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NY Times Profiles Mr. & Mrs. Jason Moran

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Monday May 03, 2010

(From The New York Times)

By: Kathryn Shattuck
Published: April 30, 2010

Alicia Hall Moran is prone to bold pronouncements, and her wedding to Jason Moran in September 2003 was no exception. Where other brides might announce themselves with flutes and strings, she sashayed toward the altar to the pounding of African drums.

“I just wasn’t feeling a German-Romantic stroll down the aisle to Jason,” Ms. Hall Moran, a classical soprano, said later.

An onlooker might have interpreted her fanfare as a declaration of the wifely role she intended to assume: powerful and unflinching, yet evenhanded.

To her future husband, it might have served as one last reminder that she would not be overlooked.

At the time, Mr. Moran, the jazz pianist, already had a Blue Note recording contract and had headlined five albums. Her career was mostly limited to small gigs in small rooms.

But after their wedding, “things got very advanced very quickly,” said Ms. Hall Moran, who had met Mr. Moran at the Manhattan School of Music eight years earlier.

“I would say for both of us it was really the beginning of a truly astounding period of creativity, and of entree into another level of the art world,” she said.

For a while, they rode ascending stars. Mr. Moran collaborated with the visual artists Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker, and generated buzz like so much nectar.

Ms. Hall Moran turned the parties of complicit friends into performance venues, arriving as a guest before breaking into song — sometimes midconversation — at intervals in a soundtrack she and Mr. Moran had mixed.

Performing together, the couple filled their canon with works like “Milestone,” an art song with words and music by Ms. Hall Moran, who studied composition at Barnard and Columbia.

“Set at first in a stately rubato, it gradually built up to a fury, then subsided again,” Nate Chinen wrote in The New York Times in July 2007. “It ended with a quiet upturn: a major chord, hopeful and serene.”

He could have been writing about their marriage.

That October, Ms. Hall Moran’s trajectory shifted when, just off a tour with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and five months pregnant with twins, she was ordered to a hospital bed in New York, not far from their Harlem apartment. Though Mr. Moran was at his wife’s side, he was due at Duke University to give the premiere the next day of “In My Mind,” a tribute to Thelonious Monk, whose recording of “‘Round Midnight” made him want to become a pianist. He had to leave.

Two weeks later, Mr. Moran arrived back home from Seattle only two hours before the couple’s sons, Malcolm and Jonas, were delivered (total weight: 4 pounds) and then swept to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they stayed for 72 days.

“That was maybe the most trying time of our married life,” Mr. Moran said. “There was this mystery as to whether we’d really get to be parents and hold them.”

His wife said: “The first day I was sad that I was leaving the hospital not in a wheelchair, not with a baby, walking out with no balloons or plants. And then you realize you’re so grateful to have a reason to go back to that room.”

Mr. Moran spends a third of the year on the road, his time less and less his own, or his family’s.

“Right now I feel like I’m in one of the most fruitful parts of my career,” he said. “Part of being a musician is that you continually have to experience and not rest anywhere.”

His absence, he acknowledged, was hard on his wife, whose own aspirations are often sidelined as the sole parent, for days and weeks at a time, to two boys.

“The toughest job in the world is taking care of the kids; it’s a lot of energy,” he said.

She countered: “There’s an income so you really cannot complain. And when he’s here, he is here 24 hours a day.”

Early in their courtship, Mr. Moran discovered that Ms. Hall Moran had some serious musical ideas and could improvise freely. It hooked him, he said, for life.

“I think Alicia single-handedly has impacted my career the most,” he said. “We are constantly discussing ideas and criticizing ideas. It can be harsh. But I get so much applause that somebody has to be keeping the knife to the music.”

In “Ten,” his coming album in honor of his 10th anniversary with the Bandwagon, his trio, Mr. Moran captured the vocalizations of his sons, who often accompany him to the studio. Now 2 ½, they are “watching me pack or picking me up at an airport,” he said. “They’re kind of understanding saying goodbye.

“I know a lot of musicians who have children and are trying to figure out the balance between continuing the craft and being there as parents.

“Some just continue the craft,” he said, of those whose careers override their family obligations. Mr. Moran has committed himself to finding the equilibrium between being a husband and father and a performer, and being effective at all three.

Every couple of months, he and Ms. Hall Moran “have really serious conversations to make sure she gets the time she needs to work on her projects, which deserve a lot of attention,” he said.

And for a few days, the tables are turned, as Mr. Moran packs up the boys and leaves his wife to steep in her own creative juices.

“I fight for every 30 seconds that I can apply to my music,” Ms. Hall Moran said. “If you’re fighting for art, what could be a more wonderful problem to have?”

To read the article online and to watch video of the Morans click here