Wow. Again, not often I categorize a post in “the pissed-off file” and “jazz” at the same time. Twice in a year, it’s a damned record.
I just got word, via my friend D., that there is a class action suit happening right now over the fact that 28% of categories in the GRAMMY awards are eliminated.
Among the eliminated categories are Best Latin Jazz Album, and Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Old article link, but it outlines the cuts pretty nicely.
I’ll be frank, and call me an idealist if you will, but until I got wind of the class action suit, I just really did not think that they were going to go through with it. But they did. And I’m enraged, especially considering that contemporary jazz is out of the Grammy scene altogether with this cut.
First of all, let me bring up a point that has been a thorn in the side of pretty much every contemporary jazz lover, booking agent, and artist in the industry: contemporary jazz, or smooth jazz as the radio stations of yesteryear called it, is still a dirty word. It’s still a misnomer. It’s a misnomer that had bred plenty of stereotypes, and both the misnomer and the resulting stereotypes had already hurt the jazz world plenty.
Look around. Smooth jazz stations, which should by now have been featuring the new crop of artists, such as Jessy J (Latin-themed jazz, as it were, actually), Matt Marshak, or Elan Trotman, have been sold and have flipped their formats, and have done so at an alarming pace. Why? “There are no listeners!”. The venues that used to routinely book contemp artists either stop doing so, or completely stop advertising, and let the promo fall to the artist. Why? “Well, it’s smooth jazz, who of our regulars will come for it?” And give a contemporary album to a jazz aficionado, and you’re bound to hear, “Smooth jazz isn’t real jazz!” (My teeth were set on edge just typing that) The artist ends up working like a dog on their own marketing, and sometimes on their own booking, and rather than have it be the advertising gamut that it has originally been, the marketing of today’s new contemp jazz artist has shifted to become a quest to be taken seriously as a musician. And a Grammy award, in pretty much every genre across the musical spectrum, is seen as the holy grail of being taken seriously.
About 90% of the time, I get pissed when I tell people outside the music world that I write and do design for smooth jazz artists. Why? Because invariably, I get a reaction along the lines of, “Smooth jazz? You mean that music in the elevators? Ew, why would you do that?”
Because if people actually listened to smooth jazz, and by this I mean Road Warriors or South Beach Mambo by the Rippingtons, or Brooklyn Heights by Down to the Bone, the next sound after the last note cuts off will invariably be that of shattered preconceptions. I know it. The artists know it. But the people believe the stereotype of elevator music, and call it as such without even bothering to listen to it, and there’s nothing short of forcibly jamming the headphones on that would break it.
Let’s state another very obvious fact here. The audience is there. It’s loyal to the genre; every person who starts liking contemp and Latin jazz will stay with it, even despite the dead air on smooth jazz terrestrial radio. The artists are there, and new ones are willing to enter the genre, fully aware of the climate that they’re entering. And, as long as there are artists like Pat Metheny, Bob James, Larry Carlton, and the music and memories of the late, great, and amazing Grover, or groups like Spyro Gyra, the Rippingtons, and Fourplay to aspire to, the youngins will keep right on with their own music, working and perfecting it. And that’s why we have the current crop of musicians coming into play, most barely into their thirties, and bursting at the seams with talent and ideas, hoping that theirs will be unique enough, and acknowledged as such – key word here is acknowledged – to someday be considered as good as the artists that they themselves admire.
So really, the elimination of the contemp jazz and Latin jazz categories in the Grammy awards – ironically, two subgenres of jazz that allow for the most creative cross-genre mixing – the Grammy committee effectively sent a very clear slap in the artists’ faces, new and established, and affirmed the enduring and infuriating stereotype that a contemp jazz isn’t considered “real”. Bad enough that every corporate radio exec thinks that, bad enough that the listening public thinks that, but now the Grammy committee? That’s outright insulting. Tell me, then, what has Spyro Gyra been doing for 34 years? And Bob Baldwin, who had continuously pushed the creative envelope? And really, two words: Carlos Santana. Another two: Chick Corea. And another two: Lee Ritenour. They all have a slew of records, number-one hits, and enduring careers behind their belts. But the acclaim, acknowledgment, and respect for all those accomplishments? Just eliminated.
For a genre that’s been fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously, this has suddenly turned into a Sisyphean task. And last time I checked, the real world, while definitely harsh and difficult, was not the Greek mythical realm known as Hades.
Stop the madness.
Really. I know it’s all about the dollars, but these dollars have completely gone in the wrong direction. Considering that terrestrial radio has been losing listeners left and right, and not just in the smooth jazz genre, it’s pretty damn obvious that corporate radio had shot itself in the foot colossally. Instead of continuously fueling interest by having jazz artists – of all ages – give shows and seminars at colleges, which would have attracted a younger audience into the genre and kept the revenue sustained by the influx of the fresh blood, they decided to go for the easy way and sell the stations. And in the long run no one wins: the artists lose exposure and revenue, the quick-fix of money doesn’t last forever, and the younger audience is never even hinted to approach this genre.
And now, atop all of that, and atop the battle to be taken seriously, which right now even the established artists have to sometimes engage in, there’s an elimination of the Grammy categories. What gets me is that it’s been done under the guise of the Grammy becoming a “balanced and viable award.” (source: link above)
I can’t even give a snappy comeback to this. The Grammys have been steadily devolving into a glorified and televised popularity contest, if the uproar over Esperanza Spalding’s victory in the Best New Artist category this year is any indication. And it takes me everything I have not to point out that, honestly, the only thing Justin Bieber had going for him was the massive appeal to adolescent estrogen, and the reason I didn’t point that out at the time was that there was an actual uproar over the fact that an artist won based on pure talent, and part of the uproar was that the artist played jazz.
Look, we know. All of us: journalists, photographers, promoters, graphic designers, booking agents, musicians, venues, the remaining radio stations, online stations, even roadies – we all know that money’s what’s been talking, and the simple fact of people chasing money over doing what’s actually best for the music is what’s really been behind the decline in climate. But believe me when I say that some greedy bastages at the top deciding that they weren’t getting paid enough is not a good enough reason to shoot an entire genre of music in the foot. After all, hasn’t the sellout pattern at Seabreeze and Newport Beach proved in spades, year after year, that the genre is alive and kicking? I would think, just maybe, that if these many people are willing to flock across the country to see this music, that it’s a very viable market. If new artists, some of them fresh out of college, are entering this genre willingly, wouldn’t it be a sign to keep putting this genre into the spotlight?
The Grammy Award was the holy grail of musical acclaim for decades, and despite its obvious devolution, it still is considered as such.
Way to shoot two subgenres in the foot. Way to go.