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Grammy Awards: Esperanza Spalding's win adds up to big night for jazz -- mostly


The Grammys aren’t well known for the good kind of surprises, frankly, but when Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist there were reports of an audible gasp hitting the floor of Staples Center. Handicapped as the winner by only the most optimistic jazz fans, Spalding's nomination was supposed to be reward enough in a field crowded with pop stars such as Drake and Justin Bieber (whose outraged fans took to vandalizing Spalding's Wikipedia page in frustration).

One prominent New York City jazz writer even Twitter-pledged to "go out and make a snow angel naked" if Spalding came away with a win (he's a bourbon-fortified man of his word, though no one begrudges a few wardrobe concessions for safety reasons--it's really cold back there). In short, the jazz community is undeniably and deservedly giddy in enjoying a great moment for the music. The most deserving and adventurous choice won, and she's a jazz musician through and through.

Yet it's hard not to feel a little frustrated. Spalding's performance during the show came with a collection of talented high school students, which would have been great had "Glee's" Matthew Morrison and the Recording Academy's Neil Portnow not been talking about MusiCares the entire time.

Seeing jazz relegated to background music was disappointing, even for a show that doesn't have a reputation for being "about the music" in the first place. With so many viewers (and Bieber fans) answering Spalding's win with a shocked "Who?," a great Grammy moment could've been even greater had Spalding been given an adequate chance to answer.

Still, this feels a little like quibbling on a night when jazz -- and Spalding -- enjoyed a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. The only concern now is that supposed "Best New Artist" curse that seems to come along with such a win, but given all Spalding has shown up to now, she shouldn't have much to worry about.

"For me this is the beginning of the beginning," Spalding said backstage when asked about her win. "Hopefully on the 30th album, I win something that’s just as beautiful."

-- Chris Barton


Esperanza Spalding, liberation fighter for jazz

Photo: Esperanza Spalding during rehearsal for 53rd Grammy Awards. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.


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I'm sure Esperanza Spalding is outstanding, but like most people, I'd never heard of her until now. In her case, the Grammy serves a real purpose, since a huge number of us will now give her a listen, maybe buy her music on iTunes or other downloader and she'll sell some CD's too! No complaints about her win. BUT it raises a question about the Grammys and especially the "universal" awards (those not tied to a specific genre). Are these awards supposed to be an artistic judgement? Are they a measure of commercial success in a given year (reaching the largest audience)? In the case of "Best New Artist", is the award supposed to be a predictor of future success? Are the awards supposed to indicate proficiency of performance in a specific genre? Or are many of them largely political within the recording industry? My last question seems relevant in this category, since love her or hate her, Ke$ha should have been among the nominees. I wouldn't argue about art, but her commercial success means that she struck a certain chord or provided something in her music that enough people liked to make her one of the most commercially artists of 2010. Probably more than Justin Bieber or maybe even Lady GaGa. Like I said she deserved, at least, a nomination.

I'm so glad she won..she along with Mumford & Sons and Florence & the Machine were my picks to win. It's great that jazz is getting some Grammy love in the top categories. Hell, I didn't even bemoaned Herbie Hancock's win for Album of the Year for The Joni Letters...a long overdue recognition for jazz. But it's also a shame that the Grammys either does not showcase any jazz artist or just briefly does on the awards show. The Grammys is supposed to be about celebrating many genres of music. So it's only fitting that it should showcase some of those genres on its show.


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