Grammys 2013

When I was doing session work in NYC I worked a few times for an arranger who played in the big bands of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. Most of the guys on the session were 15-20 years older than I. I had some quasi-soloing to do on one of the cues for a soap opera session with these musicians. The arranger commented privately  to one of my friends later that he was perturbed that I did not play more like Al Klink from the Glen Miller band. The guys from my generation were emulating Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Joe Henderson. This arranger clearly heard things differently than I did. Needless to say, I was not called back to work for that arranger again after that. I did go out and did some research on the saxophonists of that era subsequently.

I am finding myself in a similar situation today after having attended the Grammy celebration last night. Only this time I am on the other end of the spectrum.

I feel like we were witnessing the further dumbing down of music, the lack of acknowledgement of so much of the profound music that has influenced what we do today, and disguising the lackluster  level of musicianship we heard in a mass of glitz, special effects, special sets, and camera work.

First the good news. The Grammy bands, comprised of high school students from around the US were by far the best musicians to perform all day. They played with an amazing level of maturity, poise, and spirit that bodes well for the future of refined, informed  playing. Justin Dicioccio and Ron McCurdy did fantastic jobs directing the big band and vocal ensemble. Bravo to them and all the students!

The live band at the pre telecast was great as well. My bandmate Will Kennedy from the Yellowjackets was on board. I couldn’t see him, as we were pretty far away, but I heard one snare drum crack and knew it was him.

On to the telecast which, I’m told, had the highest ratings of any Grammy telecast for the last 20 years. To me (music is VERY subjective and personal, so this is an important caveat) nobody in the whole telecast sang or played their ass off. There were a few nice tunes, but the live versions were far less compelling than the hyper-produced versions you heard during the announcements of the nominees. TO ME most of the music lacked subtlety, interesting harmony or melody, or rhythms for that matter.

There was no James Brown, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, James Taylor, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, or Aretha Franklin anywhere in sight!

One of music’s iconic treasures, Dr. John was buried in a large band with the Black Keys and a New Orleans brass band that wound up sounding like a high school garage band jam session. I did not hear Dr. John play one note! It’s unfathomable to me that musicians would play with such a great musician and blatantly play right over him.

A tribute to Dave Brubeck, an American musical hero, lasted 30 seconds (Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clark), and was such an amazing slight to this great artist’s legacy and to jazz music in general. This made things embarrassingly clear that the Grammys have become all about television ratings and very little about the music.

The so called collaborations (aren’t you supposed to collaborate on a collaboration?)  were very mis-matched, and again the performances were pretty bad.

Out of tune singing and mediocre playing of instruments do not a collaboration make!

The songs were forgettable.

Lots of other little things were disconcerting as well. At the pre telecast an 8 piece faux chamber music group performed a Phillip Glass in odd meter like piece that was not terribly interesting, then went on to win a Grammy. Hard to understand. Jazz musicians do far more interesting things with odd meter coupled with improvisation.

A Gil Evans arrangement from 1949 won best arrangement of a composition over several of the most prominent arrangers of this era. One would think that some note worthy things nave happened since 1949.

Music and art generally reflect some level of what is happening in society.

This year’s Grammys is a pretty good snap shot of the world we live in. Recognition and prosperity for a select few and the dissemination of information that doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth, frequently obscuring view of those who do the best and most profound work.

All we can do is continue to speak out on these issues and keep the flame alive for quality playing, live playing, the craft of musical composition, and informed musical decisions in creating our art.

I think I’ll go listen to some Al Klink!

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