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We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1939

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Thursday October 09, 2014

From The Wall Street Journal

We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1939
Jason Moran pays tribute to Fats Waller in this breezy new album.

By Martin Johnson

In the past decade or so, pianist Jason Moran has established a reputation as one of the most forward-looking musicians in jazz. On his latest recording, “All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller” (Blue Note Records, a September 16 release), he looks back at music that shaped the pianists that influenced him most. It isn’t an academic exercise; Mr. Moran wanted to create a dance party, and he has succeeded.

The project began in 2011 when the arts organization Harlem Stage commissioned Mr. Moran, a longtime resident of Upper Manhattan, to do a tribute to the stride-piano tradition of the neighborhood for its Harlem Jazz Shrines series. The idea to make it a dance party came from Mr. Moran’s wife, the vocalist Alicia Hall Moran. The rationale was simple: Waller (1904-1943) made the dance music of his era, so a tribute should encompass that aspect of his career. Mr. Moran was entranced by the fact that Waller was a stellar pianist, singer and often functioned as an MC at his shows.

Since Mr. Moran’s background was entirely in performances where the audience sat and listened, he reached out to bassist/vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello as a collaborator. At the time, Ms. Ndegeocello was about to release her 2012 recording, “Pour une âme souveraine” (Naïve Records), which was an updating of the music of Nina Simone. Ms. Ndegeocello brought in drummer Charles Haynes, who is known for his funky style. She also sings on the recording and co-produced it with Don Was.

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