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Jason Moran's Vision For Change

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Thursday November 02, 2017

From The Washington Post

This Kennedy Center director is making performance art out of jazz. Can he bring fans along?
By: Fred Kaplan

In the ‘nation’s cultural center,’ one man pushes for change.

On a warm evening this past May, Jason Moran — pianist and artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center — sauntered into a former Harlem church, now renovated into a studio and performance venue. In its vast, reverberant space, the artist Julie Mehretu had spent the previous several months painting two enormous canvases, each 27 feet wide and 32 feet high, commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Moran had been joining Mehretu at the church for large chunks of her months at work, composing music inspired by what she was painting. Now he and two other musicians — cornetist Graham Haynes and drummer Jamire Williams — were going to improvise on both that score and the paintings, while audio and video engineers taped them for the TV documentary series “Art21” and for a CD to be released by Moran’s own label in November.

Moran, 42, has led bands through precisely written scores and through loose improvisations, but this session was something else. Before they started playing, he showed his bandmates a cluttered hand-scrawled score. Melody lines paralleled some of the long lines that Mehretu had brushed on the canvas. Chords, alternately dense and open, matched her concentrations of paint and empty spaces. He told them, “Check out the painting, but I won’t tell you where to look.” And: “Look at the score I’ve composed, but I’m not telling you where to start on the page.”

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