies and passionate rhythms that is Latin Jazz.
I'm sure that NARAS can find some exciting well known Latin Jazz artists that would boost their ratings by at least 20%. They could always start their search with a list of the top talents that protested the elimination of the award a year earlier. A short list would include Eddie Palmieri, Oscar Hernandez, Carlos Santana, Wayne Wallace, Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Dr. John Calloway, Bobby Sanabria, Bobby Matos, Justo Almario, Frank Cano, and more.
Now that we have the award category, let's celebrate with our presence on the show.
Latin Jazz is true American music, born in New York City with the contributions of musicians living and working in the U.S. during the decade of the 1940's, especially Mario Bauza, Dizzy Gillespie, Juan Tizol, and others. Latin Jazz is a vital and influential genre of music, influencing other genres, as well as absorbing influences of many cultures. It is a truly valid American form of music.
Without a presence in the Grammy Awards highly publicized telecast, Latin Jazz is marginalized. It becomes invisible (and inaudible). Countless well known artists, and entertainment personalities, many former Grammy winners, including Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Eddie Palmieri, Oscar Hernandez, John Santos, Bill Cosby, Bobby Sanabria, Kevin Eubanks, and more, had earlier voiced protests to NARAS regarding the elimination of the award.
NARAS is recognized as the organization that awards excellence in the musical arts, not popularity. By rendering this genre invisible in the awards show, they are marginalizing it.
Part two: HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Although the category for best Latin Jazz album was restored, the other 30 categories were not. Missing in action are awards for recordings in the fields of Cajun and Zydeco, Hawaiian music, some Blues categories, and Native American music. These categories, like the field of Latin Jazz, are mostly styles of music not supported by the major record labels, and usually only found on independent labels. Perhaps artists and supporters from these categories were not as vocal as their compatriots in Latin Jazz.
Latin Jazz artists and supporters organized press conferences, and picket lines in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In New York, Latin Jazz artists Bobby Sanabria, Chris Washburne, and Ben Lapidus instituted a class action suit against NARAS. A web site was established to present their arguments and a petition was circulated that ultimately received over 23,000 signatures.
Well known artists joined the ranks and added their voices. Artists from all the affected categories were asked to join but Latin Jazz supporters seemed the most vocal. Former Grammy winners Eddie Palmieri and Oscar Hernandez spoke eloquently to both English and Spanish language press. Well known artists like John Santos, Pete Escovedo, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana and others made significant contributions.
Cabaret owners made their venues available to support "anti-Grammy" protest concerts. Well known artists gave TV and radio news interviews, and we organized press conferences, soliciting statements from Bill Cosby, Edward James Olmos, Reverend Jesse Jackson and support from national political organizations like Presente, and trade unions (like local 47 American Federation of Musicians).
On the internet, the Latin Jazz chat group on Yahoo served as an instant communication forum. I was telephoned by John Santos from San Francisco and Bobby Sanabria from New York City who both insisted that I was the right guy to help organize and galvanize musicians in Los Angeles. We were well served by PR professionals like Robert Sax (Sax PR) who donated his time.
Radio personalities like Jose Rizo (KKJZ in Long Beach) and Jessie "Chuy" Varela (KCSM in San Mateo), along with artists (and NARAS members) like Wayne Wallace, Sandy Cressman, Sheila E, Arturo O'Farrill worked behind the scenes to affect change as well.
It was, undoubtedly a combination of all these tactics that made an impact on NARAS brass, and here is the lesson that needs to be ingrained.
Jazz lovers, fans, musicians, and everybody else need to stick together. We can accomplish much if we support each other. Right now we need to address the restoration of the other categories and the absence of our any real representation of our music on the Grammy awards telecast itself.
Lovers of straight ahead jazz should want to stand with our Latin Jazz fanaticos. It's just a matter of enlightened self-interest. Jazz is our most important cultural resource and it needs to accessible in our media. Latin jazz is an excellent representation of that.
(c) Copyright 2012 Bobby Matos
Bobby Matos, proud Latin Jazz artist, bandleader, recording artist. Los Angeles,