The Grammy Award in Mathematics

In my first job in New York, my boss walked into my office one morning with a folded sheet of paper and a pained expression on his face. I asked him, "What's that?"

"My Grammy ballot. I don't even know who most of these punks are," he said.

"Like who?"

"Any of them, other than the classical section. I guess Bob [Ludwig] and Greg [Calbi] know who these people are, since they mastered most of them, but I have no clue about any of the popular stuff."

"I've always suspected that's why the Grammies seem so removed from reality," I said. "I reckon half the people in NARAS don't actually listen to music, they just vote for people whose names they've heard."

"You want to vote, go ahead. The only person I feel passionate about is Jack [Pfeiffer]. The other categories, knock yourself out."

So, after years of working in record stores and marveling about how wrong the Academy always got it on Grammy night, I finally got to vote—albeit not legally. I was immediately disappointed to discover that one reason the awards seemed so unimaginative was that the nominations were unimaginative. Despite my enthusiasm, King Crimson's Discipline didn't sweep the awards that year.

(I've since joined NARAS and actually qualify to vote—and do. Publicists take note!)

That was almost 30 years ago and a lot has changed. For one thing, the awards added so many categories that the nominations now require a Vogue-sized catalog, not a six-fold sheet of paper—and these days, members are only allowed to vote in six categories relating to their fields, not the entire program.

Perhaps, because my age now approaches that of the "old farts" I used to think were so clueless, the awards seem to get it right almost as much as they get it wrong. I was delighted that Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters won last night. Amy Winehouse? Meh.

But what do I know?

But the coolest story from the 2008 Grammys has to be about a technical award you probably haven't heard about: Jamie Howarth's Best Historical Album award for bringing Woody Guthrie back to life, thanks to Chaotic Compression Technology developed by Kevin Short. Read about The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949 here.

Go to the Howarth's link—marvel at the before and after clips. Then go to Short's link and check out mathematician Short's comments about "golden ears." Yes, they do exist.

Jason Stroud's picture

At least you know good music when you hear it, and for what was Crimson nominated?