The recording academy made some interesting decisions on the biggest night for music, but they may have gotten something right which has bigger implications than anyone has realized. 64 years after the first black woman won Best Individual Jazz Performance and Best Female Vocal Performance at the first ever Grammy Awards, Samara Joy took home the title of Best New Artist. She shattered the glass box which characterized jazz as a pretentious genre, with snooty listeners who have gatekept this artform to leave it untarnished from larger society.
They were not wrong to hold their cards close to their chest either. Black people have been stolen from since the founding of the United States. First, their freedom for nearly 250 years. Then, their civil rights, and even now people continue to mooch off their fashion and music styles without proper homage to where the ideas came from in the first place.
However, jazz was different. Created in a tiny room in New Orleans, the artform soon matured into a platform for experimentation and expansion on traditional music theory. Audiences, no matter what demographic, young, old, white, black, loved it. Black people created a sense of community and carved out a space to cement themselves as innovators in the world of music.
Ella Fitzgerald, with her incredible diction and scat abilities, left audiences speechless. Sarah Vaughan, with her hypnotizing tone much like siren song, tantalized onlookers. Louis Armstrong, with his gravelly voice and incredible trumpet skills, captivated the whole of America. Jazz made a doorway to showcase Black talent at its finest.
Joy, proven by her Grammy and various award recognitions, is next in line to join this long legacy. Her velvety tone combines the timbres of Vaughan and Fitzgerald, and she knows how to pay tribute to her predecessors properly.
On her latest album Linger Awhile, Joy covers “Misty,” a beautiful love ballad which Fitzgerald was praised for, and “Can’t Get Out Of This Mood,” a playful movie track Vaughan covered on her second album Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi. She effortlessly mimics each vocalist with a unique twist.
Listen to her sing “Can’t Get Out Of This Mood” at the 65th Grammy Awards.
While any listener could hear the influences of Fitzgerald and Vaughn in Joy’s voice, she sings with a huskiness which each of the jazz legends did not bring to the table. While Vaughan and Fitzgerald had thinner, heady low vocals, Joy anchors her voice in just the right way to deliver powerful blows every time she suddenly glides from the middle of her range to the bottom.
Chromaticism also plays a large role in the improvisations she employs on the fly. She brings a strong dissonance to the ensemble she is accompanied by. Just when the listener feels as though the melody has been lost, she somehow resolves the nail-biting tension, and the listener is given a relief only jazz could bring them.
Through her vocal ability and her passion for recognizing those who came before her, it is no surprise the recording academy chose her for Best New Artist among her tough competition. Omar Apollo, Latto and even Wet Leg were just a few of the more mainstream, more popular nominated artists.
Honestly, her winning the award came as a surprise to most, but it indicates that she has been chosen as the torch bearer for jazz, bringing its brassy trumpets, swift piano and gorgeous vocals with her into the 21st century.
Joy’s music is the perfect steppingstone into the expansive world of jazz, and she should be kept on everyone’s radar.
Featured Image by Michael Ybarra.
Written by: Preethi Mangadu