The recent announcement of the recipients of the 2006 MacArthur Fellowships (affectionally nicknamed the "genius grants") draws attention to two jazz figures:
Violinist Regina Carter's conservatory training and eclectic influences with jazz roots have earned her praise over the past decade. While the violin is rarely identified as an essential instrument in today's mainstream jazz spheres, Carter's performance has never been overly quirky or anachronistic. Her newest release, I'll Be Seeing You, is an exploration of songs from the 1920s through the '40s with guests Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carla Cook, Gil Goldstein and Paquito D'Rivera, but if you want to hear Carter at her finest, one of my favorites is Motor City Moments.
Saxophonist/composer/label-founder John Zorn is much less widely known than Carter, but his innovations are considerably bolder. Zorn's visionary fusion of varied cultural idioms with modern jazz and improvisation has helped create and promote a vital experimental music scene. His label, Tzadik, has a catalogue with an unbelievable breadth of creative musicians (e.g. Wadada Leo Smith, Jenny Scheinman, Mark Dresser, Ikue Mori, David Krakauer). Zorn is also known as a leader of his own groups -- Naked City, formed in the late '80s, and Masada in the early/mid-'90s (there are both acoustic and electric incarnations of this group).
In college, I took a couple classes taught by Gary Tomlinson, a MacArthur Fellow in 1988. He was certainly brilliant and passionate, though it also would have been quite cool if he could have done this or this. (Blog About Town has more.)
Read the NY Times article and a lamentably true quote from John Zorn in the NY Sun.
Previous MacArthur Fellows from the jazz world include Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Ran Blake, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy and Max Roach. Each fellow receives a $500,000 grant over the course of five years that will enable them to focus on their endeavors.
On the lighter side, the Greenleaf Music Blog has a must-see clip from the Colbert Report.