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How the Newport Jazz Festival Reminded People to Dance

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Wednesday August 09, 2017

From Paste Magazine

How the Newport Jazz Festival Reminded People to Dance
By: Geoffrey Himes

If we go back to Harlem in the 1930s, we find the great Fats Waller combining catchy, bouncy songs with digressive piano solos in the years just before bebop changed everything. Jason Moran, perhaps the most creative jazz musician of today, has gone back to explore that decade’s music.

He brought the fruits of that research, Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party, to Newport on Sunday afternoon. With his usual piano trio expanded to include three horns and a female singer, Moran managed to update Waller’s music by expanding the harmonies with the lessons of Thelonious Monk and Don Pullen—all without losing the tunes’ invitation to the dance floor.

After a spry version of Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” Moran pulled a giant, papier-mache puppet head over his own and “became” Waller, complete with black hat, ironical, arched eyebrows and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his huge grin. Wearing the head for most of the set, Moran injected Monkisms into “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and lent a Santana-like Latin groove to “Yacht Club Swing.”

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