Henry Threadgill Wins Pulitzer Prize For Music

Henry Threadgill  2016
Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Getty Images

Henry Threadgill perform his concert with his band Zooid  for AngelicA contemporary music festival at theatre San Leonardo on May 6, 2010 in Bologna, Italy. 

Jazz great Henry Threadgill has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2015 2-CD collection In for a Penny, In for a Pound. The saxophonist/flutist's latest envelope-pushing release was recognized by Pulitzer judges who described the recording as a "highly original work in which notated music and improvisation mesh in a sonic tapestry that seems the very expression of modern American life."

Among the other finalists for the prize were Timo Andres (The Blind Banister) and Carter Pann (The Mechanics: Six from the Shop Floor). As noted by NPR, Penny features Threadgill working with his quintet Zooid on a four-movement suite that spotlights each member -- Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, guitarist Liberty Ellman, cellist Christopher Hoffman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee.

"The group itself --  these people have been with me 100 percent," renowned improviser Threadgill, 72, told NPR on Monday. "Zooid, this is the longest-running musical ensemble I've had. It's not about the number of years -- it's about 100 percent to 150 percent that they give. So they were in for a penny, you see. And if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound."

Reached just hours after he'd been informed of the win, Threadgill further described the structure of the album, which he said was a series of "epics." 

"Epics are --  they reveal a lot of information. And epics are also poetic, you know --  there's a lot of epic poetry. That's how I got to that use of 'epic.' Like a grand epic, it could have a number of short novellas in it," he told NPR. "That's where I saw this piece. I'm informed a lot of times by other disciplines, and I read a lot. Probably that's one of the ways I got into this piece, because I was reading a lot of epic poetry. Literature, especially fiction and poetry, has a way of opening up new formats and plots."

The timing for the prize, which typically rewards classical compositions, made perfect sense to Threadgill. "I'm happy that the Pulitzers' views have gotten broader, and seen fit to give me this award," he continued. "Myself and others who have been working outside classical music -- the rest of the artists in the United States, in North America, have been creating art for a long time, and sometimes it doesn't fall under the rubric of so-called classical music. Nonetheless, it is just as creative, and it is important. The Pulitzer Prize has made a major statement, in recognizing my work and others', that they have a bigger picture of creativity. Because that's what we need as a country and as an artistic community, is to have everything recognized."

The 100th annual Pulitzers also recognized Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda with the prize for Drama, praising the Grammy-winning smash historical musical for its distinctive portrayal of the history of the Founding Fathers and American independence.