Doris Duke Performing Artists of jazz beyond jazz

Announced yesterday: the third annual Doris Duke Performing Artist and first ever Impact Awards, providing substantial financial honorarium to 13 “jazz” musicians whose works take seriously the mission of exploration and experimentation, as well as dancers and “theatre” artists.

doris duke

Doris Duke, patron of the arts

Saxophonist/composers Oliver Lake, Steve Lehman and Roscoe Mitchell as well as pianists Craig Taborn and Randy Weston and transformative harpist Zeena Parkins are recipients of the Artist awards, which comprise $275,000 total “investments” to each of them, featuring dedicated amounts for audience development and for “creative exploration during what are commonly retirement years.” Pianist/composer/AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist-composers Steve Coleman and Matana Roberts, guitarist Ben Monder, Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz and vocalist Jen Shyu, an improviser with a specialty in endangered traditional styles of Southeast Asia, have been given Impact awards of $80,000 each.

Without exception, all these honorees are jazz convention-challengers, if not outright game-changers (one might argue that Randy Weston, the 88-year-old son of Brooklyn who grew up loving Monk and bebop and over the course of his career has emphasized the African ancestry of jazz, represents more continuity with jazz traditions that the others, but I don’t buy that notion: none of the musicians reject “jazz” history in any way, all are expanding upon traditions they understand, have experience in and respect). Rather than being mainstream maintainers, each of these Awardees is a conceptualist who has created his/her own approach by study, experimentation and interactions with like-minded others.


The Duke and Doris

Several have personal connections: Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell have been associated since the beginning in 1965 of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), which Oliver Lake (as originally a member of the related Black Artists Group of St. Louis), and Matana Roberts have also been involved in. Steve Lehman has studied with George E. Lewis, trombonist and institutional biographer of the AACM, and Steve Coleman is a Chicagoan who grew up in AACM vicinities and has been at the center of his own loosely convened M-BASE musicians’ collective. Jen Shyu has sung with Coleman.


Who is serenading Doris and her friend — and where?

Akinmusire and Taborn, recorded respectively by Blue Note and ECM, recently released albums that have received considerable critical acclaim (including a Pianist of the Year Award for Tabor from the Jazz Journalists Association, which is celebrating Randy Weston  for his Duo of the Year with saxophonist Billy Harper). Only Zeena Parkins, currently a visiting professor at Mills College, has operated primarily outside “jazz-jazz,” having emerged from the NYC downtown improvisers world, toured with Bjork, etc. (I’m just pointing this out — it in no way disqualifies her from this Award!)

Doris Duke, tobacco heiress, in her will stipulated support for dance, theatre and jazz — these Awards are the result. As posted on the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation website, “The award is a deeper investment in the potential of dedicated artists, empowering them through the freedom of unrestricted support while celebrating past achievement.” Funds are made available over a three-to-five year period, and —

Doris Duke Artists will have access to Creative Capital’s goal assessment tools; financial and legal counseling; and conferences with peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Doris Duke Artists will also be able to allocate a portion of their funding to cover costs of professional development services including workshops to help artists expand their skills and practices (from strategic planning to fundraising to promotion); phone-in clinics that offer support for the business areas of artistic practices (legal, financial, tech, PR and business advice); memberships that provide opportunities for crowdfunding and fiscal sponsorship partners, as well as pro-rated fees for insurance or health care.

Nice deal, going to musicians who can have ongoing powerful impact on their peers and audiences, too. Previous Doris Duke Artists in jazz include Don Byron, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, John Hollenbeck, Nicole Mitchell in 2012; Anthony Braxton, Billy Childs, Amir ElSaffar, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miya Masaoka, Myra Melford and William Parker (2013).

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  1. says

    In the 50s her boyfriend was pianist Joe Castro who had much to do with her love of jazz.
    There was an MGM album which consisted of half Joe’s quartet (w/Teddy Edwards) and half Sonny Rollins. The Castro titles were recorded at her home, Falcon’s Lair.