The jazz and blues winners at the 60th Grammy Awards are in, and they mostly went to seasoned heads and strong favorites. But this year’s Grammys also reinforced just how flexible jazz and blues artists tend to be, moving across a range of categories and in a variety of styles.
Case in point: pianist and singer Jon Batiste, best known as the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, performed a medley with Gary Clark, Jr., the hotshot guitar hero. Backed by Batiste’s close associate Joe Saylor on drums, they paid homage to the rock ‘n’ roll forefathers Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, working with extreme concision but an abundance of soul. (This was the full extent of jazz and blues during the telecast, but at least they weren’t forced to share a stage with, like, The Foo Fighters.)
Most of the awards were distributed during the Grammy Premiere Ceremony, which streamed live at grammy.com. One clear highlight of that ceremony was a performance by Jazzmeia Horn, who was in the running for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her self-assured debut, A Social Call.
That award ultimately went to Cécile McLorin Salvant for Dreams and Daggers, a magisterial double album recorded (mainly) at The Village Vanguard. But Horn emerged a winner nonetheless, on the basis of her work on the Grammy stage. Backed by Paul Shaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band, she sang Bobby Timmons' “Moanin’” as a tribute to Jon Hendricks, who wrote the lyrics to the song. Taking charge from the first phrase, she kicked her performance into a higher gear when she started her scat chorus, about a minute into this clip.
Scat singing has a bad rep, and sometimes it’s not hard to see why. But Horn made the best argument for the craft of scatting, doing a ton of damage in a brief allotted time. The punch in her phrasing felt like a nod to Lee Morgan, who as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers played an indelible solo on the original recording of the song.
Along with Salvant, winners in the jazz field included pianist Billy Childs, who took home Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Rebirth; and guitarist John McLaughlin, who took home the Best Improvised Jazz Solo award, for his work on “Miles Beyond,” from Live at Ronnie Scott’s.
McLaughlin recently completed his final tour, so it’s nice to see him win a Grammy for a live album, while that’s still a possibility. As for Best Latin Jazz Album, it went to the Pablo Ziegler Trio, for Jazz Tango. And the award for Large Jazz Ensemble Album went to the Christian McBride Big Band, for Bringin’ It.
From the stage, McBride asked Paul Shaffer to let trumpeter Frank Greene down from the risers to bask in the win. (He also shouted out his colleagues at Jazz Night in America, along with Jazz House Kids and the Philadelphia Eagles.)
Best Traditional Blues Album went to The Rolling Stones, for their first full-stop blues album, Blue & Lonesome. (This was a sound and respectable win, despite what it looks like.) And the joint winners for Best Contemporary Blues Album were Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, for their sterling collaboration TajMo. Also blues-related: Alabama Shakes won in the Best American Roots Performance category for “Killer Diller Blues.”
Jazz artists cropped up in a few other categories. For one, Tony Bennett won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album — his eighth win in that category, by my count — for the all-star affair Tony Bennett Celebrates 90. Jeff Lorber Fusion won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, for Prototype. Pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill won Best Instrumental Composition for “Three Revolutions,” from Familia: Tribute to Bebo & Chico. (“Mom, this Grammy is for you,” he said. “She joined Chico and the ancestors a month ago.”)
Finally, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom scored the Best Surround Sound Album award, for Early Americans, featuring a trio with Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums.
She shared the award with her engineer and producer, Jim Anderson, who used part of his stage time to address his students at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music: See you in class tomorrow morning, he said. Life, and the music, roll on.