Latin jazz fights way back into Grammy Awards line-up
By Mesfin Fekadu , AP
June 10, 2012, 12:21 am TWN
NEW YORK A--year after the Grammy Awards cut 31 categories, sparking protests and a lawsuit by Latin jazz musicians, the music organization has made more changes by adding three awards, including the reinstatement of best Latin jazz album.
The Recording Academy announced Friday in a statement to The Associated Press that the upcoming Grammys will feature 81 categories. It reduced the number from 109 to 78 last year.
New entries include awards for best urban contemporary album — to honor R&B albums that may include elements of pop and rock — and best classical compendium to highlight albums "involving a mixture of classical subgenres."
The Academy shook up the music industry when it announced in April 2011 that it would downsize its categories to make the awards more competitive. That meant eliminating categories by sex, so men and women compete in the same vocal categories.
But it also eliminated other niche fields and created broader ones.
Some artists protested the change and others — including Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon and Bill Cosby — complained. The group that filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed in April, was led by Bobby Sanabria, the Grammy-nominated Latin jazz musician who accused the Academy of not following the proper procedures to implement the changes. Part of the class-action lawsuit called for the reinstatement of the best Latin jazz album award.
That award was consolidated, making Latin jazz musicians compete against a larger group of artists in the best jazz instrumental category at the 54th Grammys, which were held in February.
"Every year we want to look at these objectively and make a good musical decision and not be influenced by politics and pressure," Neil Portnow, the president and CEO of the Recording Academy, said in an interview. "I will say it's incredibly unfortunate that a very small group chose to voice their discontent with a lawsuit that had no basis."
He continued: "Not only is it distracting from a time standpoint, but it costs a great deal of money to have to defend something that we knew was completely defensible."
The new decisions were made at the Academy's annual Board of Trustees meeting last month.
Roger Maldonado, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sanabria and others, said he was elated at the reinstatement of the Latin jazz category.
"I want to thank the academy for having the maturity to make the decision despite a yearlong fight," he said. While Maldonado had filed notice of appeal for the lawsuit, he expected the legal battle would now end.
"We didn't sue for money; we sued for reinstatement of the award. That has happened I see no reason for continuing the lawsuit," he said. "Instead my clients can stop worrying about this and instead focus on preparing and recording music for consideration of the Latin jazz award."
Other changes include splitting up the best Latin pop, rock or urban album honor into two awards, now known as best Latin pop album and best Latin rock, urban or alternative album. However, the best Banda or Norteno album and best regional Mexican or Tejan album have been combined into one award: best regional Mexican music album.
Portnow says a number of proposals were filed, noting that "the volume was definitely up" this year compared to past ones.
"I don't hold anything against the Latin jazz community for the passion that they have for their music," he said. "The (Latin jazz) community put a good proposal together this year, and we see the results of that."
Maldonado said he hoped that the academy would reconsider the reinstatement at other categories at some point as well. But he called the decisions a victory for his clients.
"For them, it's vindication not of the lawsuit but of their belief in the music, which is wonderful," he said.
The 55th Grammy Awards will air on CBS on Feb. 10.