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Doris Duke Charitable Foundation announces an initiative for new works by artists expanding the frame

courtesy of the artist

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has added a new initiative to its portfolio of jazz funding. This pilot program, called Creative Inflections, was announced today along with the first wave of recipients — a handful of the most progressive jazz artists of our time, like Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jen Shyu, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Newark’s own Wayne Shorter is also among the honorees, in partnership with esperanza spalding.

One stated intention of Creative Inflections is to strengthen the audience base for improvised music, into a younger and more diverse demographic.

“We saw an opportunity to better connect folks who make up the lion’s share of the listening audience — millennials and younger people, which is sort of contrary to the perception — with artists who are really doing the most exciting work,” Maurine Knighton, DDCF’s program director for the arts, tells WBGO. “And equally important was: how do you really, in a purposeful and more holistic way, support the artists at the center of all of this? So that's what we were interested in doing, was putting more decision-making in the hands of the artists, who are the ones who have the vision, and through that, hopefully attracting more interest in the art form.”

DDCF's established programs include the Doris Duke Artist Awards, which recognize a handful of distinguished musicians each year with a prize of up to $275,000 each; and South Arts Jazz Road, which supports groups with funding for tours and creative residencies. Last year the DDCF unveiled the Jazz Media Lab, which provides WBGO and four other public radio stations with operating grants and additional resources.

In a meaningful departure from many other initiatives for jazz, Creative Inflections is designed to award grants — up to $200,000 per project — not only to a creative artist but also a presenting institution. So Salvant’s award will be shared by the Walker Art Center, for the development of Ogresse: Envisioned — an animated cinematic expression of her song cycle Ogresse, originally presented in multimedia concert form. Shorter and spalding will share their funding with ArtsEmerson, which presented the world premiere of their opera Iphigenia late last year.

Iphigenia, played by esperanza spalding, prepares for her sacrifice. From Wayne Shorter and spalding's opera, ...(Iphigenia).
Jon Fine
Courtesy of the artist
Iphigenia, played by esperanza spalding, prepares for her sacrifice. From Wayne Shorter and spalding's opera, ...(Iphigenia).

Among the other honorees are Shyu and pianist Sumi Tonooka, for a project titled “In the Green Room: Layering Legacies of Asian and Black American Women in Jazz,” presented in collaboration with the Asia Society; Carrington, for “The Jazz Without Patriarchy Project,” a multi-disciplinary art and music installation at the Carr Center in Detroit; and pianist and vocalist Samora Pinderhughes for “The Healing Project,” a piece that addresses incarceration and policing, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

If those works-in-progress seem to share a commitment to social and racial justice, that’s hardly a coincidence. “I was talking a moment ago about artists who are doing the most exciting work,” Knighton reflects. “But we also understand that these audiences are interested in work from artists who are socially engaged.”

She adds: “We saw a point of intersection between what these younger audiences are interested in and the way artists are working today. And that work doesn’t only show up in an intimate club setting. The work sometimes shows up on a proscenium stage. Sometimes in a warehouse. Sometimes in, you know, the most unlikely of places. So we felt that we needed to follow the path that artists are charting, which is to expand, to experiment, to be adventurous, and to really help them explore — whether it be a collaboration with a visual artist, with a media maker, or anyone else. We needed to follow where they led.”

For more information about Creative Inflections or other DDCF programs, visit ddcf.org.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.