Tuesday, February 21 2012

Chick Corea big winner at Grammys

Written by  Ron Wynn
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Chick CoreaChick Corea is big winner at the Grammy Awards
By Ron Wynn

Pianist Chick Corea earned multiple honors at the 54th Grammy Awards ceremonies in Los Angeles last week, but his victories were overshadowed by an ongoing, unresolved controversy. This year's decision by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) to trim the number of categories from 109 to 78 has left another bad taste in many musician's mouths. The television show had already purged from the performing lineup any jazz or blues musicians. The Academy's latest decision reduced the number of winners in the jazz ranks from six to four. The Latin jazz and Contemporary Jazz awards were eliminated. They also consolidated the blues field, abolishing the traditional and contemporary categories. These were folded into one Best Blues Album setting. While a number of high profile types, including past winners Herbie Hancock and Paul Simon protested the decision, NARAS insists there are no plans to restore any awards that no longer exist.


As a point of disclosure, I've been a Grammy voter since the late '80s. But I no longer watch the show because it has become just another pop spectacle, and not even an  interesting one. But I also cognizant of what winning a Grammy can mean to a career, which is why I still participate in the voting. Interestingly, Corea won in two categories where my choice was Sonny Rollins. These were Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Both were for the LP "Forever," which also featured his Return To Forever comrades bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White.  Sonny Rollins' "Road Shows, Vol. 2"  was the superior release in my view, but it lost twice.


My choices dovetailed with voters in the other two categories. Teri Lyne Carrington's all-star session "The Mosaic Project" adeptly merged contemporary and classic forms. It contains songs that were commercial without being predictable. Carrington is among a handful of young jazz musicians simultaneously operating in the traditional/mainstream and pop/smooth jazz worlds. Though he's also done some crossover dates, ace bassist Christian McBride's Big Band release displayed his talents in a new role. McBride not only provided his usual robust, steadfast bass work, he supervised a collective group full of strong soloists. They earned Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album honors.

The lone Blues release recognized was "Revelator" by the Tedeschi Trucks Band. My choice there was Greg Allman's "Low Dirty Blues." It not only had super renditions of vintage tracks, but also Allman's best singing and playing in decades.  Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are tremendous players and a wonderful couple on and off the bandstand. But this choice also reflects the primacy of blues-rockers now within the category.  The merger in the blues world means albums from historic blues figures like Pinetop Perkins or James Cotton are now competing with releases from acts much better known by NARAS' pop/rock wing. It also means those performers working on the soulful blues/Southern Soul end of the spectrum face even longer odds in terms of getting Grammy recognition.

There's not a whole lot more that can be said about the Grammys, at least nothing positive. The show was once a genuine celebration of American music. Certainly the year's most popular acts were still on center stage. But the show found ways to include performances from its legends in multiple genres. Seeing a youthful Wynton Marsalis playing jazz and classical music, or Nnenna Freelon singing with gusto, or B.B. King performing on Lucille were moments where the program was a cultural service. Today CBS is interested only in ratings, and demographics, and any act deemed "noncommercial" isn't going to get on the airwaves.

The jazz world has its own set of awards given out by the Jazz Journalists' Association. The blues presents the Blues Awards show. A good alternative would be to combine these. Another option would be for the jazz press (Jazz Times, DownBeat, Jazziz) to take the lead in making the Jazz Journalists Association ceremony a major celebration.. A program could be arranged on a channel like Ovation. It could serve as a spotlight on memorable and significant events, personalities and releases in jazz over a predetermined calendar year. Likewise, the Blues Awards Show needs to be on TV, or satellite radio at the very least.

While I definitely support the efforts of those artists who continue protesting NARAS' decision, something else also need to be done. It is time for jazz and blues to have their own awards programs. These could recognize the achievements of its top performers just as country, Americana and gospel have done for years. It's pretty obvious now the networks aren't going to do it.

Last modified on Saturday, 01 June 2013 14:01
Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn

Ron is a noted jazz journalist, and also writes for the Nashville Scene and ArtsNash.com. He is also a frequent contributor to DownBeat and JazzTimes. Ron's interests range far and wide, so you'll be seeing reviews, features, and columns on the entire spectrum of jazz and blues music.

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