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Absence Of Jazz Protested : Musicians Put Whammy On Grammys

March 12, 1985|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

March is dues-renewal month for the Los Angeles chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, but several jazz musicians are tossing their $45 renewal notices in the nearest trash can.

Their response to the absence of jazz from last month's televised Grammy show could lead to a new "jazz Grammys" TV special in 1986.

There's even talk of creating an entirely new music-industry association, devoted to boosting jazz the way the Country Music Assn. promotes its favorite sounds. The new association would be separate from NARAS, the umbrella organization that purports to represent all aspects of American music.

The revolt against the recording academy was triggered when the 27-year-old association failed to feature any jazz performances in last month's CBS Grammy Awards television special.

Monday, jazz fans were extolling the virtues of a segment on ABC's "Night of 100 Stars II," a three-hour Sunday evening onslaught of celebrities that featured song and instrumental performances by several leading jazz musicians. In addition to Al Jarreau, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme, the performers included 1984 Grammy award-winner Joe Williams, who made no appearance at all on the Grammy show.

Even though his album "Nothin' But the Blues" had given the 68-year-old jazz singer his first Grammy in a career that had spanned more than 40 years, Williams was denied the stage by CBS executives in favor of pop and rock performers.

"It was a kind of national indecency," bass player Mike Palter said. " 'The Night of 100 Stars II' is what should have happened on the Grammys show.

"We are not saying kick Cyndi Lauper or Prince off the air, but to have them on to the detriment of other kinds of music is a travesty."

For jazz musicians like Palter, it was the final indignity, climaxing years of jazz playing second fiddle to pop and rock.

Vibraphonist Terry Gibbs said the three-hour CBS Grammy special had descended to the level of "a rock video with no-talent people."

"You can't change the American public's taste for garbage," said Gibbs. "This year, we had eight untalented people dominating the entire show.

"We have Cyndi Lauper with whatever color hair she has this particular night, and Prince with his sissy whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Now, after putting on four no-talent freak acts, why not make the fifth act, say, Ella Fitzgerald? Sneak in Dizzy Gillespie. Do something classy. The viewing public won't know the difference and maybe they'll learn something about good music."

Virtually every musical genre, from classical to gospel, was represented in the nationally telecast musical performances. Tina Turner, Prince, Chaka Khan and Lauper were among the pop/rock artists who performed.

But the only recognized jazz musician who took the stage was Herbie Hancock, who joined pop-rock figures Stevie Wonder, Thomas Dolby and Howard Jones in an instrumental synthesizer performance.

Despite the mutiny mood of some of his peers, bass player Palter told The Times that he intends to express his own outrage within the academy. He is organizing a picketing demonstration outside the Toluca Lake Tennis Club next Tuesday, where Pierre Cossette, the Grammy Awards TV producer, is to be honored at a noon luncheon.

"I feel that, to drop out and start a different organization would be to surrender the stage to the Philistines. Why surrender the platform?" Palter said.

The recording academy, best known for its annual televised presentation of the Grammy show--the musical equivalent of the Oscars--defended its TV special and downplayed the dissent among its 6,000 members.

"Because NARAS has about 52 performance categories in various fields of music, it is impossible to represent each individual field within the allotted time of the TV show," said NARAS spokesman Ian Dove. "But to suggest that NARAS is cold-shouldering an important American art form--jazz--is simply at odds with the facts."

The Burbank-based organization did take the threat seriously enough to issue a formal press release, sent out Friday, to counter any perceived snub to jazz among its membership:

"Jazz and jazz performers have been a regular feature on the annual Grammy awards TV show every year since 1977, with the exception of this year's show," according to the release.

Performances during the last eight years have included such artists as Miles Davis, Al Jarreau, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson and, last year, Wynton Marsalis.

"The list of Grammy jazz performers is being released by NARAS following comments made in the press regarding the lack of jazz on this year's TV show and the attitude of the academy toward jazz in general," the release continued.

Dove pointed out that, of the 67 categories for which Grammys are awarded, seven are allotted to jazz. There are four pop and four rock categories, while rhythm and blues is represented by five categories.

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