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Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding Among the Winners at 62nd Grammy Awards

Jeff Kravitz
Esperanza Spalding accepts Best Jazz Vocal Album for '12 Little Spells' during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, Jan. 26, 2020.

In the midst of a turbulent and shocking season for the Recording Academy, some signs of stability could be found in the results of the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

One of these was pianist and longtime Grammy overdog Chick Corea, who led his Spanish Heart Band in a lively version of “Armando’s Rumba” during the pre-telecast Premiere Ceremony, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday. Shortly after the performance, Corea was cradling his 23rd Grammy — for Antidote, which won Best Latin Jazz Album.

Corea, 78, wasn’t the only repeat winner among this year’s jazz and blues nominees. Trumpeter Brian Lynch won his second Grammy, in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category, for The Omni-American Book Club. He noted from the podium that he’d been inspired by the inclusive vision of Albert Murray, whose The Omni-Americans he first read almost 50 years ago. 

Another heroic post-bop trumpeter, Randy Brecker, won his seventh Grammy, in the Best Improvised Jazz Solo category, for his playing on “https://youtu.be/6TEqjXqVQ1Y" target="_blank">Sozinho,” from Rocks, an album with the NDR Bigband and the Hamburg Radio Jazz Orchestra.

And singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding — whose past Grammy Moments include a surprise win as Best New Artist in 2011 — won Best Jazz Vocal Album for 12 Little Spells. Spalding has argued plainly that 12 Little Spells is “not a jazz album,” but she made no such protestations from the Grammy stage. Wearing a neon-floral jumpsuit with her trademark phrase “LIFE FORCE,” she described the album as “a piece of speculative fiction,” mentioning her reiki community as well as the musicians in her band.  

The award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album went to pianist and composer Brad Mehldau, who had been nominated 9 times before this win, his first. He prevailed with Finding Gabriel, an album that corrals an ambitious array of voices, horns and analog synthesizers for a striking commentary on our political situation.

Keb’ Mo’ won the award for Americana Album, for Oklahoma. Best Traditional Blues Album went to Tall, Dark & Handsome, by Delbert McClinton & Self-Made Men + Dana. Contemporary Blues Album went to This Land, by Gary Clark, Jr., who also won awards for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.

Jacob Collier won two awards in the Arranging categories, for “https://youtu.be/VPLCk-FTVvw" target="_blank">Moon River” (Best Arrangement, Instrumental of A Cappella) and “https://youtu.be/nspqYGz-Z1s" target="_blank">All Night Long” (Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals). Accepting the latter, he thanked his main collaborators, the Metropole Orkest and Take 6. (“I used to listen to Take 6 and sing the seventh note in every chord,” he said. “That’s how I learned to harmonize.”)

Among the jazz artists scattered throughout general categories, there was one notable win: Ranky Tanky took Best Regional Roots Music Album, for Good Time. “It’s an honor to be here and stand on the shoulders of our Gullah ancestry,” said trumpeter Charlton Singleton, “and bring this music and its message to the world.”

And Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto and Fiddle Dance Suite earned a Classical Instrumental Solo award for its soloist, Nicola Benedetti, who performed a vibrant excerpt during the ceremony.

Remarks about the Recording Academy’s upheavals were rare during the Premiere Ceremony, as was any political commentary. But Corea obliquely acknowledged a troubled climate during his acceptance speech.

“This recording is called Antidote, and I think everyone here – all the artists here, all the musicians here — represent that feeling,” he said. “We’re out here to spread joy and change the world. And I’m particularly honored to be part of the team. So that’s my thrill for today.”

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.