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Jason Moran, New Master

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Tuesday June 26, 2012

From The New Yorker

Jason Moran, New Master
By: Hendrik Hertzberg

The other night, I went to hear Jason Moran play solo piano. I went because my friend Fred Kaplan, who writes about jazz for the Times when he isn’t writing about national security for Slate, told me to. “Go,” said Fred. So I went. And I’ve been thinking about it and savoring it ever since.

The venue was the Carnegie Room of the public library in Nyack, New York, a Hudson River village twenty miles north of Manhattan. The Carnegie Room isn’t quite Carnegie Hall—the Room seats just ninety-seven people, all in folding chairs, compared to the Hall’s twenty-eight hundred. But both owe their existence to the same philanthropist; both have a seasoned-wood, Gilded Age feel; and both are good places to listen to music.

After everyone had settled in, Jason Moran, carrying a book, strolled out from between the bookshelves and sat down at the piano, a Yamaha grand. Moran, who is thirty-seven, has a round, boyishly friendly, fashionably stubbled face, and he was wearing a leather vest, blue jeans, and a tan porkpie hat. We—me, wife, and kid—were seated two-thirds of the way back. We couldn’t see much more of him than the porkpie hat. So we mostly just closed our eyes and gave ourselves over to the sound.

There is no mistaking Moran’s grounding in—and respect for, and absorption of—the elders of jazz (and not just jazz). His new gig at the Kennedy Center makes him, ex officio, a curator. But his way of paying tribute to the old masters is not to impersonate but to personify—not to sound like them, but to be like them: to create something altogether new. From now on, I’m paying attention.

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