A Welcome Reversal: Recording Academy Reinstates Latin Jazz GRAMMY
Some of us here might be inclined to think the decision was made just in time to coincide with The Autry’s Sizzling Summer Nights series, which starts in July. Well, no, but even so, musicians across the country on Friday rejoiced at news that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences‘ Board of Trustees has decided to reinstate Latin Jazz as a category in the GRAMMY awards.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Oscar Hernandez, the keyboardist and composer who heads the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and the L.A. Salsa All-Stars and who last year performed at the Autry. “It made my day to hear this news.”
The Board of Trustees last year opted to reduce the number of music categories it recognized with awards from 109 to 78. In the process, it eliminated many that were considered by some “niche music” but nevertheless had a devoted following among fans, pushing some of them into more generic “regional music” categories.
Among those that were rolled into a regional category were Cajun, Zydeco, Hawaiian and Native American music. Latin Jazz went away altogether.
“For me, I took the decision personally because they were talking about the music that I grew up with, the wonderful music that I had built my whole professional life around,” Hernandez said. “You go anywhere in the world and you can hear Latin Jazz played. For them to have made that decision then, it was disturbing. But today, it’s just the opposite.”
At the time of the decision, Native American artists like Bill Birdsong Miller, himself a three-time GRAMMY winner, complained that taking away that recognition rolled back a decade of progress in improving the musicianship and quality of the artists. It also hurt that artists were not consulted beforehand.
“We weren’t alerted to the fact that they were about to change our categories,” Miller said at the time. “We weren’t asked if it mattered to us. It just happened.”
The fate of other categories that were eliminated is unclear at the moment. With its announcement Friday, NARAS also added two new categories to the mix: a “classical compendium” award for classical music that incorporates non-classical elements, and an “urban contemporary album” category under the R&B field that is even more of a mash-up.
Hernandez believes that part of the reason Latin Jazz was reinstated was because the Latin Jazz community of musicians and fans was very vocal.
“I think that the biggest flak they got from anybody was from the Latin Jazz community,” said Hernandez, who himself made a point of voicing his complaints in e-blasts and at some public events. “I’m happy that if I played any small part in any way, that it helped bring this about. I know there was a movement to demonstrate against it, though sometimes I was scratching my head wondering why more people weren’t there at the events. Truth be told, the Board probably thought about it and said to themselves, ‘What were we thinking?’”
Hernandez said he wasn’t aware of the specific negotiations behind closed doors, though he did mention that, in a conversation with John Burk, an executive at Concord Music Group and a trustee, Burk intimated to him that the Board might be ready to revisit its decision because it might have made a mistake.
But Hernandez was less concerned Friday about the hows of the decision and was more interested in simply celebrating it.
“Latin Jazz crosses so many boundaries; music itself crosses so many boundaries,” he said. “This is a win for music in general.”