Sunday, April 29, 2007

Here's a hoop, jump through

Ornette Coleman deserved his Pulitzer Prize, but Terry Teachout wonders if the jury's flaunting of the rules was worth it. Highlights below. (Wall St. Journal)

I also wonder how many judges likely to be tapped for future Pulitzer juries will be equally competent to weigh the relative merits of jazz and pop albums and written-out classical compositions. In a perfect world, all musicians would be as familiar with Duke Ellington as they were with Aaron Copland--and some of them are. In practice, though, it's comparatively uncommon for classical musicians to have extensive knowledge of jazz, or vice versa. Yehudi Wyner, the classical composer and Pulitzer laureate who chaired this year's jury, acknowledged this fact by recommending to the Pulitzer Board that separate prizes be given to classical and nonclassical music, which strikes me as a realistic response to an otherwise insoluble problem.

Needless to say, the fact that classical music was shut out of this year's Pulitzers has not gone unnoticed. Nor should it. The Pulitzer Prize for music, after all, is the only award for musical composition that receives any kind of mass-media attention in this country. Because it is reported in most American newspapers, it gives a boost to the careers of the classical composers who receive it, most of whom labor in semiobscurity. On the other hand, it will make no difference to Mr. Coleman, who long ago wrote himself into the history of American music and needs no prize to retrospectively certify his importance.

That's why I have mixed feelings about Mr. Coleman's Pulitzer. Should the jury have stretched the rules well past the breaking point in order to give it to him? I wish I could say yes. He deserves it, and so does jazz. Yet I can't help but recall the footrace in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" that was judged by a dodo: "There was no 'One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked . . . At last the Dodo said, 'EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.'" That's no way to win an award--even one that you richly deserve.

No comments: