When the Recording Academy announced in April that the Grammy’s would cut more than 30 categories from their annual awards show, Bobby Sanabria was pissed, and perhaps justifiably so.
Sanabria, a 4-time Grammy nominee and a life-long defender of the Latin jazz gospel saw his genre get the axe along with several others he believes are important to the cultural tapestry of American music.
“The powers that be cut these categories like zydeco, contemporary blues, and Latin jazz and really what they’re saying is, ‘We don’t care about the musical diversity of our country, we want to make money.’”
To fight the power, Sanabria and his virtuosic 4-piece Quarteto Ache band are marching their mix of traditional jazz infused with Latin polyrhythm to the front lines of the battle for genre re-instatement. His current tour comes to Nighttown on Sunday, June 5. “Being Grammy nominated can change an artist’s career. It changed mine,” says Sanabria. “This travesty cuts the power of the independent recording industry, and takes the focus away from the music.”
Sanabria’s recently released Tito Puente: Masterworks Live is a tribute to one of his musical heroes, and would be a shoo-in for a Latin Jazz Grammy nomination — if such a thing still existed. Also outraged by the consolidation of genres are more mainstream musicians like Carlos Santana and Paul Simon who wrote letters to protest the change almost immediately after it was announced. Even with all the attention the controversy has drawn, it is the future Sanabria is concerned for.
“Most of today’s youth are consumed with the idea of being a celebrity, not a musician first,” he said. To dispel this mentality, Sanabria has been working for the last 6 years with schools all over the nation to try to keep “culturally relevant” music in musical education programs.
This July 11 to16, Sanabria will be the artist in residence at the Roberto Ocasio Latin Jazz Music Camp at Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory of Music in Berea. It is this outreach to the younger generation (middle school through high school) that Sanabria believes is most integral to the survival of his genre. “At the first Grammys Frank Sinatra said that the award was about excellence, not popularity,” said Sanabria. “Latin Jazz is fun to play and it’s exciting; our youth just needs exposure to it.” Which may be even harder to pull off if the decision stands to cut the number of Grammy fields from 109 to 78.
See Bobby Sanabria with Quarteto Ache at 7:00 p.m. Sunday, June 5. Nighttown. Tickets: $20; go to http://nighttowncleveland.com or call 216-795-0550 — Ryan Young