Four Latin jazz musicians filed a lawsuit in New York on Aug. 2 against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) indicating that they want the Latin jazz category reinstated after it was eliminated in April. The eliminated category could severely affect their careers and ability to compete for Grammy Awards, the suit argues.
Filed in the Supreme Court in New York, the 20-page claim indicates that plaintiffs Bobby Sanabria, Ben Lapidus, Mark Levine and Eugene Marlow -- all established musicians -- have been harmed by the elimination of their category in a breach by NARAS' "contractual obligations" that have caused "irreparable injury to the members of the Recording Academy."
The eliminated category, among 30 others, was announced during a NARAS press conference on April 6 clarifying that any recording artist can still submit in other categories. As an example, Latin jazz artists are eligible to submit their work in the categories of best Latin instrumental album or best jazz vocal album.
"It doesn't make sense," says Lapidus, a 10-year member of NARAS. "There are very specific elements of jazz that are different to Latin jazz."
Lapidus had been working on an album earlier this year that he put on hold after hearing that Latin jazz was no longer a classification. He and the other plaintiffs are not seeking compensation, but want the Academy to look at the impact of the eliminated categories and how it affects the careers of musicians who have been part of the organization for decades.
A statement from the Academy, through spokesperson Barb Dehgan, deems the lawsuit senseless.
"The Recording Academy believes this frivolous lawsuit is without merit, and we fully expect to prevail," reads the prepared statement.
During the April press conference, NARAS president Neil Portnow said that the Academy spent a considerable amount of time examining all categories with the support of an awards and nominations committee comprised of leaders from across the country "representing various genres and music makers."
In the end, through a board of trustees, the Academy moved to reduce the categories from 109 to 78.
"In 2009 we initiated a comprehensive evaluation of our awards process which led for a desire for change," Portnow said during the press conference. "A transformation of the entire awards structure would ensure that all fields would be treated with parity."
Attorney Roger Maldonado, who represents the plaintiffs, said that his clients deserve to have their category reinstated.
"The other categories will not give the Latin Jazz musicians a realistic chance of getting nominated," Maldonado says, "given the differences between the music and the number of other musicians who have been lumped into the same category."