Steinway Artist Feature: Jason Moran. Quite Possibly the Busiest Man in Jazz.
Jason Moran is a busy man. The Manhattan-based jazz pianist and composer—dubbed by Rolling Stone Magazine as “the most provocative thinker in current jazz” and named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010— is also the newly-appointed Artistic Adviser for Jazz for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He’s on a short break from a tour that concludes soon with stops in Finland and Germany. He’s embarking on his ninth album for Blue Note Records, a project focusing on the music of the legendary Fats Waller. And today, a verifiable scorcher in a New York City heat wave, he’s busy escorting his four-year-old twin sons on a donut run to Brooklyn. “We heard there were special donuts here,” he says, laughing. “So we came looking for them.”
Moran settles into an easygoing banter, with a relaxed voice that reveals none of the pressures of the many roles he juggles in a given day: composer, musician, bandleader, teacher, administrator, husband, father. “I like to be busy,” he says simply.
And now there’s one more title Moran can claim. As of early 2012, he is officially a Steinway Artist. A longtime devotee of the Steinway legacy, Moran’s home studio features a newly-acquired Steinway Model M grand piano, an instrument he says “marks the first time I’ve owned a piano that I actually feel is inspiring to play.” The piano is not his first introduction to the Steinway sound, however. In fact, he says the purchase is a natural evolution of the lifelong influence Steinway pianos have had on his music. A Texas native, Moran attended Houston’s High School for Performing and Visual Arts and had the opportunity to play on Steinway grand pianos in his school. Over the years, he’s performed, studied, taught, and practiced on a wide range of Steinway pianos.
“These instruments have always been on my mind,” he says. “They are the standard, for me and for my colleagues in the performing arts. They are the artist’s piano.”
The new Steinway comes at a good time for Moran. He’s evolving his new role at the Kennedy Center from administration to hands-on artistic direction. Plus, he’s hard at work on the new Fats Waller record, and the instrument is an integral tool in developing the new recordings, which he plans to complete in several months’ time. After that, it will be back to a red-hot schedule of performances, promotions and touring.
But for now? “These days I’m staying home,” he says, satisfied. “Lots of my music friends are on the road in Europe now, because it’s jazz festival season, but other than two trips at the end of the summer, I’ll be home for a while. And that feels good. I’m working on new music in a new home studio, and I’m finally composing with the piano that I’ve always wanted.”
Moran pauses, collects his thoughts. “Right now,” he says, after a moment. “Even though it’s summer, I feel like it’s really—I don’t know—it’s spring. Everything is coming to life. The music feels like it’s coming out of the instrument in a different way. I want to capture this moment.”
But then a small boy calls for him, and he laughs. After the donuts, of course.
About Jason Moran
Pianist and composer Jason Moran was born in Houston, Texas in 1975. After getting his early inspiration from Thelonious Monk and his academic start at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Moran moved to New York to study with Jaki Byard at the Manhattan School of Music. Upon graduating, Moran began studying piano and composition with mentors Andrew Hill and Muhal Richard Abrams.
Named “Up-n-Coming Jazz Musician” of 2003 by the Jazz Journalists Association, and called “the most provocative thinker in current jazz” by Rolling Stone, Moran first came to prominence as a member of saxophonist Greg Osby’s touring and recording band in 1997. In 1999, Blue Note Records signed Moran to a recording contract. He has since released eight CDs as a solo pianist or bandleader, to great acclaim. His band, The Bandwagon, is a trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. In 2010, The Downbeat critics’ poll voted their latest recording, TEN, “Jazz Album of the Year” while also voting Moran “Pianist of the Year” and “Jazz Artist of the Year.” Also in 2010, Moran was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and was cited by the Foundation for his “adventurous, genre-crossing jazz performances.”
In addition to critical and audience recognition of his music, Moran has received commissions from the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Jazz @ Lincoln Center, Monterrey Jazz Festival, Chamber Music America, The Whitney Museum, The Walker Art Center, and Philadelphia Museum of Art. Moran’s willingness to mix media is currently being fulfilled by collaborations with such noted visual and performing artists as Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, and Joan Jonas. Moran has performed as a sideman with such artists as Cassandra Wilson, Charles Lloyd, Esperanza Spalding, Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano, Don Byron, Steve Coleman, Lee Konitz, Dave Holland, Jack Dejohnette and countless more. He is the Jazz Artistic Advisor for The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. He is also a co-artistic director at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, and he is on faculty at New England Conservatory in Boston. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, mezzo soprano Alicia Hall Moran, and their twin sons. http://www.jasonmoran.com.