February 06, 2012
By Justino Aguila, Los Angeles
In an ongoing effort to reinstate 31 categories that were eliminated from the Grammy Awards, musicians are planning a protest and a musical showcase on the same day as 54th installment of the awards show on Feb. 12, according to a spokesman for the recording artists who filed a lawsuit last year against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).
Neil Portnow on Latin Jazz Grammy Elimination: ‘You Can’t Make Everybody Happy…’
The protests, mostly by Latin jazz musicians and their supporters, are scheduled to take place in Los Angeles outside the Staples Center from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Artists, community leaders and music fans will gather at the corner of Figueroa Street and Pico Boulevard, according to a spokesperson for Grammy Watch Group Los Angeles, a coalition of musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York.
An LAPD spokesperson tells Billboard.biz that a permit for the rally has not been issued, but Robert Sax, a rep for the musicians, says the protest will take place.
While the Grammy Awards this year will feature a special appearance by Paul McCartney, protestors outside will carry signs to make their cause known. Protestors are also planning a showcase, “Not Those Awards All-Star Latin Jazz Jam,” at Mama Juana’s nightclub in Studio City at 4 p.m. It will feature Ray Carrion and His Latin Jazz All Stars in addition to Oscar Hernandez, John Santos, Bobby Matos, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez and Susie Hansen, among others who are previous Grammy winners or nominees.
The protestors are demanding the reinstatement of their genre as a distinct Grammy Award category. The group has vowed to continue protesting until NARAS gives them what they want.
Recently, the Rev. Jesse Jackson made it publicly known that he was concerned about cuts and sent NARAS President Neil Portnow a letter over the elimination of categories that went from 109 to 78, an announcement that was made on April 6, 2011, during a press conference about the “awards category restructuring” and new rules.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Hints At Protest Over Grammy Category Cuts
Changes included the end of gender-based categories in pop, R&B, rock and country. The Academy eliminated separate awards for male or female vocals instead having an award in each genre for a single “solo performance.”
In published reports, Portnow said that he was open to discussing the nomination process with the Rev. Jackson. A spokesperson on Monday (Feb. 6) with NARAS said that the organization had not heard of the scheduled protests on Sunday, but Portnow stands by his previous statements.
“It’s unfortunate that resources and time will be spent in this sort of a bureaucratic way rather than in other ways that would be more productive to everybody concerned,” Portnow said during an interview with Billboard in August. “The wonderful thing about our awards process is that it’s designed to be a fluid process because it’s a evolutionary art form where music changes.”
The four Latin jazz musicians, who filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court in New York on Aug. 2, are Ben Lapidus, Mark Levine, Eugene Marlow and Bobby Sanabria. They are not seeking compensation, but they believe their careers are being severely harmed by the elimination of their category in a breach by NARAS’ “contractual obligations” and that the elimination of Latin jazz causes “irreparable injury to the members of the Recording Academy.”
“The category eliminations came from left field,” Lapidus said in an interview last year. “Grammy-winning “Eddie Palmieri fought to have Latin jazz. Now Latin jazz is gone.”
Portnow has maintained that there has been a significant amount of outreach by local and national representatives of the Academy during the restructuring process and that members are encouraged to contact NARAS with their concerns.
According to Sax, there are about 20,000 signatures that have been collected by music fans across the country in protest of the eliminations. They were obtained by members of Grammy Watch and presente.org, an organization that promotes the “political voice of Latino communities.”
“Grammy Watch, presente.org and the people who are supporting us are committed to seeing the reinstatement of these categories,” Sax said. “We’ve been asking NARAS to do this the very second it was announced.”