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Friday
May272011

Personal Thoughts on the Grammy Category Cuts

May 27, 2011

As a lot of you may know, I’m heavily involved in the fields of Latin Jazz and Afro-Caribbean music.  Afro Caribbean music and its marriage to Jazz (most call this Latin Jazz) excites me.  All of the thousands of rhythms of its great tradition are infectious to me.  Afro Caribbean music gets me up in the morning.  I find myself dancing its rhythms and steps in the mirror at any given time for no apparent reason.

It’s a major part of my career as a musician.  I’ve studied it and made the most important friends in my life because of it.  I compose it and arrange it.  I teach it everyday to coming generations of musicians.   I get to watch on satisfyingly as students get the hang of playing a rhythm in clave and get really excited about it.  They take it home with them and create their own variations and gestations.  They come back with their own melodies, based on these rhythms.  Few things in life satisfy me more than that.

In addition to my own projects, I get to tour and perform with the major figures that are standing behind the current protest to the categorical cuts in the Grammy awards.  In the next month alone, I will have the humble honor to perform with 9-time Grammy Winner Eddie Palmieri, Pete Escovedo and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, and the 2-time Grammy winning orchestra Spanish Harlem Orchestra, led by Oscar Hernández.

As of late, I’ve been trying to figure out just where I stand on this intensifying debate, which is currently generating a lot of awareness as a result of street protests in Los Angeles and press conferences both here in New York and my hometown, the San Francisco Bay Area.  Personally, I feel that this is a tough issue - I can see parts of both sides of the coin.  It wasn’t until I felt that I could see clear missteps in the decision that I decided to weigh in.

“Adding Value”

Most can see the need to add value to something.  We all do it at some point or another.      We refurbish our kitchens.  We invest.  We can thusly see the impetus to make an award an object of desire and an object to be lauded.  

The way that the NARAS Board of Trustees has gone about cutting categories attacks the very fabric of this country and our greatest asset.  Our diversity.

This was wrong.

It should have never been done.  At the very least, voting members of NARAS had to be made aware of a such a sweeping decision as it was being made.  NARAS, of which I am a part, is a democratic organization which comes to decisions about entries, nominations and awards via its voting members and its Board of Governors.  The voting members of NARAS and its corresponding Board of Governors in the different cites should have been informed and been a party to this decision.

Importance of Diversity

How can cutting an award category attack the diversity of a nation?  Quite simply, in its long term implications.

The Grammy award is the summit of success for most of us who are part of the process of creating music.  How can generations to follow not be discouraged to create music based on the styles which represent the cut categories?  The mere possibility of receiving a nomination inspires creators in these styles to create their own takes of the music which has influenced them.  The result will be less music created in these styles that are 100% American, by definition.  We therefore lose diversity, as a nation.

We have to be clear here - the chance of a musician specializing in Cajun music or “Traditional Blues” or Latin Jazz to actually win a Grammy has been reduced to nearly 0%.  In our current climate, (insert discussion of major labels vs. indies and independent musicians here) there is no way that a musician specializing in the forms representing the categories can compete against artists with more of a mainstream influence that have been folded into the same category as they have.

So why would a person influenced by these styles put it all on the line to 1) become a musician of these styles and to 2) create their own music on an album, putting most of their life resources on the line to do so?  It clearly won’t be to be internationally recognized by receiving a Grammy award.  For a lot of us, being recognized with a Grammy is certainly the biggest part of the dream.  Even being nominated would be the most validating prize in a life of sacrifices.

The way to celebrate the great diversity of this country (and for that matter, the world) is to promote it.  You keep these categories intact - they do not “devalue” the Grammy in any way.  If any of us were to win a Grammy award outright in our area of specialization we would be ecstatic.  Nothing could take away from the significance of that vaunted award.  

It was difficult enough to win a Grammy before these changes went into effect.  Just ask 60+ year Latin Jazz veteran Pete Escovedo:

“I was fortunate enough to be nominated in 1989 for my recording entitled “Mister E.” That nomination inspired me to work harder at my profession – to reach for the ultimate goal – A GRAMMY – which at some point in my life I hope to achieve.”

The NARAS representatives arguing for the cuts have countered with a numerical analysis on the present number of categories versus past.  This is well beyond a “numbers” issue.  When you deal with sacrificing the diversity of our country’s music, to merely add value to an award, you have fallen out of touch with the mission statement of NARAS and have dropped the ball when it comes to what should be its true priorities, cultural awareness and diversity being chief among them.

Where I DON’T Agree with the Protestors

There have a couple of points and issues that have bothered me in regards to the protestors of the Grammy category cuts.

First, I think calling for the immediate resignation of President Neil Portnow and the Board of Trustees is insensitive and ill-advised.  I personally know folks on the “Secret Sub-Committee” that was formed and what they have done to promote diversity before the round of categorical cuts.  Some in particular are friends that I hold very dear and have readily demonstrated efforts to spread cultural awareness and diversity through the MusicCares program.  Asking for their resignation in NO way sets the stage for an amicable resolution to this issue.  This in fact jeopardizes the main goal of having the cut categories reinstated.

I also take issue with calling the cuts racist.  To be fair, mainstream categories were cut as well, and these categories include artists that are of mixed race and musical background.  True, cutting categories of musical diversity will lead to a homogenization of music in general (which is highly unfortunate), and this, in my opinion, is very much going in the wrong direction.   But I just can’t see how this process is explicitly racist.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

All things considered - cutting these categories will systematically result in a “cut” in desire to create this music of diversity.  The music, and therefore the culture, of this country and of music followers and fans the world over will suffer tremendously from the standpoint of the stimulating rhythmical and stylistic components that make it exciting.   General awareness and inclusion of these diverse styles in music will eventually be lost as a result.

To this capacity, I stand in opposition to the categorical cuts to the Grammys made by NARAS.

 

Doug Beavers
Trombonist, Arranger, Composer, Educator 
Program Director
Harlem School of Urban Music and Recording Arts @
Frederick Douglass Academy, Harlem NYC
Advocate of Diversity in Music
mail@dougbeavers.com

 

Friday
Mar112011

New interview on MG3Media posted!



Here's an interview that outlines some of the myriad projects I've been working on.  We talk about the new music school in Harlem, multitasking and the new project "Two Shades of Nude".

You can read the interview here.

Wednesday
Jan262011

Announcing Harlemschool.org

We've moved all Harlem School materials to the new website (or subsite, if you will).  

You can add the new Harlem School RSS feed by clicking here.

Friday
Jan212011

January 2011 Newsletter Update

Here's an archive of an informative newsletter that was sent out to January 20th.  If you would like to receive these newsletter via email click here.

It’s been a busy start to 2011 here in snowy and blustery New York City. I’ve been busy with a couple of interesting projects and have been reflecting on a productive yet challenging 2010. I’ll dive right in with a recap of 2010:

In this issue: West Coast Tour, Reviews, Harlem School Update, Conjunto Rovira Returns, Recommended Listening

 

2010 Recap

Two Shades of Nude2010 saw the release of my second CD as a leader, Two Shades of Nude. It was a humble pleasure and honor to record with this sterling list of NYC cats in 2007 and it brought much relief and a sense of accomplishment to finally bring out this jazz nonet recording to the world en masse on Origin Records. The album managed to peak at #33 on the Jazzweek radio chart and continues to collect very well-received reviews. The CD release party at Yoshi’s Oakland, CA was a big hit and resulted in sold out shows.

2010 saw plenty of traveling abroad with multiple artists including Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Pete Escovedo and Don Omar. We were able to visit beautiful people and parts of the world in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Spanish Harlem is nominated for a Grammy this year and I was thrilled to be a part of their first DVD release filmed at the HOSTOS Performing Arts Center in the Bronx, NY. Look for the release later this year.

On the composition front, my symphonic tone-poem American Transgressions for Orchestra commissioned by Timothy Smith and the renowned Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra debuted last November to some great reviews. This work is actually the first movement of a planned symphony that will involve the use of a battery of latin percussionists. More to come on the progress of this work!

In the education world, my relocation back to New York in October found me saying good-bye to my post as part of the jazz faculty at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, CA, a post that I grew increasingly fond of as I witnessed the amazing development of our students in that program. As I begin my new post as Program Director for the new Harlem School of Urban Music and Recording Arts, I will continually look to the development of these students as a goalpost for my own current students. More follows below on some of the cool things we are planning for this technologically innovative program!

The year culminated with my relocation back to New York City and the burrowing in for the long winter that is currently underway. While snowed in, I’ll be doing principal composition and arranging for my next release and re-connecting with my friends and peers from this great hive of activity. Here's what's on tap in the coming weeks:

 

 update: harlem school of urban music and recording arts

Pro Tools HD Accel 2 with C|24 Console @ Harlem SchoolCurriculum for the Harlem School is nearly completed and technology keeps on rolling in. We’ve just installed a brand new Pro Tools HD Accel 2 System (ours is pictured at right!) with a C24 mixing console in the pro recording studio, housed at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem. We are also in the process of installing audio interfaces for each of the 27” iMac student workstations running Apple Garage Band and Sibelius First. We are slating the grand opening of the school for March 1st!

 

conjunto Rovira returns!Wayne Wallace, Doug Beavers and Jimmy Bosch

Doug Beavers y su Conjunto Rovira returns to the SF Bay Area for two more hard-hitting shows:

March 9 Conjunto Rovira at Shattuck Down Low -Berkeley CA


March 12 Conjunto Rovira Titanes del Trombón (feat. Wayne Wallace, Abel Figueroa and Doug Beavers) headlines SF Salsa Festival 2011!

 

recommended listening/reading

I’ve added a couple of new features to the website, including a new arranging section/discussion and a “Currently Digging” section, where I outline some of the things I’ve been checking out in detail over the past couple of months. (#1 on my list right now is the new Stanley Clarke recording. Freakish!)

Feel free to visit and leave a comment as to what you are checking out right now.

 

Wishing you a happy and successful 2011,

Doug Beavers

 

 

For all the latest info, visit www.dougbeavers.com

 

Friday
Oct292010

Back in the Apple again.....via Calgary

Calgary- Alberta, CanadaI'm currently laid over on a Continental flight heading to Calgary via Chicago O'Hare for a show with Spanish Harlem Orchestra.  What to do?  Update the blog.

 After a month and a half of traveling, gigging, and generally living out of suitcases, I've finally made it and relocated back to the Big Apple, NYC.

 It's great to be back, and I'm really looking forward to being able to get my music to the world stage and to a broader audience at large.  I'm very excited to be back and surrounded by musicians of this caliber!

 I will be also spending a measure of time establishing a new music and recording arts that I'm currently designing in Harlem.  The Harlem School of Music and Recording Arts will focus on jazz, latin jazz & salsa, hip-hop and rock, all using formal music training as a major lynchpin of these musical genres.  The school will feature a state-of-the-art recording studio and music workstations utilizing Garage Band and Logic to enable the students to record their ideas and learn the process of sequencing their ideas to rhythms appropriate to the genre.  We will begin the first phase of this process by auditioning students of the Frederick Douglas Academy, where the school is currently housed.  In later phases, we will be expanding staff and admitting more students as the schools' needs grow.

So - it's feeling great to finally get settled in Jersey City Heights (featuring spectacular views of Manhattan!), indulge in the fine local food fare and get the "crib" up and running.

Now if we can make it to Calgary tonight; we've already missed our connection.....