Does anyone remember how fulfilling the Grammy Awards were last year for jazz fans? Of course we never get to see the jazz awards given away on television, but the recordings and artists who won the awards last year was certainly something to get excited about. The late great tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker takes home two Grammy awards posthumously, one for an album that could be the best jazz release of the last 25 years. Herbie Hancock takes home an award in the “Contemporary Jazz Album” category, legitimizing the category and keeping the trophy out of the hands of smooth jazz artists. Trumpeter Terrance Blanchard took home an award in the big band category for his emotional Requiem for Katrina release, and Patti Austin and Paquito D’ Rivera each receive Grammys for excellent work in the vocal and Latin jazz fields.
And then when the televised portion of the program arrived, a time dedicated almost solely to rappers, rock stars, and country singers, two fantastic things happened. Pianist Eldar took the stage and wowed the audience. And as the ceremonies came to a close, Herbie Hancock stunned the music world by taking top Grammy honors, while artists like Kanye West had to keep their respective seats.
Following the Grammy Awards, the sales of Herbie’s album shot up over 800 percent. Jazz, to at least some degree, had been put back on the mainstream map.
Then last night, the nominations for the awards given for work over the last year were released. While no one might expect a year for jazz like 2007 again for a long time, the nominations this time around, with a few exceptions, left a lot to be desired.
The Yellowjackets (a band who has tried to label themselves as everything but a smooth jazz band, even with the likes of Robben Ford and Bob Mintzer passing through, are simply that, a smooth jazz band), arrive back on the nomination board for the Contemporary Album award. In the vocal category, Karrin Allyson, Stacey Kent and Cassandra Wilson all get nods, but for albums that all might sound a little too similar to recordings they have released in previous years.
Some very respectable nominations go to Terrance Blanchard in the Instrumental Solo division, a nomination each to Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny in the Instrumental Album category, and Joe Lovano for his recording with the WDR Big Band and Rudfunk Orchestra in the Big Band division. These are all deserving recordings that should take home awards, with a coin toss deciding the winner between Metheny and Mehldau.
The best album of the year happens to be missing from the list, that being Roy Hargrove’s live release Earfood. Hargrove is a musician who seems to keep getting better and better when it seems not possible, and with respect for the other nominees, Earfood dwarfs any jazz album released in the last 12 months.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that any of the nominated recordings aren’t good, because they most certainly are. I suppose I feel that maybe its similar to receiving a brand new car for Christmas in 2007, and then in 2008 receiving a gift of a nice pair of pants. While not a bad gift at all, it just doesn’t compare to how spoiled we were last year.
This poses the question: Will we ever be as spoiled as we were last year? Will the public ever have the same buzz about jazz as they did after watching the Grammy Awards last year? I suppose that is up to the musicians and the nominating committee, so we shall see.
On an interesting note, Miles Davis was nominated for a Grammy this year…sort of…for Best Album Notes. Francis Davis, the writer of the liner notes for the 50th Anniversary release of Kind of Blue appears to be the likely candidate in the Album Notes category.