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Cadenza: It’s Always Monk’s Time

In 1976, the Pulitzer Prize’s Special Awards and Citations division recognized Scott Joplin, 59 years after his death. In 1998, it honored George Gershwin, 61 years after his death. In 1999, it bowed to Duke Ellington (whom the board had notoriously snubbed in 1965), 25 years after his death. This past April, it happened upon Thelonious Monk, a mere 22 years after his death. Progress!

If this trend holds, a Pulitzer may go next year to Miles Davis, only 16 years after his death, or to John Lewis, six years after his death-and daringly close to the land of the living. The downside of this plucky stride into the mid-20th century is that it closes the door on earlier decedents-no chance to genuflect to Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, let alone Louis Armstrong. What a wonderful world: The most dominant musical force of the last hundred years has a New Orleans airport named after him but no posthumous trinket from the mandarin guardians of our arts and leisure.

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Originally Published

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins is the author of 12 books, including Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation (1985), Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), Weather Bird (2004), and the three-volume biography Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, of which two volumes have been published to date. Between 1974 and 2003, he wrote a regular jazz column for The Village Voice, winning six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music criticism. From 2002 to 2008, he wrote JazzTimes‘ Cadenza column.