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JAZZ | Spotlight

Only Six Categories, but Many More Honors

February 18, 2001|DON HECKMAN | Don Heckman writes frequently about jazz for The Times

Jazz isn't always where you might expect to find it in the Grammys. When the statuettes are doled out Wednesday, a number of jazz and jazz-related artists are going to receive the honors, even though they haven't been nominated in one of the six principal jazz categories.

How can that be? Well, it's probably because it's a little hard to confine jazz talent, with all its far-ranging capabilities, within groupings that only honor limited areas of expression--in this case, jazz performance. So, without specific jazz categories for composition and arranging--despite their vital role in the creation and expression of the music--worthy efforts tend to drift into other areas, primarily the composing and arranging field.

Take the best instrumental composition category, for example. Two film-theme nominations--for James Newton Howard's score for "Dinosaur" (Walt Disney Music) and John Williams' score for "Angela's Ashes" (Sony Classical)--are the only non-jazz entries. The three remaining items all have strong jazz linkages: "Round Robin," by Paul McCandless, and "The Templars," by Ralph Towner, which can both be traced to the group Oregon's intriguing collaboration with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra; and Gordon Goodwin's "Sing, Sang, Sung" from the "Big Phat Band" (Silverline). The Oregon/Moscow Symphony effort, "Oregon in Moscow" (Intuition), a logistically difficult two-CD project, nonetheless resulted in some impressive music. Recorded in Moscow in 1999, it felicitously couches Oregon's velvety soft jazz style in a lush, orchestral embrace. Goodwin's "Sing, Sang, Sung"--an updated rendering of the Benny Goodman big band classic "Sing, Sing, Sing"--is the heated opening track of an imaginative collection of big band originals featuring soloists such as clarinetist Eddie Daniels and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

The best instrumental arrangement category is even more jazz- inclusive, with Jorge Calandrelli's arrangement of "The Summer Knows/Estate" for Ettore Stratta's album "As Time Goes By" (Teldec) the only non-jazz entry. The Oregon/Moscow Symphony collaboration and Goodwin's Big Phat Band are present here as well. McCandless' "Round Robin" receives a second nomination, and Goodwin is acknowledged for his rendering of "Bach 2 Part Invention in D minor." The Bach will be familiar to almost anyone who has taken piano lessons as one of the melodically roving pieces in his collection of two-part inventions. In Goodwin's hands, it becomes a hard-swinging big band outing, especially noteworthy for a stunning saxophone section passage.

Also nominated in the category: Chick Corea's "Spain" from his album "Corea Concerto" (Sony Classical), a lush and rhythmic setting of one of Corea's most justifiably well-known works; and Jim McNeely's "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (DaCapo), yet another take on contemporary big band writing, in this case uniquely appealing because of the high-quality playing of the Danish Radio Orchestra.

The final category in the composing and arranging field is best arrangement accompanying a vocalist. Pop music pretty much dominates here, with Vince Mendoza receiving two nominations for his orchestral charts for the Joni Mitchell "Both Sides Now" album (Reprise). Calandrelli also repeats with his arrangement of "Dream" from "As Time Goes By," and Mendoza shares another nomination with Bjork and Guy Sigsworth for "I've Seen It All" from Bjork's "Selmasongs" (Elektra).

But a jazz nomination slips in here, as well, via Nnenna Freelon's arrangement of "Button Up Your Overcoat" from her album "Soulcall" (Concord). And it's a good one, in which Freelon has set the familiar DeSylva, Brown & Henderson standard in a bright, rhythmic framework.

The fact that these impressive outings--any one of which would make a deserving winner--have surfaced in the composing/arranging field doesn't alter the fact that the academy is remiss in not having any sort of composition or arranging categories in the jazz field. It obviously makes no sense to measure film-score composing and arranging against jazz efforts; the goals of each are simply too different to be comparable. Nor is it fair to measure the needs of a small ensemble jazz recording (Freelon's) against the requirements of a full orchestra pop setting (the Mitchell/Mendoza album).

But jazz appearances outside the jazz nominations don't stop there. Last year, of course, Diana Krall took a major step beyond the genre when her "When I Look in Your Eyes" was nominated for the prestigious album of the year award. She didn't win (although she did score for the jazz vocal album Grammy), but the nomination represented a significant breakout for a jazz recording.

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