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Reflections On The Grammys, Oscars, Junos

Larnell Lewis of Snarky Puppy
Larnell Lewis of Snarky Puppy

I’m curious what 831,406,193 YouTube views did to ramp up business at Toronto eating establishment, The Real Jerk, the location shoot for Rihanna’s video, “Work” – featuring Drake. The steamy video is still a cautious light-porn watch with fear of nefarious cyber security agencies tracking people’s online viewing habits. This is far cry from the Toronto of decades back when bump and grind was considered on par with peep shows or the leering eyes of creepy men stuffed in trench coats front row of the Victory Theatre. Sex is now mainstream, yet millennials by all accounts are having less. This brings me to the Grammys.

For all the hype and outrageous behaviour, this year’s Grammys were a tame affair. I actually stuck around from start to finish. Plenty of negligee melodrama – light on politics.

For me, the best thing about the Grammys are the nominees. It’s near impossible keeping up with new music when so many creative music minds keep rolling out track after track, week after week. Spotify for most, is the best music search engine, yet I found so much to savor just scrolling the nominee list and checking in for a listen. “The Three of Me” by William Bell, “Angel” by Lalah Hathaway – “Can’t Wait” by Jill Scott – “Take Me to the Alley,” Gregory Porter – “House of Mercy,” – Sarah Jarosz, “Factory Girl,” Rhiannon Giddens, “Wreck You” – Lori McKenna – “Better,” Hezekiah Walker – the list keeps on giving. The winners in these categories didn’t appear on stage, but that’s cool. Main stage is all about the spectacle. The above artists are about music, absent hype.

Facebook and Twitter usually punch back as each artist hyperventilates through a Grammy performance. This year, comments were fairly uniform. Beyonce took the most shots. “Is she the only woman in the world that’s ever carried a child? Is she presiding over her own coronation?” The act does get tiring, but kudos to Adele who spoke so elegantly of Lemonade – Beyonce’s ode to the south and working women - one hell of an accomplishment. Adele outsold Beyonce, 8 million to 1.5 million. The round goes to Adele.

Anyone who has staged an awards show understands people tune in to hear the performers –performers tune in to hear their names read. Out here in “arm-chair critic land” – it’s about perceived flaws. “Bruno Mars kicked it out of the park. Mars' act is cheesy – why is he wearing Prince’s wardrobe?” WTF? is Gaga doing with Metallica? Wasn’t Super Bowl enough punishment?” “Where’s the country in that pop song Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban just sang?” “Can someone please stop the tribute to the Bee Gees and get that Gibb brother with the thinning hair onstage to salvage this debacle?”

The most emotion I’ve every felt from the Grammys was when Stevie Wonder took home five for Songs in the Key of Life. Make that now 25 in total. Speaking of off-categories – big praise for Toronto drummer Larnell Lewis. Two years in a row Lewis and comrades Snarky Puppy captured a Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental. This season for Culcha Vulga. Larnell played Beaches Jazz street scene a good five years in his teens.

Next up the Oscars!

The Oscars are about predictions. It’s much like being in one of those fantasy gaming pools. And the winner is! Most folks rarely see the nominated films. Most are carting small kids to Disney toons or pay to watch extreme havoc on the big screen. Don’t expect a family outing for Manchester by the Sea.

I expect this will be a make amends year with America’s African-American community and rightly so. Three films with superb casts drawn from the community top my list – Hidden Figures, Fences and Moonlight. Pick any of these and it’s win, win! La La Land has the upper hand going in with fourteen nominations. Let’s see how this plays out.

Those predictions; Denzel Washington and Emma Stone – best actors -  Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali best supporting actors – Hidden Figures, best picture. Don’t place any coin on this!

Coming soon, the big Canadian mash-up – the Junos. Much like any awards show there’s always controversy. Recently, singer David Clayton-Thomas complained of being slighted.

Music that falls between the grooves of staid categories will find placement a difficult proposition. Is it jazz – is it pop – adult contemporary? Having served on the jazz committee, I know the criteria. Jazz is meant to be jazz! Pop is pop. Complaining gets no mileage. Too often musicians are victims of their own expectations. You should make music for the love and need to make a creative statement. Expecting to be rewarded with a trophy isn’t all it’s made out to be. The big reward is getting your music played and heard and embraced. Years ago, blues guitarist Morgan Davis cleaned up at the Junos. I ran into him a day or so later playing in a smoky corner of a bar on Elm Street amongst karaoke types squealing above Davis’ band. A distraught Davis says to me, “last night I was celebrated the best blues artist of the year; tonight reality. I’m playing for $75 and rent.” Trophies don’t pay the bills.