Princeton University’s Department of Music has appointed esteemed saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa to the post of Director of Jazz. He begins his appointment as the Anthony H. P. Lee ’79 Senior Lecturer in Jazz Studies at the start of the fall term, succeeding Program in Jazz Studies founder Dr. Anthony D. J. Branker. Mahanthappa comes to Princeton bearing not only his extensive and celebrated background in jazz performance, but also an utterly unique voice intent on transcending cultural divides by hybridizing progressive jazz and non-Western musical traditions. Program in Musical Performance Director Michael Pratt celebrates him “as nothing less than an already internationally acclaimed artist. His grounding in traditional jazz language and style is deep, and he also has proven himself to be an important explorer. He has taken new looks at past masters, and his work in incorporating world musics (such as that of the South Indian Carnatic classical tradition) into contemporary jazz has created a real 'buzz' in world jazz circles.”
This buzz has manifested itself through a plethora of critical acclaim. Most recently, both Downbeat and NPR Music’s Jazz Critics Poll hailed Mahanthappa’s project, “Bird Calls”, as the Best Album of 2015. The same year marked his joining the United States Artists Fellows, the latest in a series of recognitions including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, and the highly coveted Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. A long-standing recipient of the “Alto Saxophonist of the Year” title by DownBeat Magazine’s International Critics Polls and Jazz Journalists’ Association, Mahanthappa is as respected for his outstanding musicianship as he is for his groundbreaking synthesis of genre. This has fueled partnerships with giants from both realms including an enduring collaboration with pianist Vijay Iyer, guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and Carnatic saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, among others.
“Joining the Princeton University Music Department as Director of Jazz is an honor and a tremendous opportunity to influence and shape the future of jazz as a contemporary American art form,” says Mahanthappa. “Music at Princeton continues to put forth a forward-thinking energy with regard to performance, composition, and musicology. I am truly excited to join this amazing group of faculty. Together, we can surely expand and embrace the ever-shifting roles of music in 21st Century global culture.”
The Program in Jazz is devoted to exploring these roles through myriad perspectives, encompassing the historical, cultural, social, theoretical, stylistic, and creative aspects of this music in both study and in practice. Anchored by the distinguished 17-piece Concert Jazz Ensemble, the program is host to an ever-changing array of smaller groups including a Jazz Composers Collective, Jazz Vocal Collective, Crossing Borders Improvisational Music Ensemble, among others. A multi-million dollar gift in 2008 established a Certificate in Jazz Studies. As the Program continues to expand, attracting an increasingly vibrant string of prominent guest artists and lecturers, the Department is grateful to have one such distinguished performer in residence overseeing the directorship of Jazz at Princeton.