Esperanza Spalding poses backstage with the award for best new artist at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
By far, the biggest news in jazz this week is bassist, singer and composer Esperanza Spalding’s much-deserved best new artist GRAMMY(r) award. You’d have to go back to 1963 to find a ‘hybrid’ jazz/pop winner in this category-and that would be The Swingle Singers. There have been no other jazz winners-Spalding is officially the first-though there have been nominations: Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1964, Lana Campbell in 1967 and The Brecker Brothers in 1975.
A list of the five artists nominated in this category in descending order of who was most likely to win the GRAMMY might have been something like this: #1, pop sensation and Usher’s 16-year-old protégé, Justin Bieber; #2, hip-hop phenom Drake; and #3 and #4, Florence + the Machine the Mumford Brothers, or vice versa.
Undoubtedly, Spalding would have been a very distant #5.
So at Sunday’s 53rd annual awards show at the Staples Center, when presenters John Legend and Jewel announced, “. . . and the best new artist is . . .,” instead of the name everyone expected-Justin Bieber, it was, well, the BEST NEW ARTIST-Esperanza Spalding.
Since that announcement, the stuff has hit the Twittering fan. There has been a crush of vitriolic tweets, most of it, it would appear, coming from Bieber fan-atics. One of the more popular, tamer tweets goes:
Justin: Knock knock!
Esperanza: Who’s there?
Justin: Esperanza Spalding.
Esperanza: Esperanza Spalding who?
Towards the other extreme have been, “JUSTIN BIEBER DESERVED IT GO DIE IN A HOLE. WHO THE HECK ARE YOU ANYWAY?” And that’s not even the worst.
But why all the hatin’ of this petite, multiracial 26-year-old jazz phenom? On its Web site, The Recording Academy, which awards the GRAMMYs, notes the following:
“A GRAMMY is awarded by The Recording Academy’s voting membership to honor excellence in the recording arts and sciences. It is truly a peer honor, awarded by and to artists and technical professionals for artistic or technical achievement, not sales or chart positions . . .
The process begins with members and record companies submitting entries, which are then screened for eligibility and category placement. The Academy’s voting members [Note: There are 12,000 of them], all involved in the creative and technical processes of recording, then participate in (1) the nominating process that determines the five finalists in each category; and (2) the final voting process which determines the GRAMMY winners. . .”
As for the best new artist GRAMMY, The Recording Academy literature states that it goes to “a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist.”
Let’s break that down. If the award is for the “best” artist, then it would have to be Spalding. And the GRAMMY voters obviously went for the plain meaning of those words: Here’s a jazz artiste who not only plays the double bass but also one who’s a gifted singer, a composer of original compositions in all jazz genres and, since she graduated from the Berklee School of Music, a teacher of her instrument. She’s played for President Obama, more than once. And she’s just 26.
All nominations were for albums released from September 1, 2009, to September 30, 2010. So the only possible nit is that Spalding’s debut CD, a solo venture, was released in 2006. But did The Recording Academy members, the GRAMMY voters-anyone? raise their hand in protest? Nah.
When Spalding’s name was announced, the degree of surprise on her face was matched by the degree of shock on Bieber’s. There was lightweight, stunned applause as a stunned Spalding exclaimed with GRAMMY statue in hand, “Wow, thanks for even nominating me!”
Let’s remember the GRAMMY is not a popularity contest: No where is ‘most popular artist’ a criterion for winning a GRAMMY. That’s the people’s choice awards, people.
Jazz, fan-atics, let’s show up in droves when she plays at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Saturday, February 26, and let her know why she was nominated-and why she won.
Swingin’ ’round Town . . .
. . . With Eric Reed
He was born in Philadelphia, PA, where his earliest piano talents were showcased at his father’s church. When Reed’s family came to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, he went to Gage Middle School, Westchester Senior High School and California State University at Northridge before dropping out to play with Wynton Marsalis. He’s played in the courts of jazz royalty: A short list includes Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Dianne Reeves. He counts Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner and Art Tatum as among his greatest mentors.
The jazz pianist’s newest CD, “The Dancing Monk,” comes out on February 22. The bulk of it is his renditions of Thelonious Monk tunes, though the title track is his original composition. He and his band-Hamilton Price (bass), Jacques Lesure (guitar) and Kevin Kanner (drums)-will be playing tunes from that CD and some of Reed’s other 10-plus CDs as a leader and sideman.
The Eric Reed Quartet performs on Thursday, March 3, at Vibrato Grill, 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel Air, CA. 3 sets at approximately 6:30, 8 and 9:30 p.m.
. . . and With Harold Land Jr.
The pianist-who’s had gigs as diverse as touring with Marvin Gaye and Freddie Hubbard and teaching piano-will show off his formidable stylings when he performs at the recently opened Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 20, at 8 p.m. He’ll be ably aided by Edwin Livingston on bass and Land Richards on drums.
The Harold Land Jr. Trio performs at the Center, located at 4305 Degnan Blvd. in Leimert Park. Tickets are available at www.barbaramorrison.com or from the lady of jazz herself at (323) 296-BARB (2272). Buy 323-296-Barb (2272) BMPAC