By Don Heckman
The 2012 Grammys are in, and once again there’s not much sound of surprise in the results. Certainly nothing in the same ballpark as last year’s Best New Artist award for Esperanza Spalding. That’s not to say that any of the wins were undeserved. Because they all were the products of gifted artists doing their best. Nor were any of the nominees any less deserving than the winners.
Still, both the awards and the Recording Academy’s current approach to jazz raise some questioning observations. Take, for example, the inclusion of Terri Lyne Carrington’ s The Mosaic Project in the Jazz Vocal grouping. Doesn’t it seem inevitable that a collection of songs by such major names as Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cassandra Wilson and, yes, Esperanza Spalding (among others) is going to have a major head start in any competition against recordings by single artists? What chance did the other nominees – especially the unusually superlative trio of albums from Tierney Sutton, Roseanna Vitro and Karrin Allyson – have against a full line-up of such musical heavyweights?
Notice, too, some of the repetitions: multiple nominations for Randy Brecker, Fred Hersch and Sonny Rollins. Great artists, all, but where are the nominations for the youngest generation of jazz players? It’s worth noting that Gerald Clayton is the only nominee still in his twenties. And Miguel Zenon is the only nominee still in his thirties.
Add to that several aspects in this year’s awards procedures that underscore the diminishing role that jazz is playing in the Grammy overview. Start with the reduced number of categories. In 2011 there were six: Contemporary Jazz Album, Vocal Album, Improvised Jazz Solo, Jazz Instrumental Album (Individual or Group), Large Jazz Album and Latin Jazz Album.
This year, there are four: Best Improvised Jazz Solo, Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. Some jazz fans won’t miss the Contemporary category, despite the fact that its absence eliminates the presence of some fine, pop-oriented jazz stylists. But the Latin Jazz omission is unforgivable, and should receive careful re-consideration in the planning for next year’s Grammys.
In the listings below, I’ve also included Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Instrumental Composition, because, in these nominees, the emphasis is almost completely in the direction of jazz. They could easily have had different orientations — pop, rock, electronica, classical and otherwise — given the all-inclusive nature of the descriptions “Instrumental Arrangement” and “Instrumental Composition.”
Ultimately, the single word that comes to mind in considering all the above is “irrelevant.” Receiving a Grammy award continues to be one of the music world’s greatest honors – for the individual artist. And every jazz player –like every other musical artist – has to be delighted to receive the gold statuette. But the overall significance of the Grammys to jazz, the Awards’ full commitment to honoring one of America’s greatest cultural contributions, continues to diminish. And if it continues in its current direction, the long, historical Grammy/jazz connection won’t just be irrelevant, it’ll be non-existent.
Here are this year’s awards:
Best Improvised Jazz Solo
Winner. Chick Corea : “Five Hundred Miles High” from Forever.
Randy Brecker: “All or Nothing at All” from The Jazz ballad Song Book
Ron Carter: “You Are My Sunshine” from This Is Jazz.
Fred Hersch: “Work” from Alone at the Vanguard.
Sonny Rollins: “Sunnymoon For Two: from Road Shows, Vol. 2.
Best Jazz Vocal album
Winner: Terri Lyne Carrington and Various Artists: The Mosaic Project.
Tierney Sutton Band: American Road
Karrin Allyson: ‘Round Midnight.
Kurt Elling: The Gate.
Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman.
Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Winner: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke & Lenny White. Corea, Clark & White.
Gerald Clayton: The Paris Sessions.
Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard.
Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs.
Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol.2
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Winner: Christian McBride Big Band. The Good Feeling.
Randy Brecker with the WDR Big Band: The Jazz Ballad Song Book.
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: 40 Acres and a Burro.
Gerald Wilson Orchestra; Legacy.
Miguel Zenon: Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook
Best Instrumental Arrangement
Winner: Gordon Goodwin: Rhapsody in Blue.
Peter Jensen: ‘All or Nothing At All” (for Randy Brecker with the GDR Big Band)
Clare Fischer: “In the Beginning: (from the Clare Fischer Big band’s Continuum.)
Bob Brookmeyer: “Nasty Dance.” (from the Vanguard Jazz Orchstra’s Forever Lasting).
Carlos Franzetti: “Song Without Words” (from Alborada).
Best Instrumental Composition
Winner: Bela Fleck and Howard Levy: “Life In Eleven” from Rocket Science.
John Hollenbeck: “Falling Men” from Shut Up and Dance.
Gordon Goodwin: “Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get Off My Lawn) from That’s How We Roll.
Randy Brecker: “I Talk To The Trees” from The Jazz Ballad Song Book.
Russell Ferrante: “Timeline” from Timeline.