Bill Beuttler, an assistant professor in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department, is this year’s Mann Stearns Award winner for his work on a new book about contemporary jazz.
Tentatively titled Jazz Masters of the 21st Century, the book will include interviews with more than a dozen musicians whose careers have taken off since the year 2000, including Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Anat Cohen, Esperanza Spalding, and Christian Scott.
The Mann Stearns Award, established by Dr. Norman Stearns and Irma Mann Stearns ’67 in 1993, is given annually to a full-time Emerson faculty member in recognition of outstanding scholarly or creative work. The $3,000 grant can be used to develop a new project or advance a current one; use for travel is strongly encouraged.
Beuttler will use the grant money to travel to New York City and elsewhere to research his book.
Jazz is in the midst of a transformational period, Beuttler believes, a fact that’s not widely known, which is why he’s writing the book.
“People have an idea of jazz, that it’s maybe like their parents’ and grandparents’ generation,” Beuttler said. “Or they think about in the 1980s, Wynton Marsalis was the first of what people started referring to as the Young Lions…they’d put on nice suits and played really, really well, and played in a style from the ’50s and early ’60s.”
One of the modern trends Beuttler is noticing is how international jazz has become. The quintessentially American art form has long been popular in Europe and Japan, but since the turn of the millennium, it’s become big in Latin America, Israel, and Africa. And those musicians are coming here and making jazz their own.
“To one extent or another, they’re very interested in American jazz, but they also bring in [music] of where they’re from,” he said.
Meanwhile, in America, it’s become harder and harder for jazz musicians to develop sounds of their own, because they’re all trained at conservatories, he said.
Women, too, are leaving a bigger footprint on the genre than ever before. It used to be that “female jazz musician” meant “vocalist,” with the occasional pianist, Beuttler said.
“Now, they’re playing all kind of instruments, and they’re really good. They’re some of the best people there are on those instruments,” he said. “I think that’s just a reflection of the way society is becoming more open to [opportunities for] women.”
Beuttler said he thinks part of the reason jazz is such an overlooked genre among so much of the population is due to a “chicken-and-egg thing” in the mainstream press. As a contributor to a men’s magazine, he’s pitched stories about jazz to a sympathetic editor who is a fellow “jazz head,” only to have it rejected by the higher-ups because they didn’t think it would generate enough page views.
“Well, if all magazines have that attitude, it’s not going to generate page views because no one is writing about it,” he said.
A jazz writer for the Boston Globe, Beuttler taught journalism at Boston University before coming to Emerson to teach magazine writing, editing, and publishing.
He has been senior editor at the Discovery Channel, Men’s Journal, and Boston Magazine, and an associate editor at Down Beat and American Way magazines. He is a contributing writer for JazzTimes magazine and has written for Atlantic Online, Esquire.com, Chicago Magazine, The Boston Globe Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Outside, Playboy, GQ, National Geographic Traveler, Cooking Light, and The New York Times Book Review, among others.
Previous winners of the Mann Stearns Award include Annie Jin (Marketing Communication), De-Nin Lee (Visual and Media Arts), Rich West (Communication Studies), Ruth Grossman (Communication Sciences and Disorders), Anya Belkina (Visual and Media Arts), and Josh Polster (Performing Arts).