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Who is Jacob Collier, Grammy album of the year nominee?

Jacob Collier holds a Grammy statuette at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
Jacob Collier at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Pop artists like Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber have turned YouTube attention into major Grammy nominations. Jazz artists like Herbie Hancock and Esperanza Spalding have unexpectedly brought home top prizes amidst stiff pop competition.

But the little-known Jacob Collier’s route to a nod for the Grammys’ album of the year is a rare combination of both. He’s a multi-instrumentalist prodigy who won a niche but devoted audience with deftly arranged and charming home videos, which earned him the support of industry titans like Quincy Jones. Now, it’s earned him a shot at the Grammys’ top prize (he’s also nominated for R&B performance; and arrangement, instruments and vocals).

The 2021 Grammy nominations, in 83 categories

The London-based 26-year-old musician, of British and Chinese descent, is the outlier in the album of the year category dominated by pop staples like Taylor Swift, Post Malone and Dua Lipa. Though he’s achieved plenty of international renown, including a gig at the BBC Proms in 2018 and a popular NPR Tiny Desk show in July, many Grammy watchers are probably learning about his LP “Djesse Vol. 3” for the first time after seeing him in this category.

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His winsomely arranged tunes — whether originals or takes on standards like “Moon River” — aren’t trendy or especially modern (Bobby McFerrin and Burt Bacharach come up a lot). He has an unexpectedly deep tenor and unflagging earnestness — just watch the enthusiasm he puts into a 2019 spin on Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” or his very goofy but extremely detailed cover of the “Flintstones” theme.

Quincy Jones, of “Thriller” production fame, signed Collier to his management firm early in his career, and became a lasting champion for Collier’s rangy instrumental prowess and sweet-tempered original songwriting.

But 2020 is not the first time Collier has been up for a Grammy — he’s actually four-for-four in winning whenever he’s nominated.

Collier took home two Grammys in both 2016 and 2019 for arrangement, instrumental or a capella; and arrangement, instruments and vocals. His 2016 album, “In My Room,” took Brian Wilson’s advice quite literally with its complex and multilayered home recordings (the song is a centerpiece cover for the LP), and hit No. 3 on the Billboard jazz albums chart.

His 2018 follow-up, “Djesse Vol. 1,” was recorded with the Dutch big-band ensemble Metropole Orkest, but his third volume in the series brought in some contemporary pop and R&B guests for a modern edge. Ty Dolla Sign, Daniel Caesar and Rapsody are among the guests on 2020’s “Vol. 3,” and the album incorporates many more electronic elements and contemporary production moves.

You may have already seen Collier at Coachella as well — in 2017, he played alongside Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams during the composer’s bombastic set of film scores.

Despite his credentials, Collier is a deep long shot to win album of the year. But in a year when the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are your competition, just being there as a left-field jazz artist is a feat in and of itself.

The Jan. 31 ceremony will be held amid what will likely be an unabated deadly pandemic, so Grammy organizers hoping for a less knee-buckling show than last go-round may have to wait until 2022.


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