Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Prized Pulitzers

It was cool to be the first to tell some Ornette Coleman fans yesterday that the alto legend had won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Despite their pleasure to see Coleman recognized for his work, they had mixed feelings that he would now be considered part of the establishment.

Frankly, Coleman will always be his own man, but it does help the Pulitzer’s reputation. The Pulitzer board’s snubbing of Duke Ellington in 1965 is a well known blot on their record. It was not until 1997 that a jazz piece was finally awarded a Pulitzer: Wynton Marsalis’ Blood on the Fields. Some press accounts of Coleman’s prize for the album Sound Grammar are calling it the first prize for jazz, categorizing Fields, as classical, which would likely draw an argument from those who performed and recorded it, including Jon Hendricks, Cassandra Wilson, Russell Gunn, and James Carter.

Regardless of what it means to the establishment, jazz fans should be happy to see the ranks of jazz Pulitzer winners double. Nekessa Mumbi Moody at the AP should get credit for writing: “Classical’s Grip Loosening on Pulitzers?” on Friday, looking fairly prescient a few days later. The Pulitzers should get credit too, for making their rules friendlier to jazz and theater composers.

The Pulitzers have also given special citations the jazz greats the last two years, as sort of make-ups for having missed the boat while they were still alive. Last year it was Monk, this year Coltrane. Ellington was belatedly acknowledged in 1999 (a year after finally recognizing George Gershwin’s music might have some staying power after all). Next year, someone should tell the Pulitzer board there was also this man named Mingus.