“Adding further fuel to the fire, NARAS announced late last night that the use of “Minor Chords or any chord that would be a ‘breach of the peace’ is prohibited in any song or arrangement submitted for Grammy Consideration”. Bob Belden
“It’s like the old conquer and divide scenario. Except here it’s eliminate and conquer.” Bobby Sanabria
On Wednesday, April 6, 2011 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) announced the restructuring of the Grammy Award categories in order to “tighten and create a parallel structure among the various fields.” According to Ben Sisario of the New York Times, “The restructuring was a response to longstanding criticism in the music industry that too many categories were diluting the Grammy’s impact.”
A thorough review of the awards process began two years ago however, after the most recent Grammy telecast, Stephen Stoute, an industry insider, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, reproaching NARAS for “being out of touch with pop tastes.” Stoute’s comments were a reaction to bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding’s surprising win over teen idol, Justin Bieber for Best New Artist.
Since the first Grammy Award ceremony in 1959, the categories have swelled from twenty-eight (28) to one hundred and nine (109), including multiple categories within a genre. The restructuring brings the total number of categories down to seventy-nine (79), with four popular categories among Latinos in the Southwest and California – Banda Norteño, Tejano and Regional Mexican – merged into two categories. In addition, NARAS eliminated the Latin Jazz category altogether, citing that the genre consistently received, “low entries” (anything less than forty (40) entries is not considered an adequate number to be eligible).
While there is some truth to the fact that the Grammy Awards have lost their luster, the elimination of the Latin Jazz category demonstrates the degree to which NARAS is out of touch with Latinos and Latin music. According to producer George Rivera, a long-time member of NARAS, “One thing is for sure, since the musical marriage between Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, the genre has grown by leaps and bounds, and has become something different and apart from its older counterparts such as Swing, Bebop, Hardbop and Fusion. For the academy to force Latin Jazz into a more general category comprised of artists within the jazz field is an injustice to all jazz artists, who will now be forced to compete not only against those in their style, but against those in all styles.”
The elimination of the Latin Jazz category sent shockwaves throughout the Latin music community and the reaction by artists and their colleagues in the music business has been swift. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by knee-jerk backlash reactions against Latinos and Latino culture in the United States,” said producer, percussionist and educator, John Santos, “I’ve been nominated five times since 2003 in various categories including Latin Jazz (now eliminated), and Traditional World (now eliminated). Some of the cuts make sense to me, such as the gender categories, but the majority of the cuts are counterintuitive and counter-productive, and the decisions to “illegitimize” Latin Jazz and relegate World Music to one category are especially ill-advised. Who made these decisions? How does this serve the field? ”
For the record, the categories are reviewed each year by the Academy Awards & Nominating Committee and the final approval is the responsibility of the Academy’s Trustees and the Board of Governors.
Since the restructuring was announced NARAS has been harshly criticized for catering to the interests of television and major record labels, discriminating against ethnic minorities and failing to consult with its voting members. As a way of countering the bad publicity, Neil Portnow, the President of NARAS is taking his show on the road and meeting with the Recording Academy’s twelve regional chapters in New York Atlanta, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas and Washington, D.C.
The Recording Academy’s first stop was New York, where artists such as, Bobby Sanabria, Eddie Palmieri, Brian Lynch, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Chris Wasburne, videographer Alfie Alvarado and Jochem Becker, the President of Zoho Music, strongly voiced their opposition.
In an official statement by the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, pianist, bandleader and educator, Arturo O’ Farrill stated “a multitude of categories have been eliminated or restructured, with NARAS often citing low submissions. We think that NARAS is shortsighted in these decisions, lumping styles together in a manner that reflects a lack of supposed ‘diligent research, careful analysis, and thoughtful discussion’ on the distinctions between these various genres. Ostensibly, the reason for the GRAMMY award is to recognize excellence in art. This seems to us like an abandonment of artistic goals.”
Perhaps the most impassioned plea came from pianist and nine-time Grammy Award winner, Eddie Palmieri. According to El Maestro, “In 1993 I was appointed Governor of the New York Chapter of NARAS where I worked diligently to have the Latin Jazz category become recognized, and it was with great happiness that I saw it come to fruition in 1994. And now it is with a heavy heart that I have seen its elimination and truly fear its slow and permanent extinction. Let me be clear: we have been discredited, we have been discarded and we are being wiped out.”
Currently, there are a number of petitions circulating and members of the Latin music community throughout the U.S. have written letters of protest. In addition, members of regional chapters throughout the U.S. are organizing and preparing to meet with NARAS to voice their opposition.
“Latin Jazz is a legitimate American art form that has parallel history with jazz as well as the distinction of being totally exploited commercially on TV and in film for over half a century, while simultaneously being marginalized by the mainstream money makers,” says John Santos. “While our country is in an unprecedented state of Latino demographics and multi-culturalism, NARAS and the GRAMMYS are moving backwards and embracing the anti-immigrant sentiment that is being promoted by certain sectors.”
The elimination of the Latin Jazz category holds tremendous implications for the future of Latin Jazz and the artists who create it. The act of eliminating the Latin Jazz category without any form of outreach or consulting with its voting members should serve as a clarion call to everyone who appreciates the artistry of Machito and his Afro Cubans, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, Willie Bobo, Poncho Sanchez, Bobby Matos, Manny Oquendo and Libre, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, Bobby Sanabria, Eddie Palmieri, Chico O’ Farrill, Arturo O’ Farrill, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Chucho Valdes, John Santos, Papo Vazquez, Hilton Ruiz, Miguel Zenon, Andy Gonzalez and countless others.
Make your voices heard by organizing letter campaigns, signing petitions and meeting and speaking with NARAS at the regional meetings. We urge you to join Latin Jazz Network by directing your concerns to: Neil Portnow, CEO and Executive Director of NARAS at: Neil@grammy.com; Vickie Palmer: Vickie@grammy.com; LindaW@grammy.com.
Read the Special Report – Grammy Awards Category Restructuring at:
A Grammy Scar: YouTube Video of New York Regional Chapter Meeting