Grammy Awards: Esperanza Spalding’s win adds up to big night for jazz -- mostly

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The Grammys aren’t well known for the good kind of surprises, frankly, but when Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist there were reports of an audible gasp hitting the floor of Staples Center. Handicapped as the winner by only the most optimistic jazz fans, Spalding’s nomination was supposed to be reward enough in a field crowded with pop stars such as Drake and Justin Bieber (whose outraged fans took to vandalizing Spalding’s Wikipedia page in frustration).

One prominent New York City jazz writer even Twitter-pledged to ‘go out and make a snow angel naked’ if Spalding came away with a win (he’s a bourbon-fortified man of his word, though no one begrudges a few wardrobe concessions for safety reasons--it’s really cold back there). In short, the jazz community is undeniably and deservedly giddy in enjoying a great moment for the music. The most deserving and adventurous choice won, and she’s a jazz musician through and through.


Yet it’s hard not to feel a little frustrated. Spalding’s performance during the show came with a collection of talented high school students, which would have been great had ‘Glee’s’ Matthew Morrison and the Recording Academy’s Neil Portnow not been talking about MusiCares the entire time.

Seeing jazz relegated to background music was disappointing, even for a show that doesn’t have a reputation for being ‘about the music’ in the first place. With so many viewers (and Bieber fans) answering Spalding’s win with a shocked ‘Who?,’ a great Grammy moment could’ve been even greater had Spalding been given an adequate chance to answer.

Still, this feels a little like quibbling on a night when jazz -- and Spalding -- enjoyed a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. The only concern now is that supposed ‘Best New Artist’ curse that seems to come along with such a win, but given all Spalding has shown up to now, she shouldn’t have much to worry about.

‘For me this is the beginning of the beginning,’ Spalding said backstage when asked about her win. ‘Hopefully on the 30th album, I win something that’s just as beautiful.’

-- Chris Barton


Esperanza Spalding, liberation fighter for jazz