Rudresh Mahanthappa Named United States Artists Fellow

$50,000 grant will aid saxophonist in creating interdisciplinary works

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Monterey Jazz Festival, 2015
Rudresh Mahanthappa

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Rudresh Mahanthappa, the 44-year-old alto saxophonist and composer, has been named one of 37 new United States Artists Fellows, an honor that comes with an unrestricted $50,000 cash award. USA is one of the largest grant-making organizations in the country, providing support to creative Americans across nine different disciplines, including music, dance, crafts, theater, literature and visual arts. Mahanthappa is one of seven musicians to receive the honor this year; previous recipients in music have included drummer Jack DeJohnette, pianist-composer Jason Moran and singer-songwriter-musician Meshell Ndegeocello.

Mahanthappa is something of a magnet when it comes to grants. He was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2007 and has also been awarded two grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and three Rockefeller MAP grants. “I definitely count my blessings,” Mahanthappa says by phone from the Canary Islands, where he is currently touring in support of his most recent recording, Bird Calls. “The universe is definitely looking out for me; there’s no question about that. I’m trying to do new and different stuff and I’m always trying to reframe what I do and make sure that it relates to both the tradition of this music and the future of where this music can go. I’m good at talking about it too, and that helps as well.”

Mahanthappa was nominated for the USA grant first and only then asked to submit examples of his work as part of the application process. “It’s based on the work that you’ve done,” he says. “It’s not necessarily project-specific but more about things that you would like to do going forward. [While preparing the application] It was interesting to look at all these different things that I’ve done over 15 years, whether it’s with a dance company or my electro-acoustic project, and to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess you’re on to something.'”

The United States Artist fellowship, says Mahanthappa, is different than most other cash grants to creative artists in that “it has a special trajectory. It’s multi-disciplinary. There’s a trend in the funding world not only to give awards but to get these [recipients] together and start conversations. There is something that continues beyond the award, which I think is really important right now. People get the Guggenheim and they do their thing and then it kind of ends, and that’s great, but to think long-term, and to establish connections between artists that are trying to make similar waves, is really important.”

With that in mind, Mahanthappa says that he is already thinking ahead. “There is some interdisciplinary work I’d like to do, working with video artists. And I have a crazy idea to maybe try to do something with a comedian in the next couple of years. There are also some chamber works. I’m just trying to figure out how to branch out and hopefully the money helps with that, but it also helps with day-to-day stuff. I did an interview the other day and they asked if the money actually led to creating new work. I said not necessarily, but it led to an ease of mind. I mean, sometimes you also need a new car!”