NEW YORK — Bobby Sanabria already feels like a winner.
The Latin jazz musician, who led the protest against the Recording Academy when it downsized from 109 to 78 categories last year, is nominated for best Latin jazz album — one of the awards that had been eliminated but returns at the awards show next year.
“We're very proud,” Sanabria said in a recent interview. “It just places emphasis on the importance of this uniquely American art form. ... Of all the forms of music that are still getting recognition from the Grammys, this is one of the most disenfranchised forms because it isn't part of mainstream culture.”
The Recording Academy announced in June that it would reinstate the best Latin jazz album award and added two others, bringing the total number of awards 81.
Sanabria's nomination in the category for “Multiverse,” along with his Big Band, is his third time competing in the field. His band's song, “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Ellington,” is also nominated for best instrumental arrangement; the nomination goes to arranger Michael Philip Mossman.
Bronx-born Sanabria said he's excited that the best Latin jazz album was restored, but he hopes the others come back as well.
“CD sales are down, so the more categories we have, it's just good business,” he said.
The Academy shook up the music industry when it announced in April 2011 that it would downsize its categories to make the awards more competitive. That meant eliminating categories by gender, so men and women compete in the same vocal categories. Artists like Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon and Bill Cosby complained, and Sanabria led the group that filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed.
The 55-year-old drummer and percussionist said that the Grammys cut is a sign of the dying appreciation of jazz and blues music in American culture.
“We live in age now where DJs are more respected than musicians and I have nothing against DJs . but there's something to be said for the artistry of a human being taking a musical instrument and performing at a virtuosic level on it, and it takes years of dedication,” he explained. “I read something that in New York City they're having trouble filling the demand for DJs for New Year's Eve, and that used to be the night all musicians worked. That isn't the case anymore and something needs to be changed in the culture, and the Grammys can help in that respect with categories like (best Latin jazz album) and the classical music categories.”
Sanabria's latest album is a mixture of sounds, and he said he has his parents to thank for diversifying his musical exposure. He wants to win the Grammy so that they can witness it.
“(They are in) their 80s now and they're not in good health (and) they were the impetus for me,” he said.
Among his competition for best Latin jazz album, Sanabria will battle one of his students from New York's The New School, Manuel Valera of the New Cuban Express. He said he's excited to see his student get this kind of recognition and hopes other young adults will learn to appreciate jazz music's importance. On Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, Sanabria is performing a concert special — “Family Concert: What is Latin Jazz?” — at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.
“Without blues and jazz, you have nothing. There's no Beyonce, there's no Jay-Z, there's no Katy Perry, there's no Aerosmith,” he said. “It's the foundation of American music and it's sad that it isn't being taught as part of the history curriculum at every public school.”