[JPL] Re: Do the Grammys matter? (By George Varga UNION-TRIBUNE POP MUSIC CRITIC)

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Mon Feb 11 10:30:22 EST 2008


Do the Grammys matter?

Yes, of course; no other awards show has its breadth, depth - 'It's amazing
how meaningful it still is'

By George Varga
February 10, 2008

U-T photo illustration
The Grammy Awards, which celebrates its 50th anniversary today at the
Staples Center in Los Angeles, isn't perfect by a long shot. But there
simply isn't any other awards fete honoring music that is nearly as
meaningful or prestigious. And no other comes close to matching the Grammys
for sheer ambition, depth and stylistic diversity.
Or, as U2 singer Bono writes in the foreword to the new book ³At the
Grammys² by longtime Grammys telecast producer Ken Ehrlich: ³The Grammys
invited jazz, rock, country, soul and classical into the same hall. No
regard for demographic studies of what would deliver ratings, no radio
call-out research ­ a mad amalgam of the profound and the absurd and the
creeping realization that one man's Mozart is another man's Vegas.²

That eclecticism also extends to everything from blues, polka and gospel to
Latin, Hawaiian and Native American music. All told, there are 110 Grammy
categories, or at least 95 more than on most other music awards shows.

³It was awesome when we won the Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy in
2003,² said Chris Thile, 26, the mandolinist in San Diego
bluegrass-and-beyond band Nickel Creek.

³We ran and jumped to the stage and everybody laughed at us because we were
so excited. It's funny how large a percentage of the Grammys is made up of
artists like us, who are not household names.²

It is precisely because of its breadth and depth that I admire the Grammys,
even though the jazz and classical performances usually appear shoehorned in
as gratuitous afterthoughts during the annual telecast.

But no other awards show has featured one-time-only live performances that
teamed Eminem and Elton John (2001), or the hard-rocking Foo Fighters and
jazz great Chick Corea (2004), or piano legends Ray Charles, Count Basie,
Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis (back in 1983).

Tonight's telecast continues that tradition. The Foo Fighters will perform
with an orchestra conducted by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Aretha
Franklin heads up an all-star gospel-music tribute, and Alicia Keys, Brad
Paisley and Feist will collaborate with members of the casts of the film
³Across the Universe² and ³The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil² stage show.
The results may be fab, or a prime-time train wreck, but no other music
awards show would even attempt something so ambitious.

Similarly, no other show has enough clout to fuel a reunion performance by
Simon & Garfunkel (2003) or to bring together Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl,
Elvis Costello, Little Steven and No Doubt's Tony Kanal to pay rousing
tribute to deceased punk-rock pioneer Joe Strummer (also in 2003).

Even in this histrionic era of ³American Idol,² which in recent years has
drawn a larger viewing audience, the impact of performing on the Grammys is
enormous. Just ask the Dixie Chicks, whose album sales went up by more than
700 percent after last year's telecast.

But the Grammys, at its best, transcends mere commercial considerations.
That's why no other awards show is held in such esteem by so many of the
artists it honors, young, old, and in between.

³It's the highest level of accolade,² said hip-hop maverick Lupe Fiasco, 25,
who earned three nominations last year and another this year.

³So I hold it higher than other awards, because nothing holds a light to it.
If you look at the list of the people who won in prior years, just to be
nominated in that group is the ultimate honor.²

Veteran producer and recording engineer Phil Ramone won his first Grammy in
1964 for his work on Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto's Album of the Year-winning
³Getz/Gilberto,² which helped launch a Brazilian bossa-nova craze in the
United States. He has since won 13 more Grammys, the most recent last year,
for his work on albums by Paul Simon, Tony Bennett and others.

³To be nominated really is an honor,² said Ramone, 68, who chronicles his
Grammy victories and his 1973 Emmy win in ³Making Records,² his recent
autobiography. ³But winning a Grammy is like winning an Oscar, a Tony or an
Emmy. For something that's been around for 50 years, it's amazing how
meaningful it still is.²

Compared to the numbing banality of ³The American Music Awards,² ³The
People's Choice Awards² and ³The MTV Video Music Awards,² the Grammys are a
radiant font of light in an increasingly dimwitted world.

The dubious voting procedures for the ³American Music Awards² and shows of
its ilk are beyond questionable. Want to find out who makes the nominations,
and who casts the votes, for those shows? Good luck.

The Recording Academy ­ under whose auspices the Grammys are presented ­ is
unquestionably legitimate, no matter how illogical or infuriating some of
the winning votes may seem.

The academy boasts more than 12,000 voting members, all of whom are industry
professionals. They range from performers, producers and songwriters to
audio engineers, studio musicians and record industry executives.

Moreover, the Grammy Awards is only one part ­ albeit the most publicized ­
of the academy's year-round work. Its endeavors range from providing medical
and financial assistance to musicians in need to a host of educational and
outreach programs designed to promote a variety of musical genres to young
people at a time of draconian funding cuts for all arts in public schools.

So, make fun of the Grammys if you like. For all its flaws, in an imperfect
but constantly expanding world of music it's still the best awards show

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