It would be natural to regard Jason Moran as a conceptual artist whose subject is jazz were it not for the power, feeling, and virtuosity of the music at the center of the pianist’s collaborations, which are just as likely to include Glenn Ligon or Kara Walker as Sam Rivers or Bill Frisell. “More than perhaps any other musician of his stature, Moran … has consistently situated his work along the divide between music, visual art, literature, and historical inquiry,” The New York Times said.
A MacArthur Fellow and the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center, Moran has re-envisioned the music of Fats Waller as a live dance party with papier-mâché masks, remade Thelonious Monk’s fabled 1959 Town Hall concert as a multimedia extravaganza, recreated historic jazz-club stages for the Venice Biennale, and revealed the cumulative scope of his sculptures, drawings, videos, and sound works in a solo exhibit at The Whitney.
Since releasing his debut as a bandleader in 1999, the Houston native, Manhattan School of Music graduate, and New England Conservatory of Music teacher has been a wellspring of albums for Blue Note and his own label, Yes Records, including several with his trio The Bandwagon, which comes to Big Ears this year. His most recent live albums are duos with the great drummer Milford Graves, in a performance recorded here at the festival in 2018, and the transcendent saxophonist Archie Shepp. He has been a prodigious sideman with the likes of Greg Osby and Charles Lloyd. He has also written for Imani Winds, dance companies like Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence and Alonzo King LINES, and acclaimed films such as Selma and 13th, which share his drive to scrutinize the conflicts of the past to propel the present toward a better future.