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JAZZ : Message to Grammy: A Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Please

February 23, 1992|LEONARD FEATHER | Leonard Feather is The Times' jazz critic

Like classical music, jazz has always been a Cinderella of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the organization that awards the Grammys. As an art form that does not generate tremendous sales, jazz has been continually shortchanged by the academy--both in the voting and in its yearly TV shows, in which the winners are announced.

This year, the academy has once again seen fit to denigrate jazz to second-class citizenship--despite the plans to include Dave Grusin, Gary Burton, Eddie Daniels, John Patitucci and others playing a lengthy Gerswhin medley on the telecast Tuesday. Categories that stood alone in the past have been unnecessarily combined, and many worthwhile artists have been ignored.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that I am a former, and disaffected, member of the academy. After resigning many years ago, I was later talked into rejoining, when some members convinced me that I "could do more work from the inside." This turned out not to be the case, and when a few years ago jazz was totally left out of the TV broadcast, I quit again.

The main problem this year is that all three jazz vocal categories--male, female and group--which formerly were separate entities, have now been lumped together into one: best jazz vocal performance. To make matters worse, single tracks have been put in direct competition with entire albums.

As a result, single tracks by Mel Torme and Natalie Cole are vying with albums by Take Six and Manhattan Transfer, though these entries have virtually nothing in common stylistically and clearly belong in distinct categories.

Additionally, many worthwhile projects were left out of the nominations. For example, Carmen McRae's excellent Sarah Vaughan tribute, "Dedicated to You," was an admirable follow-up to her memorable 1990 album of Thelonious Monk tunes, but the Vaughan album was not nominated.

The category best contemporary jazz performance is another anomaly. By and large, it is supposed to represent jazz-fusion--it was known as "best jazz-fusion performance" before being changed this year--though the nominations of singer Bobby McFerrin and Manhattan Transfer would hardly seem to fit into that slot. Since all currently performed jazz is ipso facto "contemporary," this category should be abolished.

Two other jazz categories--best instrumental performance, group, and best instrumental solo--overlap so badly that at least one nominee shows up in both slots. David Sanborn is nominated for his album "Another Hand" in the first category and for a track from that album in the solo category.

Logical choices here, either for group or solo, would have been Stan Getz's "Serenity" (the album, not a single track), Tommy Flanagan's "Beyond the Bluebird" and Tom Harrell's "Form." Again, these albums were not selected by the general academy membership, whose votes decide not only the nominations but also the ultimate winners.

Albums by Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation band were rightly included as nominees for best large jazz ensemble. However, among the noticeable omissions was the important Miles Davis-Michel Legrand collaboration for the soundtrack album of the film "Dingo."

Also left out, possibly because it is on a label that is not widely distributed, was the Clayton-Hamilton band's "Heart and Soul," released on Capri Records. This is arguably the best big band to arrive in the past few years.

Jazz reissues also deserve a separate category to make room for such masterpieces as Billie Holiday's "The Legacy" and Duke Ellington's "Small Groups, Volume One," both on Columbia.

Finally, it's pathetic that while new categories emerge for rap, gospel, etc., the jazz scene at the academy continues to shrink.

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