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Behind the Overdog: Jazz United Takes a Closer Look at the 2021 Grammy Nominations

Matt Sayles
Chick Corea at the 55th Grammy Awards in 2013, when he won for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Improvised Jazz Solo.

With each year’s new slate of Grammy nominations, there comes a wave of armchair analysis.

Which artists have the momentum this year? Who got unjustly overlooked? How many more awards can overdog Chick Corea win before they retire his jersey and call it a day?

We’re being cheeky, but we know the real-world implications. Artists who take home a gold-plated gramophone trophy typically see an increase in ticket sales, industry clout and earning power. Despite it all, the Grammys do matter.

In this episode of Jazz United, we consider that calculus, and how we feel about this year’s nominee pool. There’s reason for some ambivalence about the process, and the uphill climb that unsigned and independent artists face against Hall of Famers.

What does it mean when a jazz artist chooses to compete outside the field? Is recognition surer or more plentiful for nominees in jazz-adjacent categories that forgo the J-word? And what is up with Jacob Collier?

We’re happy for all who were nominated, of course, including first-timers like Ambrose Akinmusire, Thana Alexa and the Afro-Peruvian Jazz Orchestra. We’re also happy to see recognition for eminently worthy contenders like Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian Scott Atunde Ajuah, Joshua Redman and Robert Glasper. We’ll discuss all of these artists and more — including a few who we feel should have received a Grammy nod.

Music Featured in This Episode:

Jazz United is produced by Sarah Kerson.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.