Moran takes 'Ten'

One of jazz's greatest global talents will appear in Eilat

Jason Moran  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jason Moran
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many local jazz aficionados would consider Jason Moran as, quite simply, the brightest star at this year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat (August 21- 24). In fact, many view the 36-year-old pianist as one of the biggest talents to have emerged on the global scene in the last decade.
Since putting out his acclaimed debut recording Soundtrack to Human Motion in 1999, Moran has released seven more CDs, primarily in a trio or solo format, and he and his The Bandwagon threesome – with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits – enjoy a status that is rare in the jazz community, that of a long-standing working band. Last year, the group marked its first decade of fruitful cooperation with the release of the numerically self-explanatorily entitled Ten album. Much of the trio’s two gigs in Eilat next week – on Monday and Tuesday – will be based on material from that recording.
Besides the quality of his output, one of the striking properties of Moran’s oeuvre to date has been its expansiveness. As a sideman he has worked with all sorts of artists, from veteran saxophonist-flutist Charles Lloyd to pop-oriented jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, octogenarian reedman Lee Konitz and 50something experimental saxophonist Steve Coleman.
“You know, variety is the spice of life,” declares Moran.
“When I was growing up in Texas, my parents exposed me to all kinds of things, all kinds of art and artists of various disciplines. I found those kinds of things intriguing, so when I started getting into jazz, I also looked for people – like Duke Ellington and Herbie Hancock – who are great examples of people who really move around and they don’t feel like there are any walls in front of them. I found it inspirational, and that’s why I work with many different kinds of people and all sorts of styles and genres, and I hope it all makes sense in the creative scheme of what is art.”
That’s something of an understatement. Evidently there are plenty of people, fans and critics alike, who get what Moran is about. Over the years he has won numerous awards, and he plays to packed houses all over the world.
Moran’s eclectic approach has also led him into other artistic formats, and he increasingly tries his hand at multimedia projects. One such venture, called In My Mind, is a presentation inspired by late legendary modern jazz pianist Thelonious Monk’s landmark 1959 concert at The Town Hall in New York.
Moran has also drawn from the work of neoexpressionist 1980s painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, early 20th-century figurative painter Egon Schiele – whose painting Facing Left provided the eponymous title to Moran’s second album – and American pop art leader Robert Rauschenberg, whose chaotic refinement inspired Moran’s third album, Black Stars.

“What I have learned from a lot of the visual artists and performance artists I have hung out with over the last six or seven years is that context is everything, or at least a lot of things,” muses Moran. “So where you perform, whom you perform for, and what you perform for your audience – these are all important factors. Also, as a performance artist, you learn that the stage can be many things. It can be people sitting around playing music; it can also be a stage for people standing around a microphone talking into it at one time.”
Naturally, Moran sees that filter through his chosen art form, too. “In jazz, we all want to get the music out there, but we also look at contemporary theater and choreography and literature and film. And there are also many ways to experiment with how to present the music. So with my Thelonious Monk project, I created a visual element that is as important to the music as the musicians. That’s the kind of thing that I am working towards, and I enjoy working with the people that can help me with that.”
While adding striking visual embellishments to the sonic output can appeal to an audience’s other senses, Moran is aware that his work will be interpreted by the people listening to him and watching him in their own individual way. “People do have misconceptions even about a word, about seeing a word on a screen, so you can never be too clear. One thing I have learned over the years is that however clear I try to make what I do, it can still come across to the audience as abstract.”
Rather than bothering him that his public may not get what he is trying to convey, Moran says he is perfectly fine with that. “The audience can put together whatever they want to make of it, even though in recent years I have tried to be more specific about how I can choose my repertoire and what song to play where. But everybody will put it all together the way they want because everybody’s history is different. Even people from the same culture are different. For instance, the way their mother spoke to them as a kid, that can affect listening patterns, and that can affect the way musicians work with each other.”
Be that as it may, Moran evidently strikes a sweet chord with all manner of music fans around the world, and it is highly likely that his Red Sea Jazz Festival audience will approve, too.
Jason Moran and The Bandwagon trio will perform at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat on Monday (11:15 p.m.) and Tuesday (11:30 p.m.). For more information: