Friday, April 29, 2011

hope conquers all

Well my best chance for an end run around the music scene towards recognition has been seriously compromised. NARAS, the folks who give you the Grammys got rid of the Latin Jazz category. That was a funny category in a way, the only subdivision by genre. Jazz was divided into instrumental, vocal, big band, contemporary and Latin jazz. But there was no free jazz, no mainstream jazz, no Dixieland, only Latin jazz. So in a typical year there would be hundreds of entries into instrumental jazz and only dozens in Latin jazz. So you could always hope that you could sneak in at the bottom (the nominations are for the top 5). But with hundreds of jazz records to compete with, everyone from Chick Corea to Vijay Iyer, getting a nomination for a recording on a small independent label (most Latin jazz comes out on small labels) looks pretty bleak.

But anyway, a Grammy nomination would have been the one way to move up in the consciousness of the jazz scene, although talking to guys who got nominated, it doesn’t change things that much. In fact for a long time I thought that was the only way, given my limitations. Teaching full time I can't afford to take tours that would make me have to cancel classes. They know about my music at the university, put since I do my job they disregard it. But if I was making money as a musician in a way that was a detriment to my teaching I’d be out on my ear. No professor’s salary, no recording. So the only way I’ll be known is if my records are taken seriously and a Grammy nomination would have been perfect. But there is no point in crying over spilled milk. And to top it all off, my last record Jazz Brasil debuted at #1 in the country and has been at the top of the Jazzweek World chart and top 10 in Jazzweek Jazz, for 10 weeks. With Kenny Barron on the record, this was my shot for a nomination, but there is no easy way without the Latin jazz category. I’ll put it in the Latin Grammy (if they don’t do something weird) and as instrumental jazz in the regular Grammy (and get to compete with Wynton Marsalis et al). It’s like they took a target away and I got a quiver full of arrows. I guess I’m stuck with the big target in the sky. I have to make records just to make a record of my music. I have to think enough of my music to make it real, and for me real has always meant recordings. As my ex-wife Joyce used to say, it is all about making art objects. But I’ve always been hungry for recognition, never secure enough in my musical abilities to rely on doing the best I could. I wanted the world to tell me how good I was. I’m 70 years old and still as hungry for approval as I was when I was 25. Damn, when will I ever grow up.

But I’m stuck with it. I have another record finished, the modern charanga album, El Cumbanchero, written by Aruan Ortiz (scroll down a few entries) and the tango album with Pablo Aslan (2 nominations, Grammy and Latin Grammy, in 2010 for Latin Jazz) is just about done. And I’m going back to Israel in June to make a record there. And I’m going into the studio tomorrow to work on the tangos and I’m writing the blog as a bit of occupational therapy. I have to get past the Grammy crap (me and everyone else have been on facebook and twitter, signing petitions all day) and get into the head to play music.

The picture above is from my trip to Isreal last June. I’m sitting in a park overlooking the old city. I videotaped myself playing and have still not gotten around to editing it down (I recorded about an hour). I have to stop, and get ready for a day in the studio tomorrow.

I'm back! The photo above is the trio that recorded the last half of the tango album, guitarist Francisco (Pancho) Navarro on my right and on my left, Pablo Aslan, who managed 2 GRAMMY nominations in 2010 for the same album, one on the Latin Grammy and for Latin Jazz in the Grammy. That is the 3rd album I recorded with Grammy nominees (the others were Con Alma with Mark Levine and Tales From the Earth with Omar Sosa). Well who knows, the Latin jazz community is up in arms with petitions to NARAS to reinstate the Latin Jazz category, and all sorts of theories about why it is being dropped (all focused on the rise of the indie labels and backlash from the pop establishment, since Esperanza Spaulding got the big prize in 2010). If any of you want to get involved, here is a link to the petition.

I was obsessed with the Grammy controversy when I started this post and since then I have been taught an object lesson in why negativity is a meaningless response to disappointment. The Grammy awards are open to every one who is a member of NARAS and the scuttle-butt is that that majors make everyone who works for the label join so that they can swamp the voting without doing campaigning, which is actually in violation of NARAS rules. So among us small-fry the word is that it is all 'politics' with music taking second place to connections. Not that anyone complains when they beat the system and get a nomination. But the real test of your status in the jazz cosmos was always the Downbeat critics poll (and I can't even get a review in Downbeat, so that's out) and the Jazz Journalists Association. The JJA is a group of jazz writers who represent the most informed group of individuals, including musicians, since they represent all of those who focus on jazz through an intellectual and critical perspective. Every year they vote in a broad number of categories, including flute. And, mirabilis dictu, I have been nominated as Flutist of the Year for 2011. I'm one of five, and I don't think I'll win, since some flute stalwarts are in the running. To get a sense of how prestigious the group of nominees is check out the 2011 nominee list. So I'm back up off the floor after a glancing blow to the heart from NARAS and full of hope that somehow my music will survive. That is the point of recognition after all. When I was younger a big part of being a musician was the hope that it would yield romance. It did in a way. I met my first wife playing bass in a pre-hippie illegal club called the Jazz Zoo, a block away from Brooklyn College during my freshman year. And that was a disaster, since I was married shortly thereafter, and that put a stop to my romantic aspirations. I was not happily married to say the least. Playing trombone got me a few cherished affairs, being on the road has fringe benefits for unhappily married musicians and I met Souix, my teenage sweetheart playing the flute in the park. But generally speaking, it has been my experience that playing music is over-rated as a seduction strategy. For most guys the major fringe benefit of being a musician is getting to 'hang' with the guys. It certainly was for me, and the recognition that you get from the musicians you play with is as good as it gets. But at 70 years old, and only starting recording at 56 my main fear was that my recordings wouldn't make enough of an impact so that they would be part of the consciousness of musicians and music lovers after I have moved on to the proverbial green pastures. Getting good reviews and radio play was a sign that my fears were somewhat less than reasonable. Getting the JJA nomination gives me a real sense that I am making an impact with my recordings and that my music well be seen as a contribution to that ethereal world, distributed among the artifacts and minds of human beings that is the only world for which artists have concern. Wouldn't it be a gas if the Lord liked jazz, according to the Good Book, He certainly loves singing.