Midway through last night’s 53rd annual hand out of the Grammy statuettes, a clip of the Juilliard String Quartet flashed by as part of an “awarded earlier” montage and I assumed that we had seen the televised program’s first and last reference to classical or jazz composition. Only moments later, however, those gathered around my set were happily stunned to see composer/bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding named the year’s Best New Artist, beating out Drake, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, and—that’s right—Justin Bieber. Wait, what? Had a super-talented female jazz artist just won a mainstream music award on American national television?
The Beliebers were not pleased, but the internet must have also been lit up by new listeners looking to explore what kind of music Spalding makes. How often does that happen during the Grammy’s?
The performance-heavy ceremony did mean that much of the awarding was relegated to off-camera presentation. Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony (Naxos) brought him two wins: Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Contemporary Composition. [Updated to clarify: Daugherty's Deus Ex Machina, which appears on the Metropolis Symphony (Naxos) CD won the composition award.] Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour De Loin (Harmonia Mundi) picked up Best Opera Recording and the Parker Quartet’s performance of Ligeti’s String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 (Naxos) got the nod for Best Chamber Music Performance.
Best Contemporary Jazz Album went to The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up International), and Herbie Hancock was recognized with Best Improvised Jazz Solo for his performance on A Change Is Gonna Come (Hancock Records). Mingus Big Band Live At Jazz Standard (Jazz Workshop, Inc./Jazz Standard) was honored as the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.
Composer Randy Newman’s music for Toy Story 3 was recognized with the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media.