Monday, February 12, 2007

Grumbling About Grammy

It’s never more evident than during the broadcast portion of the Grammy Awards how poorly jazz is served by network television. As usual, no jazz categories were included in the televised section of the awards – no surprise, considering only about 10 categories are included – and only a small handful of the major contributors who died in the past year were included in the ‘In Memorium’ tribute. I can understand passing up Dewey Redman for Michael Brecker and Maynard Ferguson, but where was Jay McShann?

It was nice to see Ornette Coleman (surely the best-dressed in the audience) get recognized, but why force anyone his age to read the intro to the next awards? (Did you catch that he read his own name off the cue cards? You could almost hear him thinking, ‘Hey, someone else is called Ornette.’) It was left to Flea to give props by hanging a huge sign thanking Ornette over his bass amp and ensuring the camera caught it several times.

I can do without the forced, painful mash-ups between jazz musicians and pop or rock players NARAS or the producers deem more recognizable, but why are no jazz musicians drafted as presenters? The industry has so many articulate, funny, telegenic people, why not have Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride, Cassandra Wilson or Maria Schneider in place of Luke Wilson (where’s the musical connection?) or Christina Ricci (again, music?).

As with most televised awards shows, NARAS seems to have long ago lost sight of the purpose of doing something on this scale. When you sacrifice paying dues to those in your own industry who actually deserve it in favour of TV ratings – a mug’s game at any rate; last year the Grammy telecast lost out to American Idol – what’s the point? Say what you will about the Academy Awards, at least they have struck a nice balance between showcasing current box office draws and a reverence for the past. I think the closest we got last night was the inclusion of that clip of Ahmet Ertegun talking about the global influence of African American music.

Putting the jazz gripes aside… Three enduring mysteries of who gets Grammy airtime and what it says about the state of the music business: John Legend with his dodgy tonality, Rascal Flatts with their ‘80s-vintage guitarist and James Blunt, who seems to have gone farther using one chord than anyone since John Lee Hooker.

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