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Jason Moran Is Expanding What It Means To Experience Music

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Thursday July 17, 2014

From Fast Company

JASON MORAN IS EXPANDING WHAT IT MEANS TO EXPERIENCE MUSIC

THE JAZZ PIANIST ON HOW HE USES COLLABORATION TO EXPAND OUR IDEAS ABOUT MUSIC AND HOW IT WILL BE PRESERVED FOR POSTERITY.

By Ayana Byrd

What do you do after the world declares you a genius? Take your twin sons to school, if you’re Jason Moran. In 2010, the jazz pianist and composer was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the financial award granted annually to innovatively creative artists that is commonly called the “Genius Grant.” And while it opened doors and gave Moran more financial freedom, life for the Harlem-based musician went on as normal. Fortunately, normal for Moran is about as eclectically off-center as normal could be. How else to explain the catalog of an artist who has stretched far beyond the piano to create collaborations that challenge and transform the relationship between music, the other arts, and the audience with a list that includes visual artists Kara Walker and Glenn Ligon, opera singer and theater star (and his wife) Alicia Hall Moran, National Book Award honoree Asali Solomon and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, whose upcoming Selma will be scored by him?

Jason Moran
This summer is no less groundbreaking for Moran. First, there was the May debut of Looks of a Lot, a performance with installation artist Theaster Gates, his group The Bandwagon, and the high school band Kenwood Jazz Academy, which explored 25 years of Chicago’s jazz and blues history. “I have a lot of new grey hairs from that,” jokes the Houston native, who feels indebted in many ways to Chicago. “A lot of my teachers came from that city. And it holds a significant place in America’s Great Migration.”

It is also the eve of the September release of his ninth album, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, a collaboration with vocalist and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello that turns the music of the jazz legend into a dance party. Moran is continuing in his role as the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz, a position he has held since 2011, and prepping to return to teaching in the fall at the New England Conservatory. Beyond being a dizzying amount of work, his multiple roles have cast him into the spotlight. “In all my years of being a young punk, I never thought I’d be a spokesman for jazz. I never signed up to be, but that’s what is demanded now of musicians,” he says.

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