Texan Ornette Coleman wins Pulitzer Prize

April 18, 2007

Quoting from the Pulitzer Prize website:Ornette Coleman by Jimmy Katz

For distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
Awarded to “Sound Grammar” by Ornette Coleman, recording released September 12, 2006.

Also nominated as finalists in this category were: “Grendel” by Elliot Goldenthal, premiered June 8, 2006 by the Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, libretto by Julie Taymor and J.D. McClatchy, and “Astral Canticle” by Augusta Read Thomas, premiered June 1, 2006 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (G. Schirmer, Inc.).

Ornette Coleman does nothing without flair (look at the photo — catch the color of the horn, and don’t miss the jacket). Fort Worth native, Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize for composition, for a recording released in 2006. It was the first time that a recording was considered for the composition prize. The Pulitzer judge panel put Coleman in competition sua sponte — his composition was not nominated prior to the judges’ consideration.

So Coleman won for an improvisation, the composition was presented as a recording rather than on paper, and he won despite not being nominated in the first place.

NPR has one of the best stories on the prize, with excerpts from the recording you may listen to. Here is Coleman’s own website.

Coleman would make a fun Texas Music Monday in seventh grade Texas history, but it may be difficult to find tracks that are really listenable. His work is deep, and it often takes a lot for a listener to keep up.

But in a context of the diversity of Texas music, in a curriculum that has already included Van Cliburn, Bob Wills, conjunto, “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” Charley Pride, George Strait, Tex Ritter, Janis Joplin, Flaco Jimenez, Brave Combo, Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Scott Joplin, et cetera ad infinitum — everything from classical to the purest country, with rock, German and Mexican polka, and everything else thrown in* — kids might find it of interest, especially if they’re from Fort Worth.

Ornette Coleman is one more great Texas Native. Tip of the old scrub brush to P. M. Summer, who called my attention to the Coleman award in the comments of my previous Pulitzer post.

* Yes, of course I left off three or four of your favorite artists. If you can’t name five good-to-great Texas musicians who are not on this list, you’re not breathin’.

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