“The most provocative thinker in current jazz.” —Rolling Stone
In 2005, the Walker Art Center commissioned pianist/composer Jason Moran to create his acclaimed music-theater work MILESTONE. He returns with a multimedia performance built around the extraordinary octet recording of Thelonious Monk’s legendary 1959 Town Hall Concert. Integrating samples of Monk’s original music, conversations, and photos with his own interpretations of Monk tunes, Moran leads us deep into the historic jazz event, while simultaneously bringing us headlong into the 21st century. Jason Moran (piano), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Logan Richardson III (alto saxophone), Aaron Stewart (tenor saxophone), Isaac Smith (trombone), Howard Johnson (tuba), Tarus Mateen (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums) perform
In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959
on Saturday, May 9, at 7 and 9:30 pm in the Walker’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater. Copresented with Northrop Jazz at the University of Minnesota.
Thelonious Monk was already a jazz star by 1959, but his concert that year at Town Hall was the first time this iconoclast played his music with a big-band ensemble. For many, the recording of this legendary performance bestowed a new kind of prestige on jazz as a genre. Now acclaimed pianist-composer Jason Moran, whose originality and irrepressible curiosity have been compared to Monk’s, has created a multimedia performance based around that concert.
“It’s much larger than a tribute project. Monk is the reason I started playing piano,” says Moran. His epiphany came at the age of 13, when he heard his parents, mourning the loss of a friend, playing Monk’s rendition of ‘Round Midnight. “It was clear that day that I should try to play jazz. This music resonated more than other jazz I had heard before. I owe him all the investigation I can do,” he says of Monk.
In conducting his “investigation,” Moran delved into a recent discovery that has thrilled jazz fans and historians: “audio tapes of Monk and Hall Overton, the Town Hall concert arranger, discussing all of the music chord by chord.” Given Monk’s reputation as a resolutely taciturn figure, Moran was stunned by the length and intensity of these conversations, and worked some of them into his performance. They offer “an extremely rare glance into the working mind of Monk,” he says. Recorded by the legendary photojournalist W. Eugene Smith (who was also shooting Monk, Overton, and other musicians), the tapes bring a whole new dimension to Monk’s achievement at Town Hall.
“I believe Monk routinely shared his history with his audience, no matter how unpalatable that history was,” says Moran, “and it is for that very reason that his music connects with people around the globe.” In turn, In My Mind shows Monk’s place in American history through video footage from the musician’s North Carolina hometown, where his great-grandparents worked as slaves. “I didn’t want to wait on Ken Burns to do a Monk documentary, but wanted to combine the elements of extremely serious music with bits of biography, not only of Monk, but of myself.”
Jason Moran debuted as a band leader with the 1999 album Soundtrack to Human Motion. Since then, he has garnered much critical acclaim and won a number of awards for his playing and compositional skills, which combine elements of stride piano, avant-garde jazz, classical music, hip hop, and spoken word, among others. Growing up in Houston, Texas, he began playing the piano when he was six, though he had no love for the instrument until, at the age of 13, he switched his efforts from classical music to jazz. He attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and then enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with pianist Jaki Byard. While still in college Moran also received instruction from other avant-garde pianists including Muhal Richard Abrams and Andrew Hill.
In 1997, when Moran was a senior at Manhattan School of Music, he was invited to join the band of saxophonist Greg Osby for a European tour. Osby liked his playing, and Moran continued to play with Osby’s group upon their return to the United States, making his first recorded appearance on Osby’s 1997 Blue Note album Further Ado (he would subsequently appear on several other Osby albums). This led to Moran signing a contract of his own with Blue Note, and his debut as a leader Soundtrack to Human Motion, was released in 1999. Moran was joined on the album by Osby, drummer Eric Harland (a classmate of Moran’s at the Manhattan School), vibraphonist Stefon Harris and acoustic bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Moran’s next album, 2000’s Facing Left, used a trio of Moran, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. The same group, which came to be known as The Bandwagon, was joined by saxophonist and pianist Sam Rivers for their next album, Black Stars, which appeared in 2001. In 2002 Moran released a solo album, Modernistic, and followed it in 2003 with a live trio album, recorded at New York’s Village Vanguard, called The Bandwagon: Live at the Village Vanguard. The 2005 album Same Mother, Moran’s exploration of the blues, brought guitarist Marvin Sewell into the Bandwagon mix. Moran’s last release, 2006’s Artist In Residence, included a number of works commissioned by the Walker Art Center, the Dia Art Foundation, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Moran has performed and/or recorded as a sideman with artists Cassandra Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, Marian McPartland, Don Byron, Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, Von Freeman, Andrew Hill (duo), Uri Caine (duo), Bunky Green, Sam Rivers, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, Chris Potter, Jenny Scheinman, Christian McBride, and Stefon Harris.
Moran has won a number of awards, including The Jazz Journalists Association’s “Up-n-Coming Jazz Musician” award in 2003. The Down Beat critics poll voted him Rising Star Jazz Artist, Rising Star Pianist, and Rising Star Composer for three years straight (2003–2005). In 2005, Moran was also named Playboy magazine’s first “Jazz Artist of the Year.” In 2007, Moran was named a USA Prudential Fellow and granted $50,000 by United States Artists, an arts advocacy foundation dedicated to the support and promotion of America’s top living artists.
He recently premiered his first classical commission, CANE, for the Imani Winds. Another completed commission, LIVE:TIME, for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, features Bill Frisell and Alicia Hall Moran with The Bandwagon. LIVE:TIME was written in conjunction with the exhibition Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt.
Moran is working on commissions for Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet and the Monterrey Jazz Festival. He is currently on the piano faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. He has been a lecturer/instructor at Yale University, Dartmouth University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Eastman School of Music, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The New School, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Banff Center for the Arts, Denmark’s Vallekilde Jazz Camp, Skidmore College, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop.
Making Music Series: Jason Moran
Thursday, May 7
William and Nadine McGuire Theater, 7 pm, Free
Pianist/composer Jason Moran returns to the Walker stage for an evening of music, discussion, and audience engagement with the University of Minnesota’s Whole Music Club. Local musician James Everest (Roma di Luna and Vicious Vicious) talks with Moran about his history with the Walker and his latest work celebrating Thelonious Monk’s 1959 Town Hall concert.
Copresented by the Whole Music Club at the University of Minnesota. Co-sponsored by Radio K, The Onion, and mnartists.org.
Tickets to In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959 are $35 ($30 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.