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Latin Jazz musicians led by Bobby Matos (front) stage a musical protest outside of a meeting of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on May 26, 2011. NARAS plans to eliminate 31 categories, among them Latin Jazz, from the Awards beginning in 2012. The pretesters claim the eliminations unfairly target ethnic music and were done without the input of the academy's members.
The people in charge of the Grammys should have known better than to anger a guy who grew up in the Bronx.
Two years ago, they erased the Best Latin Jazz Album category from the long Grammy list of music awards.
That got percussionist and New York native Bobby Matos riled up. He wanted the smooth and flavorful rhythms of Latin jazz brought back to the Grammy Awards - and he launched a battle to get it done.
Matos, 71, put up a tough fight, and now his tenacity and love of Latin jazz is finally going to pay off: Sunday's 55th Annual Grammy Awards will once again include a dedicated category for Latin jazz.
Protests and a lawsuit
Last year, Matos and fellow percussionist Bobby Sanabria led protests across the country to restore the Latin Grammy category. That effort included a lawsuit against NARAS - The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences - to reverse its decision to ax Latin Jazz and 30 other Grammy Awards categories.
"Lots of other muscians - Oscar Hernandez, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow - [supported us] and took to the streets," said Matos. "We formed an organization called Grammy Watch, and gathered many, many petitions to reinstate [the Latin Jazz category.]"
Last June, NARAS reversed its decision and reinstated Latin jazz to the Grammy lineup.
Matos said he hopes the other categories cut from the awards show will also be given a second chance. But in the meantime, he wants a place in the spotlight for Latin jazz.
"I think most of the Latin Jazz musicians are very, very happy about being reinstated. But personally, I would like to see a Latin jazz group on stage during the telecast," he said.
Five top Latin jazz artists up for a Grammy
Matos still has plenty to cheer for at this Sunday's show. His pal Sanabria is up for the reinsatted Best Latin Jazz Album Grammy for his album Mulitiverse.
"I would love to see him win," Matos said. "It would be poetic justice if he won, plus it's a great album that he put out."
Other nominees in the Best Latin Jazz Album category include Chano Dominguez - Flamenco Sketches, Clare Fisher Latin Jazz Big Band - ¡Ritmo!, Luciana Souza - Duos III, and Manuel Valera New Cuban Express - New Cuban Express.
Matos is out with a new album - Mambo Jazz Dance - which he says he hopes will get a Grammy nomination next year.
"It's a celebration of the holistic properties of Latin Jazz music," he said.
Here's Mama Coolbeans, featured in the Bobby Matos album Mambo Jazz Dance: