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Jason Moran: In All Languages

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Tuesday September 21, 2010

(From Jazz Times)

Jason Moran: In All Languages
By Geoffrey Himes

On Oct. 28, 2007, Jason Moran, then 32, walked out alone onto the dimly lit stage of Washington’s Lisner Auditorium. On the overhead screen, black-and-white video flickered with still photos from Thelonious Monk’s rehearsals for his legendary 1959 Town Hall concert. As Moran sat down at the grand piano onstage, he placed a pair of black-padded headphones over his ears and the PA played Monk’s Town Hall Concert version of the tune “Thelonious.”

The same music was obviously coursing through Moran’s earmuffs, for he began playing along with the recording, not following the original so much as responding to it with improvised counterpoint at every turn, altering not only the harmony but the angular melody and rhythm as well. It was as if Moran were imagining what Monk might have sounded like had he lived to hear David Murray and Public Enemy.

The moment was revealing, for it encapsulated why Moran is such a crucial figure at this juncture in jazz history. There he was, listening to the past and improvising the future. He was wearing a dark suit that recalled 1959, but he was listening through the signature headgear of the hip-hop DJ. What came out through his fingers was as tuneful and inventive as Monk, as funky as hip-hop, as all-embracing as an iPod Shuffle and as singular as only an original jazz talent can be. “As a musician, I constantly have headphones on,” Moran says in In My Mind, the 2010 film documentary about his Monk project. “In a bus going to another city, I have headphones on, listening to music. When you’re in a practice room and you’re trying to figure out some line, some new piece of music, when you’re trying to hear everything and you have to listen to things over and over again, you’re constantly playing with headphones on; I am at least. Now I’m taking my practice routine and I’m putting it onstage for you to watch as an audience.”

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