Pulitzer Prize for Music Goes to Ornette Coleman - Jazz Composition Wins for First Time Ever

Classic Arts News   Pulitzer Prize for Music Goes to Ornette Coleman - Jazz Composition Wins for First Time Ever
Sound Grammar, a recording by jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman and his band released in September 2006, has won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Music, which carries a $10,000 cash award. The disc, the first in a decade by the legendary free jazz pioneer, was recorded live at a 2005 concert in Italy.

The other two finalists for the music prize were Eliot Goldenthal's Grendel, which premiered at Los Angeles Opera on June 8, 2006, and Augusta Reid Thomas's orchestral work Astral Canticle, whose first performance was given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Daniel Barenboim on June 1, 2006.

Another jazz legend, John Coltrane, won a posthumous special citation from the Pulitzer committee for "his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz."

In addition, Los Angeles Times classical music critic Mark Swed was a finalist for the criticism Pulitzer, which was won by L.A. Weekly restaurant critic Jonathan Gold.

This is the first time ever that a jazz composition has won the Pulitzer Prize, one of the most prestigious in the U.S. (Wynton Marsalis, best known as a jazz musician, received the Pulitzer in 1997 for Blood on the Fields, which is a classical work.) Duke Ellington was given a posthumous citation for his lifetime's work from the Pulitzer board in 1998; Thelonious Monk received a similar citation last year.

The awards to Coleman and Coltrane, two of the giants of 20th-century American music in any genre, reflect a conscious effort by the Pulitzer board to widen the scope of material considered for the prize. "Going back more than a decade," board member Jay Harris, a professor at the University of Southern California, told The Associated Press, "there has been a concern on the Pulitzer board that this unwritten definition [that only classical music be considered] effectively excluded some of the best of American music," including jazz, musical theater, and film scores. This concern extended to many members of the music community, some of whom argued that the Pulitzer was no longer relevant.

To address that situation, the board three years ago made several changes in eligibility guidelines for the music Pulitzer: compositions whose premieres were on recording rather than in performance can now be considered, and entrants may submit a recording in addition to or in lieu of a score. In addition, the makeup of the jury, which had previously been four composers and a (classical) music critic, was changed to three composers and two other music experts (such as conductors or performers).

The choice of music jurors for 2007 reflects this change in orientation; the members were:

  • Yehudi Wyner, a composer and professor of music at Brandeis University (as well as the winner of last year's Pulitzer Prize for Music),
  • John Schaefer, host of the programs New Sounds and Soundcheck on WNYC New York Public Radio,
  • Ingrid Monson, the Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music at Harvard University,
  • David Baker, chair of the jazz department at the Indiana University School of Music, and
  • John Rockwell, who recently retired from The New York Times after many years as a critic of rock music, classical music and dance.

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