as i was saying, Latin Jazz is not an opinion, nor a subtext. the self-absorbed commercial –that used to be a dirty word among jazz people– elements of NARAS which oversees the Grammys have seen fit to unilaterally toss the category onto the junk heap. in reality the real junk heap are many of the remaining ones. the Jazz Journalists Association has also unceremoniously eliminated the category but for different reasons.

when i was a stringer for Billboard we jocularly posted the nonsensical expression, “it ain’t art if it don’t sell.” that was bullshit then and it remain as such.

two knowledgeable and respected colleagues, educator, author, founder and President of the JJA, and my former editor at down beat, Howard Mandel, and drummer, educator, arranger, bandleader and Latin Jazz historian and authority Bobby Sanabria, have weighed in on the subject. i have excerpted their opinions, both personal and public, for this forum. i admit that as a moderator i do not stand a firm line of demarcation as i favor Latin Jazz as a movement and a viable and distinct musical expression.


first this from Mandel, who in response to an email query as to why the category was removed, felt that i was “fishing.” admittedly Mandel said that he has written several personal letters on the subject. he suggested that i was looking for him to come up with a defense of the JJA’s decision. damn straight!

herewith with inserted comments is Mandel’s official statement, or as he calls it “verbiage for your blog.”

“the Jazz Journalists Association ballot committee” (who dey?) “suspended the category of Latin Jazz in 2009. the decision was made on the basis of the difficulty defining what is ‘Latin Jazz,’ the numerous nominations of musicians who might be thought of as playing Latin Jazz in categories that does not segregate them from musicians playing in other styles of jazz, and the fact that there were no other categories for specific styles.” (see my last post.)

that is insulting to all of us who call ourselves jazz journalists. doesn’t Pres Howard have enough faith in us to decide which recordings are and which are not Latin Jazz? how about Eliane Elias who won sometime ago in the Latin Jazz category allegedly eliciting a response laughingly from her that there was no latin music on the recording. then shame on us not the category. we should have known that and voted accordingly. don’t tell Sanabria, Eddie Palmieri, Giovanni Hidalgo, Irakere alumni Paquito D’Rivera, Chucho Valdes and Arturo Sandoval, the Sanchezes, Pancho and Davíd (not related), Andy and Gerry Gonzales (brothers), and so many others, that what they play isn’t Latin Jazz. how about national and local radio shows called variously “Latin Jazz…[Fill in the Blank]” such as WBGO’s popular syndicated “Latin Jazz Cruise”? then there is the “Latin Side of…Coltrane, Monk, Ellington” played and/or arranged by scores of musicians. Ellington loved to write latin-ed tunes. check out Jimmy Owens’ new “Monk Project” where on “Well You Needn’t” Owens and Kenny Barron are in 4/4 while Winard Harper is all over son montuno rhythm.

almost as apologia Mandel goes on, “the JJA has frequently featured musicians playing something akin to Latin Jazz in (our) Jazz Awards programs” (what the hell means “akin to”? it is or it isn’t; we voters decide that. it’s up to us to fuck it up!) Mandel goes on to say that some of those musicians have even received Jazz Awards. (N.B.: i was honored to have presented one such to Sanabria in 2011 as best percussionist.)

i think the elimination of the category was ill-informed and needs to be redressed. JJA is about education, after all, even if that means, to misquote Shakespeare, the problem, dear JJA, lies not on the stars (pun intended) but just maybe in ourselves.


Sanabria has either been too busy or otherwise incommunicado on the subject. you may logon to his timeline on the matter of NARAS dropping the Latin Jazz category.
Bobby Sanabria Bobby Sanabria – Grammy Debacle Timeline…

the final judgmental body is us. do we agree with Howard Mandel & the JJA, and NARAS, who is the 800# gorilla, or do we side with Sanabria’s not-very-enthusiastic litigious team and just continue to passionately rail Don Quixote-like? i’m into being the thorn in the gorilla’s foot. your thoughts?

- © arnold jay smith
January 2012

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