The Grammys and all that jazz.

Nice stunt, Pink, but what's it got to do with music?

I used to play DJ for parties.  I’ve reviewed music since I was in college.  When I moved into my house the biggest and heaviest item I had was my record (yes, vinyl records) collection and I’ve interviewed a lot jazz artists over the course of my writing career.  So when  I was asked what I thought about The Grammy Awards all I had was a blank look.

Yes, I do love music.   The Grammy Awards are about entertainment.   They aren’t about music.

I don’t watch the Grammys.  I don’t care who wins the Grammys.   Is Sade showing up?  No?   Then I’m not interested.

Don’t care about the winners.  Don’t care about the losers.   Just don’t care.

In the immortal words of Public Enemy, Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?

The Grammys aren’t about music.   It’s about dressing up and being seen and pairing hot new kids with grizzled old vets even with the duets make no damn sense.    I’m told the highlight I missed out on was Pink singing “Glitter in the Air”  as she’s suspended in upside down in the air and doused with water.   I’ve since caught the video and it’s a cool stunt, but what if anything does it have to do wit music.   Was this Pink public try out for for Cirque Du Soleil or something?

One of my Facebook friends , a member of a well-known vocal group best described the spectacle of the Grammy Awards by asking,  “Do we have to climb on a rope and twirl around while singing Miles Davis??? I’m just asking!”

Jazz doesn’t fare very well at these award shows.   Yeah, Herbie Hancock cleaned up last year with his tribute to Joni Mitchell album, but typically jazz artists aren’t part of the television broadcast and barely get a mention.  The late Joe Zawinul won for the album 75, an album I enjoyed but wasn’t my choice for the best jazz release of the 2009.

My choice was a an album that didn’t even get a  nomination.   Jazz in the Garden by The Stanley Clarke Trio was my favorite contemporary jazz album of 2009.   Here’s what I had to say about it for All About

Is there a more prodigiously talented, but more annoyingly inconsistent artist than Stanley Clarke? A trip through the Clarke catalog reveals some brilliant masterpieces, many that are merely okay and a few that are bona fide turkeys. Doing things with an electric bass that no one else can, it’s precisely because he is so good that he has to keep restlessly experimenting to prevent becoming bored.

Rather than being bored on Jazz in the Garden, Clarke is at the top of his game. Reunited with Return to Forever compatriot/drummer Lenny White, Clarke sounds invigorated as he steps away from the electric excursions that made him the gold standard for awe-struck admirers, going unplugged for a joyous return to acoustic bass.

Clarke can call on just about any pianist in the world to join his trio, but chose Japanese-born and Berklee-trained Hiromi Uehara to tickle the ivories. Those who have followed the growth of her career will know Hiromi is an unexpected but completely appropriate choice for the trio. No junior member, she more than holds her own with her two veteran partners.

Taking the rhythm section from one of the premier bands of jazz-fusion and pairing it with Hiromi–a hard-charger head-turner capable of straight-ahead, hard bop and wildly avant-garde with equal aplomb–suggests there’s going to be fireworks. There are, but the simultaneous blend of traditional and modernistic is completely unexpected.

“Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008)” is a shout-out to Barack Obama’s victory. It may sound as though Clarke is playing electric bass at times, but he’s not cheating. He’s just so good that he’s able to squeeze sounds from an acoustic bass that sound electric.

Hiromi contributes two originals–the beautiful “Sicilian Blue” and boppish “Brain Training,” where White rides the cymbals while Clarke riffs along underneath her swinging piano. “Sakura Sakura” is a traditional Japanese ballad that gets an interesting rework.

“Global Tweak” is an improvised duet between Clarke and Hiromi and, despite their differences in age, culture (and height!), the artificial differences are swept away by two talented musicians just jamming and going where the music takes them.

Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane” features White’s drums splashing and banging brightly. Equally impressive is Joe Henderson’s “Isotope,” Clarke’s tribute to his old employer and Miles Davis’ “Solar.” Hiromi’s playing on Clarke’s “3 Wrong Notes” makes clear that she’s one of the most interesting young lions in jazz today.

What’s a Red Hot Chili Peppers song doing on an acoustic jazz trio boasting compositions by Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Joe Henderson? Fitting in quite nicely, courtesy of Hiromi’s rearrangement. Like Clarke, Hiromi isn’t easily pigeonholed into tidy categories, and has reworked rock ‘n’ roll into jazz motifs before with Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots” on Beyond Standard (Telarc, 2008).

Jazz in the Garden is an unexpected surprise that makes for superb listening. It is highly recommended, both for Clarke fans and those looking for a reason to become one.

The Stanley Clarke Trio at work, but getting no play.

I hope no one thinks this is a middle-age man ranting about  Lady GaGa, Taylor Swift or Beyonce not being as good as the music acts I grew up with.   I recognize the Grammys celebrate what’s popular.   That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be good—and it never was about what’s good.  One-and-done hit wonders like Milli Friggin’ Vanilli got nominated and The Starland Vocal Band walked away with a Best New Artist award, so who associates the Grammys with long, distinguished careers or actual talent?  Not me.

Jazz accounts for a tiny part of  music industry sales.  Jazz artists play clubs, not stadiums.  When Quincy Jones decides it’s time to record a new version of “We Are the World” he invites Taylor Swift and Lil’ Wayne, not George Duke and Branford Marsalis.    You don’t get more steeped in jazz than “Q” but he knows when you want to sell something you keep jazz far, far away from the proceedings.

If someone finds the Grammys a fun time, I’m cool with it.   Just don’t try to sell me on the idea that they mean a damn thing because they don’t.

One thought on “The Grammys and all that jazz.

  1. I used to occasionally glance in the Grammy’s direction for the sole purpose of making fun of them, but even that stopped being fun decades ago. How can you you make fun of them giving Jethro Tull a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal? They are so self-satirizing that there’s nothing left to work with.


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