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Pulitzer Schmulitzer

FJO flags Terry Teachout’s WSJ piece called Jazz Wins a Pulitzer – But did Ornette Coleman deserve his prize?

Thoughts?

Comments

Comment from Daniel
Time: April 30, 2007, 8:43 pm

I agree with Wyner. Let’s split the prize in half: Two Pulitzers, each $5,000. The Pulitzer isn’t known for its generous monetary award (unlike the Grawemeyer or the CI Living), its more about the recognition.

Comment from Rob Deemer
Time: April 30, 2007, 10:23 pm

On the first read of Terry’s article, my knee-jerk reaction was fairly positive towards his sentiments…there’s several different angles where you could criticize this year’s Pulitzer choice, with each one holding some legitimacy. However, upon further review, I’m not sure Terry’s arguments are as strong as they could be.

He begins by questioning the eligibility of the work: “The Pulitzer is supposed to go to a “distinguished musical composition by an American in any of the larger forms including chamber, orchestral, choral, opera, song, dance, or other forms of musical theatre.” Whatever its other virtues, “Sound Grammar” is clearly not a large-scale composition, nor does it break any new stylistic ground for the celebrated and influential avant-garde saxophonist.” The actual guidelines in the Pulitzer application read a bit differently: [Columbia University awards the] Pulitzer Prize in music of $10,000 “for distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.” Nothing about “large-scale composition”, “breaking stylistic new ground” or even the concept of a single composition – it says “for distinguished musical composition”, not “for a distinguished musical composition”…in my book, there’s a huge difference between the two and one that was probably knocked about quite a bit when the new guidelines were created. The fact that the performance wasn’t in 2006 is also covered in the award guidelines – the performance has to be within two years and the issuing of the recording has to be within a year of the deadline.

By bringing up Ellington’s diss by the Pulitzer Board in 1965 and the posthumous awards to Joplin, Gershwin, Ellington and Monk, Teachout seems to give the impression of “why should we award jazz musicians real Pulitzers, since they’ll probably get one once they’re dead?”…maybe that’s a bit harsh, but it’s not far off. His comments about “most jazz is improvised” seems contradictory coming on the heels of mentioning those posthumous awardees, who are well-respected composers as well as improvisors.

The judges get their due in the article as well, with questions concerning their competency. Yes, David Baker is a well-known and respected jazz educator as is Ingrid Monson and the others have various amounts of experience with jazz, which obviously skewed the system. If that’s the case, where’d they come up with Eliot Goldenthal’s opera and Augusta Read Thomas’ orchestral work as finalists? And in 2006, with a jazz-heavy jury including Howard Reich, Muhal Richard Adams and George Lewis with a ragtime fan in William Bolcom to boot, not a single jazz finalist in the end (Peter Lieberson, Chen Yi and the winner, Yehudi Wyner) and few if any questioning looks towards the judging table (they did give Monk a deserving posthumous award).

I do agree with Terry that the best way around this situation is to create more music awards…there are 11 journalism awards for the written word and 6 for fiction, non-fiction, poetry and theatrical writers, and one lonely award for composers. How difficult would it really be to create a Pulitzer Prize for Classical Music, Jazz Music and Popular Music (or some variation thereof)? With all the excessive awards for our brethren in the film and entertainment industries, adding a couple more recognitions for those who aspire to the greatest heights in their art shouldn’t be a hard thing to do.

Finally, and most importantly, the award specifies that the composition must go to an American composer. It saddens me that there is still so much animosity against the idea of including jazz and other styles and mediums into the Pulitzer arena; personally I was writing big band charts and analyzing Ellington, Gil Evans, Mingus and Monk years before I finally started writing concert works. It’s all American Music, so what’s the fuss?

Comment from zeno
Time: May 1, 2007, 9:15 am

“How difficult would it really be to create a Pulitzer Prize for Classical Music, Jazz Music and Popular Music (or some variation thereof)?” (Rob Deemer)

I continue to believe that American culture would be aided by an (almost) annual Pulitzer Prize for Opera/Music Theater — as well as Classical, Jazz, and Popular musics — and Drama. In the more recent past, American opera/music theater composers have often had to look to the more welcoming field of American Classical and Experimental Theater in order to achieve some early, or later, career recognition. I am not sure whether the San Francisco and Washington National Operas would be able to premiere/reprise new operas by Philip Glass, Stewart Wallace, and William Bolcom, over the next two seasons, if those artists hadn’t received support and early recognition as experimental music theater artists working outside of the so-called American opera system.

Similarly, I am not sure how much the awarding of the highly prestigious Grawemeyer Awards, for opera/music theater, to Birtwistle, Tan, and Saariaho, has done, in and of itself, toward deepening opera and music theater here in America; now in the 21st century.

Comment from Sparky
Time: May 1, 2007, 12:03 pm

Hey, as long as Kenny G didn’t win.

Comment from Seth Gordon
Time: May 1, 2007, 3:22 pm

This isn’t exactly something unheard of for the PPs. It’s not exactly uncommon to give an award to someone for a particular work in name, but everyone knows in spirit it’s for the body of work. Was The Road the best novel of 2006? It’s good, but in a word, no – I doubt many critics would disagree. Maybe it scratches the bottom of the top 10, sure. But the guy who wrote All The Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian – two books which one could make a case were the best of their respective years – is getting old. A NYT poll last year put Blood Meridian #3 on a list of the most important American novels of the last 25 years. He probably doesn’t have many books left in him. Time to hook him up.
Every awards group does the same thing – it’s not exclusive to the PPs. Heck, why’d Paul Newman win Best Actor for The Color of Money? Because he shoulda won for The Hustler.

Same reason – more than likely – Ornette got his. They probably saw how old and frail he was looking at the Grammys and figured “hell, we better do this now.”
I’m predicting the next few years we see a lot of this. Reich will get his (he just needs to stop looking so spry for his age – ditch the cap, show the grey, man) and probably for something no one considers even remotely his best work. And I suspect, with the opening of the qualification rules, we’ll see some elder who’s more of a pop artist win it before 2010 – dunno who, nothing too mainstream. I’ll put a dollar on Laurie Anderson, just to make it interesting.

Comment from Daniel
Time: May 1, 2007, 3:46 pm

I’ve always imagined SR being bald under the ball cap. Am I wrong?

Comment from David Toub
Time: May 1, 2007, 4:00 pm

While I haven’t seen SR sans cap for years, I doubt he’s bald. Truth be told, he actually wears a yarmulke underneath it, according to an interview I saw recently (I think on NMB, but I can’t recall exactly).

Comment from DJA
Time: May 1, 2007, 4:58 pm

Truth be told, he actually wears a yarmulke underneath it

My understanding is that he was uncomfortable with an actual yarmulke, but felt he ought to have some kind of head covering, hence the cap.

And I think Seth’s Laurie Anderson bet is shrewd. My instinct would have been “Dylan,” but on reflection there’s no way in hell. I think David Byrne has a shot, though.

Comment from David Salvage
Time: May 1, 2007, 5:17 pm

Whether or not the book or composition is the author’s or composer’s personal best doesn’t matter. The Pulitzers are given for the best stuff published within a certain very narrow time frame. Maybe this wasn’t Coleman’s best, but maybe it was still better than anything else the committee saw.

I think Wyner’s suggestion to give a non-classical award is awful. Just stuff the committee with people coming from disparate tastes and backgrounds and let the power of persuasion win. Teachout has a better point, I think, regarding the award and the status of the composer. One of the best cases one can make for keeping the Pulitzer centered on classical composition is that it grants recognition to someone doing something relatively obscure.

BTW: I haven’t read any other Cormac McCarthy, but I was absolutely spellbound by “The Road.”

Comment from Evan
Time: May 2, 2007, 1:36 pm

Just stuff the committee with people coming from disparate tastes and backgrounds and let the power of persuasion win.

I’m sorry, I don’t accept this. I am simply not qualified to vote on the relative merits of jazz records, and I don’t expect most jazz musicians to be qualified for the reverse. I’m with Wyner on this.

If one panel is adjudicating a pile of aesthetically unrelated music, the result is absolutely guaranteed to be lukewarm. This is already the problem with most composition prizes, of course; aesthetic non-relation can be an intra-“genre” phenomenon. But what you are suggesting – and what the Pulitzer board is apparently trying to implement – is a recipe for lowest-common-denominator-ism to the nth degree.