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And the Grammy Goes Away…

Nate Chinen has his own ideas on how the Recording Academy can cut down on the number of awards

The piano solo on “A Change Is Gonna Come,” from Herbie Hancock’s self-released, star-laden Imagine Project, takes a meandering path to the exit aisle. Built on the harmonic turnaround of a sinuous outro vamp, it’s a cyclical slow-fade, shrouded in a light chromatic haze. Any jazz fan would recognize it as textbook Herbie, which is rarely a bad thing-but it’s by no means a singular achievement for him, or even a distinctive one. You’d be hard-pressed to anoint it the Best Improvised Jazz Solo of 2010, though that’s the very designation it received at the 53rd Grammy Awards this year.

Griping about the Grammys is one of the more tiresome armchair pastimes within the music industry: It’s ineffectual and petty, and often all too obvious. But the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which administers the awards, opened itself to a new level of scrutiny this spring when it eliminated more than 30 categories, in “Fields” as diverse as Pop, Classical, Country, R&B and American Roots Music. The reduction, undertaken in the name of streamlining and refocusing the awards, left the Jazz field with four categories instead of six. Best Latin Jazz Album and Best Contemporary Jazz Album got the ax, apparently because there were too few unique entries in each. (The minimum number of entries for a category has been upped to 40; previously it was 25.)

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