Pianist Jason Moran became famous in the 1990s as a young rebel playing his own unique styles. He became known as one of the finest interpreters of Thelonius Monk's music, and he composes many original tunes.
In addition to a busy touring schedule, Moran teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. “I learn a lot from what the students are doing. It keeps me engaged from what's happening in contemporary music, from the 19-year-old perspective. It's helpful.”
Moran says young musicians react to, and hopefully improve upon, the earlier generation of jazz artists. Moran says today's students are willing to push the envelope. “So now I hear the students are reacting to the 2000s. Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Mehldau are popular. Also Vijay Iyer - pianists who shoot for the boundaries.”
These days Jason Moran has been studying the music of the great stride piano masters such as James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Moran received a commission to perform and update some of Waller's music. He incorporates into his performance some of Fats Waller's famous showmanship. For example, he had an artist create a Fats Waller mask: “It's a Mardi Gras mask of Fats Waller's head. I commissioned it from a Haitian artist, Didier Civil. He makes this mask and I'm wearing it for half the show. I'm wearing his head and dancing with his head, inviting people to dance. It's almost a life-size bobble head.”
Moran notes that the old-time pianists could change time signatures or musical accents on a moment's notice. “In stride [scats] they would double up on left hand. It was syncopated, rather than this oompah thing,” he says.
Jason Moran continues to impress audiences with his ability to play both old-time and contemporary jazz.
Jason Moran is playing at the SFJazz Center Wednesday, November 20 through Monday, November 25, 2013.
Hear more Jazz Perspectives at www.jazzcorner.com/innerviews.