Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two Pianists, Two Awards

© Andrea Canter

When you look at Critics Polls for jazz piano, two names that consistently rise to the top these days are Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer. The two have a lot in common—around the same age; known for their inventive, on-the-spot improvisations in solo and ensemble contexts; leaders of acclaimed groups and recording projects; and favorites among cutting-edge musicians. And among their projects is their own duo, yet to be recorded, but cross your fingers.

In the past week or so, Iyer and Taborn have each received word of a prestigious (and well deserverd) award.

Vijay Iyer, Doris Duke Performing Artist Award

Vijay Iyer is among five jazz artists named as the first group of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) Artists. Iyer joins Don Byron, Bill Frisell, John Hollenbeck and Nicole Mitchell among a total of 21 performing artists (contemporary dance, jazz, theatre, and multidisciplinary work) in a first class of three to be named annually to receive unrestricted, multi-year grants totaling $225,000 each, along with up to $50,000 for retirement funding and audience development.  Creative Capital, DDCF’s primary partner in the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards, will provide awardees with professional development activities, financial and legal counseling, and grantee gatherings to help maximize the awards.

Over the next decade, DDCF will offer at least 200 artists the greatly expanded freedom to create, through an initiative that makes available the largest allocation of unrestricted cash grants ever given to individuals in contemporary dance, jazz, theatre, and related fields. Provided to honorees through a rigorous, anonymous process of peer review—no applications are accepted—the grants are not tied to any specific project but are presented as investments in the artists’ personal and professional development and future work. “To qualify for consideration by the review panels, all of the Doris Duke Artists must have won grants, prizes or awards on a national level for at least three different projects over the past ten years, with at least one project having received support from a DDCF-funded program. The first class of artists were chosen based on demonstrated evidence of exceptional creativity, ongoing self-challenge and the continuing potential to make significant contributions to their fields in the future.”
Recently named director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music and recipient of the $30,000 Greenfield Prize by the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Greenfield Foundation, Vijay Iyer has accumulated a number of prestigious awards and commissions during his career. He was recently in the spotlight at the Walker Art Center during a mini-festival of his music (“The Sound of Surprise”), presenting, over two nights, compositions and arrangements in various solo, duo and trio contexts.

Craig Taborn, Paul Acket Award

Every year, the North Sea Jazz Festival presents its Paul Acket Award to “an artist deserving wider recognition for their extraordinary musicianship.” Minnesota native Craig Taborn, long a “talent deserving wider recognition,” will receive the Acket Award at the 2012 festival. Some comments from the awards jurors sum it up well:

Ken Pickering (Vancouver International Jazz Festival) explains that “Craig Taborn is unquestionably one of the most important pianists of his generation. In great demand, Taborn improves every band he plays in, whether he's on piano or keyboards. He is a complete musician and a great talent.” Frank van Berkel  (Jazz International Rotterdam) adds,  “With his music, Taborn creates a link from jazz to contemporary music. Naturally, there have been more artists doing this, but Taborn finds a way of shining in adventurous traditionalism together with James Carter, but also in full concert halls and released on the label ECM.” And Jean Jacques Goron, Vice President of the Foundation BNP Paribas which supports the award, notes that “Besides being a piano, organ, and Moog synthesizer player, primarily in jazz, Craig Taborn is also a great composer and talented improviser. His last album, Avenging Angel, released in 2011, is a distinguished contribution to the great solo piano tradition and shows a very personal approach to his instrument. We wish him all the best.”

The Paul Acket Award recognizes artists already known within the jazz scene, but not yet recognized by a wider audience.  In addition to a trophy, the Paul Acket Award winners also receive a cheque of 5000 euro to help further their careers. Past winners include Arve Hendriksen (2011), Christian Scott (2010), Stefano Bollani (2009), Adam Rogers (2008), Gianluca Petrella (2007), Conrad Herwig (2006), and Ben Allison (2005). The award will be presented at this year’s North Sea Jazz Festival on July 7, when Taborn will perform with PRISM, featuring Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland.