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Grammy Time

What it Means to Win a Grammy

2013 Grammy Award, Best Improvised Jazz Solo for Hot House

As some of you may know, Chick Corea and I won another Grammy award earlier this month for our recording HOT HOUSE (our 6th as a collaboration). The category was Best Improvised Jazz Solo. There are five Grammy categories for jazz: Best Jazz Ensemble (we were also nominated in this category and the winner was our long-time friend and collaborator Pat Metheny), Best Large Ensemble (the winner was Arturo Sandoval for a CD on which I appeared as guest soloist), Best Jazz Vocal (won by Esperanza Spaulding, one of my students when I taught at Berklee), and Best Latin Jazz recording. This is my 7th Grammy win, spaced out over the past five decades — at least one Grammy each decade.

People often ask me what it means to win a Grammy and the answer is easy. This is an award chosen by our peers, not the public, not a poll of critics, or an institution. There are approximately 12,000 voting members in the Recording Academy. To join, you have to be a creative participant in six recordings, as musician, arranger, composer, engineer, producer, liner note writer — in short, any creative aspect of making records. All members can vote in the major categories like Record of the Year, Best New Artist, Song of the Year, etc. Other categories are grouped according to genre, five for jazz, eight for classical, and so on covering blues, country, etc. Members can select the categories they in which they wish to vote, limited to a reasonable number. The idea is for members to vote only in categories with which they have expertise.

The voting takes place in several rounds. First is an open entry process. Members and record labels can submit any recording released commercially during the eligible year (Oct 1 to September 30). The academy screens all the entries to make sure that the entries are placed in the correct categories (typically about 10% are submitted in error and are moved to the correct categories). The list of entries then goes out to all the members to vote in the nomination round. Next, the top five vote getters (occasionally there are ties so it becomes the top six vote getters) called nominees, are sent to members for their final decisions. On Grammy day (February 10, in the case of the latest telecast), the winners are announced during the national Gramy telecast, and the pre-telecast.

The national telecast only includes award presentations of about a dozen major categories. The rest of the Grammys are presented in a pre-telecast event, broadcast live on the internet, taking place over three hours prior to the national telecast. It makes for kind of a long day if you are there in person, given 3-hours for the pre-telecast, an hour break, then 3 ½ hours for the Grammy telecast, and the after party that goes for another couple of hours. An audience of about 4,000 attends the pre-telecast awards. The evening Grammy telecast brings together an audience of 12,000 members and their guests. No tickets are sold to the public.

To sum it up, there is something special about all these people in our industry voting for the artists, singling out their expert choices. Winning a Grammy is simply the top award a musician can look forward to. While nothing tops the applause and enthusiasm of the audiences at our concerts, winning a Grammy comes pretty close.