By Micha Green
Twenty years ago Jason Moran’s jazz trio, The Bandwagon wowed audiences with their unique sound and artistic mash-ups, and for eight years the Kennedy Center’s jazz programming has been under his tutelage. With such a seasoned career in jazz, Moran, 44, took a moment to reflect on his music, role at the Kennedy Center and overall duty as an artist to contribute to the growth of jazz in the District and beyond.
“Every season at the Kennedy Center we have a real duty to recognize how the music has been developed and also a keen responsibility to mark how it is changing, because jazz is a rare American gem- meaning born on the shores here- and it takes a different documentation,” Moran told the AFRO.
In his eighth season as the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Jazz, Moran is continuing to uphold the institution’s jazz legacy, while also bringing a newness of sound and artistry to the beloved artistic gathering place for locals, tourists and international audiences alike. Moran explained that part of the jazz program’s growth is remembering its roots.
“My predecessor Dr. Billy Taylor, was from D.C. and also a serious historian, a serious activist and also a serious educator. So that was the kind of programming he set up even before I got there. And once he passed, I felt like it had to continue to be the duty to make sure the jazz programming had a breadth of understanding of how it got to where it is. And we can’t isolate traditions- from Ragtime to Avant Garde and Free Jazz, but that is also an aspect of America that America has to confront too,” Moran said.
The 44-year-old musican said that jazz has the ability to serve as the thermostat for the status of America’s health. “The music always someway forecasts and gives a temperature reading of where the country is. How sick or how well it is,” Moran explained.
Through his artistic curation of performances for The Kennedy Center, Moran hopes to expand the breadth of jazz music to which audiences are exposed.
“This year we’re bringing the art ensemble of Chicago- a pioneering group [celebrating] their 50th anniversary. Here’s an ensemble that’s been around for 50 years and have never played the Kennedy Center,” Moran said with both surprise and a hint of disappointment. “So there’s still these gaps of programming that I try to make sure we acknowledge as an institution.”
The musician, artistic director and entrepreneur, who co-owns YES RECORDS with his wife, mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, hopes that through the artistry coming to the Kennedy Center, ‘that [people] kind of wake up to what [Americans] have not been dealing with.”
As Moran enters his eighth season with the Kennedy Center, he also celebrates the milestone of 20 years of his jazz trio, The Bandwagon. Two decades ago, Moran, who has seamlessly meshed Hip-Hop, rap and jazz, had no idea he’d be part of an-award winning jazz trio. The group was actually part of the rhythm section of another band, yet “we had the best chemistry,’ said Moran. After 20 years of creating with The Bandwagon, Moran also has seen the changes in jazz and its role in feeding the souls of music lovers throughout the world.
“[Twenty years ago], much of [the music] sounded like dinner jazz- like you hear at a restaurant, meant to help you digest food,” Moran said only mildly jokingly. He explained that he and The Bandwagon wanted to get as far away from that kind of jazz music as possible.
“So we started building on the language…but also worked with repertoire that dealt with where Black music is- and for many decades, not just the recent ones,” he said. “And then I think overtime it started to form and change where we would position ourselves– whether it was with an art museum or a dance company, or whether it was with a poet. You might hear the band anywhere, in any kind of setting that was more provocative,” Moran added.
“As we grew, after 20 years we know a lot about each other. We’re also aging so we’re continuing to figure out what the chapters are to hold. I think a lot of our future continues to revolve around collaboration because that’s what, I think, helps to propel the band.”
With Moran as the institution’s artistic director for jazz, the trio will be showcasing 20 years of making music and will continue to collaborate with other artists in this season’s programming at the Kennedy Center.
“In a few months we have Ingrid Laubrock, and we’re going to dedicate it to a record we made with a saxophone master called Sam Rivers. But Ingrid will play his part now that he’s passed on. Then finally we’re bringing in Cassandra Wilson… They’re work is groundbreaking and sometimes subtle, and sometimes forceful. And they are forces to be reckoned with that I think The Bandwagon can learn from, and we look forward to learning their music.”
With the addition of The Reach, a new multipurpose arts space part of The Kennedy Center, Moran is excited about the potential of expanding artistic programming and introducing new audiences to the world of jazz.
“The possibilities of the way I consider the institution can breathe now, is like a gill on a fish. It has a new way to get oxygen, Moran said. “I’m excited about really curating films for jazz, that covers jazz history, that I think we should be able to see more frequently. I’m loving that we have a space that audiences can stand up and dance, and it’s dedicated to that– with Studio K– and that we can continue to build a more chorus way for the institution to work.”
He hopes that through intersectional and educational jazz programming at The Reach, fresh ears can learn the beauty of jazz music.
“I think it’s around intersection. Would you just jump on the jazz highway, and get in the third lane and go fast? There has to be an on ramp,” Moran explained. One form of intergenerational programming offered at The Reach will be a Jazz Doodle Jam with Jason Moran & The Bandwagon and host Mo Willems in mid-March.
“Parents and children can come and draw for an hour as we lead them through exercises with art and sound. And I think those entry points are really important for us to magnify,” he told the AFRO.
The 2019-2020 jazz season kicked off on Oct. 4 with Joe Chambers’ M’boom, and continues until June 6, with programming featuring local, national and international musicians within spaces at The Kennedy Center and The Reach. Jason Moran & The Bandwagon’s next performance at The Kennedy Center is scheduled for Nov. 9 with Ingrid Laubrock in the Family Theater.
For more information on jazz programming at The Kennedy Center visit https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/genre/JAZ and to keep up with all things Jason Moran check out his website, http://www.jasonmoran.com.
This article originally appeared in The Afro.