A year after the Recording Academy ignited a firestorm of protest in portions of the jazz and Latin communities by eliminating its Grammy Award category for Latin jazz music, the category has been reinstated as part of annual award revisions that also include two new categories and more changes in other areas of music industry recognition.
A coalition of jazz artists and Latin community activities sued the Recording Academy in an attempt to rescind the changes, but a New York judge dismissed the suit in April. This week’s announcement of category revisions by the academy’s board of trustees is being greeted by affected members as akin to losing a battle but winning the war.
“This member of the community is thrilled,” veteran Latin jazz musician Bobby Matos said Friday. “Restoring this category is a huge step in giving us some dignity and some respect.”
Musicians including Carlos Santana, Paul Simon and Playboy Jazz Festival emcee Bill Cosby were among the celebrities who joined the outcry against the elimination of the Latin jazz category.
Despite the lawsuit, which Recording Academy President Neil Portnow described this week as “distracting” and a significant expense to the group, Portnow had said the board would continue to evaluate the relevance of various categories when it met to consider ongoing revisions.
Last year’s dramatic changes resulted in a net reduction of 31 categories, from 109 to 78. Many of the changes came in niche categories of jazz, classical music, folk, roots and R&B. This year, awards will be distributed in 81 categories.
“With the focus squarely on ensuring the awards process is pertinent within the current musical landscape, the Board of Trustees continues to demonstrate its passionate commitment to keeping the Recording Academy a relevant and responsive organization in our dynamic music community," Portnow said in a statement issued Friday.
"Every year, we diligently examine our awards structure, including evaluating proposals, to develop an overall guiding vision and ensure that it remains a balanced and viable process, as well as maintains the prestige of the highest and only peer-recognized award in music,” Portnow’s statement said.
That philosophy was at the heart of Latin jazz enthusiasts’ protests over last year’s move.
“Jazz is a niche music, and Latin jazz is more of a niche music,” Matos said. “The public perceives the Grammy Awards to be the recording industry’s awards of excellence, and that’s what they were meant to be. How can you do anything meaningful as an artist if your category of music is not recognized? Millions of people don’t know what Latin jazz is, and if they don’t find out from the Grammys, how are they ever going to know about it?”
“Latin jazz is the original world music, as far as I’m concerned,” Matos said. “It has elements of jazz, of Italian romantic music, of English country dances, of African American blues and African gospel music. It’s truly a world music — not just Latin music.
“I’m so happy,” he said. “We don’t go into Latin jazz to make a lot of money. We do it out of passion and love. That’s the only reason.”
The other changes in the Latin field are the split of the Latin pop, rock or urban album Grammy into two awards: Latin pop and Latin rock, urban or alternative album; additionally, separate awards for banda or norteño album and regional Mexican or Tejano album are being merged into a new category for regional Mexican music album (including Tejano).
Also new for next year’s Grammy Awards ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 10 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Recording Academy’s board has added a “classical compendium” award to recognize classical albums that incorporate some pop or other nonclassical elements; and a new “urban contemporary album” category under the R&B field for “artists whose music includes the more contemporary elements of R&B and may incorporate production elements found in urban pop, urban europop, urban rock, and urban alternative.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Latin jazz musician Bobby Sanabria, shown here arriving for the Grammy ceremony in 2008, was part of a group that sued the Recording Academy last year for eliminating the Latin jazz Grammy Awards category. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press