William Paterson University Jazz Studies Graduate Tyshawn Sorey ‘04 Wins 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Music

Tyshawn Sorey '04

William Paterson University jazz studies graduate Tyshawn Sorey ‘04 has won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in music for his musical composition “Adagio (For Wadada Leo Smith).”

A renowned multi-instrumentalist, composer, ensemble leader, and conductor who is known for his prowess both in improvisational and experimental music, Sorey has performed around the world with his own ensembles and has released 13 critically acclaimed recordings.

The Pulitzer Prize in music recognizes a distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year. The Pulitzer committee praised “Adagio (For Wadada Leo Smith)” – which had its U.S. premiere on March 16, 2023, at Atlanta Symphony Hall – as an “introspective saxophone concerto with a wide range of textures presented in a slow tempo, a beautiful homage that’s quietly intense, treasuring intimacy rather than spectacle." 

The piece, which runs approximately 21 minutes long, is dedicated to the American trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, whom Sorey calls a mentor.

“It was wonderful to be part of Tyshawn's musical background and training, and we at William Paterson are so proud of all he has accomplished since he graduated, including this amazing Pulitzer Prize that he has just been awarded,” says David Demsey, William Paterson University professor of music and coordinator of the jazz studies program. “Tyshawn was an inspiring student—gifted, combined with a terrific work ethic and a powerful vision for his music and sound. He came to us as a trombonist, but we soon realized his powerful potential as a drummer and composer.”

Sorey took full advantage of the wide range of opportunities within WP’s music department, including the many jazz ensembles, New Music Series, and the piano, brass, and composition studios.

Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Sorey is staunchly nonconformist in his musical approach and does not care to label or categorize it, defying distinctions between musical genres.

“I want people to get rid of any and all expectations about what music is supposed to do and let the music do what it does by itself and let it be what it is,” Sorey told the New York Times in a recent interview.

In 2017, he was a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant for exceptional creativity. In 2018, he was named a United States Artists Fellow, and last year, Sorey’s composition “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)” was a finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

He completed his bachelor of music degree in jazz studies at William Paterson University before continuing his education at Wesleyan University, where he received a master of arts degree, and Columbia University, where he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree.

Sorey is a presidential assistant professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania, joining that institution’s composition faculty in the fall of 2020. 

Per his website, “In the future, Sorey plans to continue pushing boundaries, extending cultural norms, and reformulating public perceptions of modern Black/Afrodiasporic creative practice through the breadth and depth of his works.”

His fellow Pioneers will be rooting for him all the way.

"I am delighted to hear of Tyshawn Sorey’s remarkable accomplishment," says Bill Charlap, Professor of Music at WP and director of the jazz studies program. "His history and connection to William Paterson University is a source of pride for our entire community. My sincere congratulations to him for being awarded the highly prestigious Pulitzer Prize."