Tuesday, March 01, 2011



Vocalist, Musician, Composer

The recent 53rd Grammy Awards 2011 televised program moved at a refreshingly rapid pace for such shows. Almost constant musically entertaining action with tight time limits on everything in between performances accounted for this feat. The production also contained more disconcerting blipped content than I’ve ever heard on any one program. Eventually, I became distracted, then irritated, as I began to wish either all those censored words would be aired, or the entertainers would use some that could be aired. I won’t go into word censorship pros and cons now.

The show proceeded with the introduction of music world celebrities, who then received momentary audience adulation, before announcing the nominees, followed by each nominated individuals or groups performance. Declared award winners were strictly limited to very brief acceptance speeches allowing this lengthy 3 ½ hour program to proceed so rapidly. Maybe some of this time limiting would be welcomed for other televised awards shows of shorter duration.

Much of the music performed accurately reflected that aspect of the past decades pop tastes for mostly aggressive sounding music. The constant nature of the various songs’ lyrics consisted of stories often focused on only life’s harsh realities, though some were occasionally poetic. Personally, I could enjoy the musical choices offering a little more romanticism, idealism and fantasy.

Also, I certainly recognize the significance of physical sex to humankind, but the performers seemed to have a pressing need to overtly sexualize their words and body choreography. Perhaps their music is a reflection of thoughts most on the mind of the Grammys predominately youth-skewed artists. I also heard mostly loud belting singers voicing similar to each other yodel-like pitch changes with an over emphasis on wavering vibrato. Music instrumentation uniformly was characterized by the incessant heaviness of over-powering drum beating which continues to be so prevalent in much current music.

The highly touted appearance of Mick Jagger was characterized by his energy exhibited while shouting-singing with his striding parade back and forth across the stage. He effectively meshed the loud heavy musical bass beats with the song’s lyrics he sang that seemed to consist of little more than the same phrase persistently repeated. Some reviewers have snidely commented on his age, as they did about Barbra Streisand’s, but that has nothing to do with my comments about the actual music. I do have little regard for those critics or reviewers in the music, or any other industry, whose jibing comments are demeaning based on an individual’s age.

Every decade I’ve enjoyed a varying number of song choices from most every genre, including pop music. Recent decades I've heard fewer pop tune selections that appeal to me, but I’m always interested in listening to the offerings.

The Record of the Year, “Need You Now,” by Lady Antebellum also won Best Country Album and Song of the Year as I had guessed it might. Interesting to me, was that the initial lyrics seemed like a variation with a different rhythm of an old pop romantic ballad written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen often associated with vocalists Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, “One For My Baby,”:

--- “It’s quarter to three and there’s no one in the place…”

Lady Antebellum’s initial “Need You Now” words, before some more original lyrics followed:

--- “It’s a quarter after one and I’m all alone...”

“The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, another choice I had, surprisingly to me, correctly selected.

Excepting the songs mentioned here, there was a sameness to most all the Grammy Awards music – loud and louder, fast and faster, with high and higher tension building toward increasingly extravagant special effects, pyrotechnics and often all sorts of grandiose dance gymnastics. Just doesn’t seem enough to have vocal talent and music skills without all the other ‘couterments ala Lady Gaga’s egg. I’ve often wondered if such distractions serve to mask vocal quality weaknesses and/or music skills, but listeners would have to arrive at their own individual perceptions and preferences on that topic.

I simply didn’t experience the Grammy program as having an overall musical variety, much less including many songs that created feelings of warmth, calmness and reflection until Barbra Streisand sang a rendition of her original composition, “Evergreen.” I welcomed hearing a tender romantic poetically uplifting melody backed by an orchestra with integrated unobtrusive drumming beats.

Introduced with Kris Kristofferson, Ms Streisand was briefly honored as MusiCares Person of the Year, sang "Evergreen, then quickly moved off stage. Her appearance seemed almost like a last minute injected footnote.

MusiCares is a non-profit organization offering assistance to musicians in crisis and seemed deserving of a minute or two more attention from those present. I wondered if the audience, with the optimism of youth, failed to recognize MusiCares significance, much less that some of the entertainers among them would likely eventually need to receive the organizations help.

Here’s Barbra Streisand singing “Evergreen” Live in Concert – 2000:

The Grammy Show's highlight for me wasBest New Artist -- Esperanza Spalding. Her selection was surprising to many of the music world pundits. I was delighted with her well-deserved recognition as I recalled being so impressed upon first hearing her music a year or more ago. I couldn’t describe better than this quote from her myspace web site that refers to her as a “jazz fushion artist.”

“If “esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope, then bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza Spalding could not have been given a more fitting name at birth. Blessed with uncanny instrumental chops, a multi-lingual voice that is part angel and part siren, and a natural beauty that borders on the hypnotic, the 25-year-old prodigy-turned-pro might well be the hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music.”

(A video of her performance on David Letterman’s Show, and also a free download is available there.)

“Musician and rising star Esperanza Spalding performs ‘Tell Him’ on the double bass at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009. “

I confess to musical bias for the upright bass since this was my husband’s instrument as I’ve noted here earlier, including in this most recent February piece. An upright bass is an uncommon instrument for women musicians, but attractive Ms Spalding is exceptionally talented playing and singing -- well deserving of her 2011 Grammy Award as Best New Artist.


  1. I cannot watch The Grammy's, even though Music is very very important to me and it is such a HUGE part of my life...I don't like most of the Music that is popular today and I have a very hard time with the OVER-Amplification of instruments, now always present. I know it is all a big specticle and some of it is fun...But I find it very very tiring and hard on the ears...
    I think Esperanza Spalding is incredibly talented and was pleased that she won the Award she did, over Justin Bieber.
    I guess, bottom line, I'd rather read about The Grammy's than see them! So thanks for your review.

  2. Thank you so much. I was unable to watch the show because of the current remodeling project in our home so your comprehensive and thoughtful review is appreciated.

  3. OldOldLady: I certainly agree with you that over-amplification is not only unpleasant but damages hearing. It's no coincidence that there is increasing need for Audiologists to test for permanent hearing damage and selling hearing aids that are less than perfect substitutes for human hearing function.

    Dick: Glad you could appreciate my perspective of Grammy Awards. Hope the home remodeling progresses rapidly and you're soon satisfactorily re-settled.

  4. I always try to watch the Grammys....I love music. This year's show was a mixed bag for me...and for some of the same reasons you mention. I enjoyed a good portion of it...especially the tribute to Aretha Franklin at the beginning with those five or six ladies belting out some of her songs...among them, Yolanda Adams, Christina Aquilera, Martina McBride, Jennifer Hudson. They all were wonderful. I'm not such a fan of those over-amplicated performances either...I much prefer the more intimate ones. I also agree with you about many of the performers overtly sexualizing their words and body choreography. I'm hardly a prude, and am very open-minded when it comes to music; but I don't find a lot of it very appealing and I'm not sure why they think it enhances their performance. Good post JoAnn... ~Joy

  5. Joy: I think the behavior reflects that typical young age group's obsession with sex. What's different between my generation and theirs is the need they have to overtly flaunt their sexuality i.e. Michael Jackson needing to grab his crotch which titillated many. Have wondered if the compulsion is to overcompensate for an underlying feeling of ambiguity, inadequacy or exploit a shock value -- anything for attention. What year will we have total nudity? Oh, Rosie did that on Broadway with Hair, years go and look at the fame and fortune it brought her. I'll leave the definitive assessments on the whys and wherefores to the psych.

  6. I confess to being an old fuddy duddy when it comes to music. I far prefer the ballads when the lyrics told a story and the melody was beautiful. I just can't appreciate today's music of a loud repetitive beat and senseless inane lyrics.

    Give me a Cole Porter number like "Begin the Beguine" over anything that is popular today. I even prefer the silly songs of yesterday like "Baby It's Cold Outside" to today's fare.

    I don't watch the Grammy's so I really shouldn't comment.

  7. Somewhere in my journey, I lost sight of where the music was going (somewhere around rap). I guess that's called old age.