Claim loss of Grammy category will hurt them

Four Latin jazz musicians have filed a class-action suit against the Recording Academy, alleging that its decision to eliminate a Grammy Awards category for their genre has robbed them of “any meaningful opportunity to gain broad exposure of their music to the general public.”

The suit, filed Aug. 1 in New York state Supreme Court, seeks a reinstatement of the best Latin jazz album Grammy category and claims that the Recording Academy “wrongfully and arbitrarily discriminated” against and breached its fiduciary duty to class members by axing the slot.

In April, responding to years of complaints that its annual awards show had grown unwieldy, NARAS pared the number of Grammy categories to 78 from 109 (Daily Variety, April 7). Niche genres like Latin jazz, whose Grammy category originated in 1995, were the focus of the cuts, though rock and pop kudos were also lopped.

Latin percussionist Bobby Sanabria, one of the plaintiffs in the newly filed suit, was perhaps the most outspoken critic of the Grammys downsizing. In July, he led a call for a boycott of CBS, which airs the annual kudocast (Daily Variety, July 7).

In this week’s action, Sanabria is joined by multi-instrumentalist Ben Lapidus, pianist Mark Levine and composer Eugene Marlow. All four men are identified as longtime Recording Academy members.

Levine received a 2003 Grammy nomination in the best Latin jazz album category for “Isla”; suit says he returned his nomination medal to the academy on July 20.

Academy’s decision to axe the Latin jazz category — allegedly bypassing input from membership in NARAS’ 12 national chapters — “could have a severe detrimental impact on the plaintiffs’ musical careers,” action claims.

The Recording Academy issued a statement saying it “believes this frivolous lawsuit is without merit, and we fully expect to prevail.”

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