INTERVIEW Jason Moran: Making You Move

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Thursday March 31, 2011

From The Revivalist

Jason Moran: Making You Move
By: Eric Sandler

Movement is a universal contingency of music, yet, it seems as if the tradition and emotions are being repressed even as music continues to create the grooves we yearn for. This is a problem for piano maestro Jason Moran. Not only does he want to make you dance, he is now custom tailoring an entire show to make sure you dance. Read below as we discuss everything from composing music with the intention of spurring movement to his aspirations for working with some of the most lyrically astute emcees of today.

Can you start off by discussing what brought about your desire to put on your upcoming show, The Fats Waller Dance Party?

It’s about movement. This is kind of the same thing that’s happening in hip-hop now as well. Hip-hop was dance music. Now it’s head-bob music. Whereas the artists were doing these intricate dances in the ’80s and early ’90s, now people just stand in place and bob their heads. If you look at jazz’s history, things might pan out to be the exact same in hip-hop in another 50 years or so.

But in jazz there used to be all the dancing associated with the music. For a long time these went in tandem, even up to Charlie Parker in the ’50s. Bands would be playing and people would be dancing. But that hasn’t really been the case in any of my concerts, unless someone from the audience kind of becomes intrigued by something. And then they stand up and all of a sudden they are seen as the freak when they decide to move. In actuality, that’s probably the most human thing to do, to move to the music. So, I was wanting to test myself. Can I put music together that is dance-worthy? And also, to put it into the people’s minds when they come to a concert that this isn’t really a concert to sit and watch, it’s a concert for you to move to however you feel you want to move. That’s where it really started. Harlem Stage approached me about addressing Fats Waller’s music and I thought he was the perfect vehicle to address this current issue. What we’re going to play is under the umbrella of jazz, but it’s a very wide umbrella. We’re adding all of these other beats on top to make sure that I would still want to dance to it. It’s got to feel good.

When you’re arranging a piece of music with the intention of getting people to move, how does that happen?

Tempo is important. If you find the right tempos it’s just like if you go to any dance club now. Also, what is the fabric of the landscape that you’re setting up? So in hip-hop it might be the sample that’s going to recur over and over again to give you that groundwork that you’re going to build for the lyrics and harmony and melody. So what’s the beat, what’s the tempo, and what is that little melodic piece of information that’s going to repeat? That’s also such a great seed from which every other part can grow from it. It might be a bass line that’s just a few beats long. That repetition will start to grow and grow. Then the horns come off of that. Then Meshell Ndegeocello starts to sing after that. Then we remove certain parts so that it’s just the drums and horns again. You mix it as you’re playing like it’s all on a mixing board.

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