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Wayne Shorter, Danilo Pérez and Kris Davis are among the 2021 Doris Duke Artists

Wayne Shorter and Danilo Perez
Jonathan Chimene
Wayne Shorter and Danilo Perez performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2013.

Saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianists Danilo Pérez and Kris Davis have been recognized as 2021 Doris Duke Artists, joining four other creative individuals in the fields of theater and dance. The prestigious award comes with a prize of $275,000. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation announced the news this morning.

For Shorter, 88, this comes as the latest in a long trail of accolades, including a Kennedy Center Honor (2019), the Polar Music Prize (2017) and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2014). A product of Newark, N.J., Shorter is one of the most widely and fervently admired composers in modern jazz, no longer active as a performer but on the cusp of a career milestone: Iphigenia, the opera he created in collaboration with Esperanza Spalding, will finally be presented to audiences this fall. (After previews at MassMOCA in North Adams, Mass., it will move on to performances in Boston; Washington, D.C.; Berkeley, Calif.; and Los Angeles.)

Among the core musical contributors to Iphigenia is Pérez, who has spent more than 20 years as pianist in the Wayne Shorter Quartet. At 55, he is closer to midcareer than his mentor-bandleader, but already supremely accomplished — as a UNESCO Artist for Peace; as a cultural ambassador to his native Panama; as founder and artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute; and as artistic director of the Panama Jazz Festival. Pérez, who has won two Grammys with Shorter, also scored one for his most recent release, Secrets Are the Best Stories, a collaboration with singer Kurt Elling released last year.

Kris Davis
Jonathan Chimene

Davis, who is in her early 40s, most precisely fits the Doris Duke Foundation’s stated designation of an award “intended as an investment in artistic potential.” A 2015 recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Award, she has been a force on the experimental fringes for the last two decades, working primarily alongside collaborators like saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Tony Malaby. Davis’ 2019 album Diatom Ribbons, on her own Pyroclastic label, featured Malaby among an honor roll that featured drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (a 2019 Doris Duke Artist) and turntablist Val Jeanty; it claimed the top spot in the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.

Since the Doris Duke Artist Awards program was created in 2012, it has distributed more than $35.4 million to 129 individuals, including more than 50 jazz musicians. This year’s cohort also includes Cynthia Oliver and Dormeshia, in the field of dance, and Lileana Blain-Cruz and Teo Castellanos, for their work in theater.

In addition to a standard of artistic excellence, the award broadly celebrates principles of free expression, which naturally suit the field of improvised music, now as ever. “Art is the antidote to crisis,” Sam Gill, president and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation said in an announcement. “These exemplary artists demonstrate that a time of unprecedented disruption in the arts and across society cannot stifle the power of great art to persevere.”