Nearly $1 million in grants were announced by Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). The funds have been distributed to several jazz creatives for innovative projects to appeal to diverse audiences. (Courtesy of DDCFF)
Nearly $1 million in grants were announced by Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). The funds have been distributed to several jazz creatives for innovative projects to appeal to diverse audiences. (Courtesy of DDCFF)

Overview:

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation funds projects bringing jazz to millennials.

Jazz creatives recently received funding from an investment of nearly $1 million by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Creative Inflections initiative.

Grants of up to $200,000 have been distributed to jazz artists collaborating with five presenting organizations to produce experimental and multi-disciplinary work on social justice themes.

The foundation said projects funded by the grants will bring jazz to broader, more diverse audiences.

“We learned that audiences most interested in jazz and most likely to attend live performances are millennials,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the foundation. “We also learned that those millennials are interested in experiences, experimentation and new innovative ideas.”

Jazz projects funded through Creative Inflections include “Iphigenia,” a modern-era operatic adaptation of a Greek myth from composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist, vocalist and composer esperanza spalding. The work debuted at ArtsEmerson.

“This opera is part of everything I have done,” Shorter said before staging “Iphigenia” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in December. “Everything I’ve been involved in is the meaning of this mission.”

Focusing on Asian and Black women in jazz is “In the Green Room: Layering Legacies of Asian and Black American Women in Jazz.” This work brings together composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Jen Shy, award-winning composer and pianist Sumi Tonooka and the Asia Society.

Several projects bring jazz into a broader multi-discipline setting. Working with the Carr Center, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington looks at the impact of gender inequity in jazz through her work “The Jazz Without Patriarchy Project.” She explores a more equitable future in the music genre using art and music.

“Ogresse: Envisioned” is a multimedia, animated interpretation of a song written and composed by celebrated jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. She is working with the Walker Art Center to create illustrations for a musical about Sara Baartman, a 19th‐century South African woman. Baartman was taken to Europe and displayed, becoming a symbol of colonialist, racist and sexist exploitation.

“This is an ever-evolving piece that is ready to present now but can always change and be presented in different ways,” Salvant said about her project. “We are making this into a more theatrical live performance with animated backgrounds and are also exploring the possibility of turning it into a musical, expanding the voices, as well as looking into the world of gaming.”

Jazz artists like Carrington and Salvant are accustomed to performing their music in concert halls, clubs, and recordings. These projects will present jazz in different ways.

“Artists are accomplished and curious about new ways of working and new modes of creative expression,” continued Knighton when discussing new ways audiences can experience jazz.

“The Healing Project,” another multi-disciplinary abolitionist project, is led by pianist, composer and director Samora Pinderhughes in partnership with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This collaboration explores the realities of resilience, healing, incarceration, policing, violence and detention in the United States.

The themes described in these Creative Inflections projects are in sync with the ongoing evolution of jazz. Artists have the flexibility to expand their creative exploration in ways that have more significant potential to connect with younger audiences.

“Artists are bursting with new ideas. But when they think about how to make a living, sometimes that will hold them back from exploration because they can’t figure out how to generate revenue from it,” Knighton said. “We wanted to lessen that consideration, if not eliminate it altogether.”

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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