“Jazz speaks for life. This is triumphant music. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth, which flow through his instrument. Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence…”-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opening speech at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival

“This triumphant music” that King referred to is often referred to as America’s original music, an American art form.

Despite its worldly status, jazz is consistently disregarded when it comes to the Grammy Awards, music’s largest event of the year. It seems sacrilegious that jazz musicians are given their awards during the afternoon and not on the CBS primetime broadcast.

This may be the prime reason why on April 6, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which presents the awards, announced it would be eliminating 31 of its 109 categories. The previous number of entries for a category was 25; it has been moved up to 40.

“According to the old rules, there should be at least a minimum of 25 submissions for each category. Latin jazz consistently had 31 submissions,” explained Sanabria. “According to the new rules, a minimum of 40 submissions in any category guarantees five finalists competing for the Grammy…only three finalists will be chosen to compete for the Grammy.”

Categories cut include Best Latin Jazz Album and Best Contemporary Jazz Album (leaving only four categories), along with Latin Jazz, World Music, Native American, Cajun/Zdeco, Hawaiian, Gospel and Traditional Blues, R&B, Classical and Country, among others.

Ironically, none of these categories are awarded during primetime.

NARAS noted these eliminations would help streamline and refocus the awards. Does refocus mean giving more time to its primetime categories, which feeds the corporate music machine and television sponsors?

How can jazz gain a wider audience when the musicians who put their hearts into the music aren’t seen on the Grammy Awards, which is a major source of exposure for music lovers? Television shows such as this and radio both limit the outreach of jazz.

“I have never allowed myself to be deluded into thinking that the Grammy Awards, from its inception, ever had any real or authentic concern about the historical roots and legacy of jazz,” stated Larry Ridley, bassist, educator and executive director of the African American Jazz Caucus Inc.

In response to the NARAS decision, a major “press conference in protest of Grammy travesty” was held on Sunday at the historical Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe in the East Village. The event, which brought out over a 100 artists from many of the dismissed genres, as well as writers, celebrities and activists, was coordinated by Bobby Sanabria, composer, arranger, drummer, percussionist and educator.

The main points stated by Sanabria included the immediate restoration of the 31 categories eliminated and the resignation of NARAS President Neil Portnow. Sanabria stated, “He doesn’t represent the membership’s interests.”

If these demands are not met, boycotts will be coordinated, with targets including CBS broadcast sponsors and CBS-TV. Finally, Sanabria will ask that current members resign from NARAS, of which he and many other musicians are members.

“This isn’t just about music, it is a cultural diversity issue,” said Sanabria. “About 75 percent of the categories eliminated are ethnic-oriented and performed by people of color.

NARAS could argue a Latin Jazz category is not necessary since it already exists in the Latin Grammy Awards presentation. However, nine-time Grammy winner Eddie Palmieri, who was represented by his daughter at the press conference, noted, “It is with true integration that barriers are broken. I do not believe in musical apartheid-that is why I never supported the Latin Grammy Awards.”

Some of the musicians who spoke included Grammy winners or nominees such as Arturo O’Farrill, Larry Harlow and David Amram, as well as Jackie Harris, executive director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, Mercedes Ellington and T.S. Monk.

The Grammy press conference can be heard at archive.wbai.org.