THE NEW YORKER: JAZZ HANDS: HOW JASON MORAN BENDS THE RULES
March 4 2013
How Jason Moran bends the rules.
by Alec Wilkinson
March 11, 2013
One evening in August of 1989, when the piano player Jason Moran was fourteen, he walked into his parents’ bedroom, in Houston, to ask a question. He found his mother and father sitting in front of the television. The sound was turned off, and a record was playing—Thelonious Monk, performing a solo version of his song “ ’Round Midnight,” which he recorded in 1957. “It’s a pensive song, and we were distraught,” Moran’s father, Andrew, told me. Someone they knew had died—it was the Texas congressman Mickey Leland, whose plane had crashed in Africa—and they were watching the story unfold.
Although no one said a word, Moran had the feeling that Monk, playing the piano, “was speaking,” he told me. Moran had studied piano since he was six, mostly to please his parents, using the Suzuki method, and he could play Bach and Chopin and Schumann. He had become reasonably accomplished, and had given recitals, but he had recently asked if he could quit. He liked hip-hop better. Hearing Monk’s austere music—“all the spareness and space”—he thought, The sounds I make on the piano do not sound like that. I need to do that. Whatever he does, I want to do. “As a young pianist, not knowing what’s involved in playing like that, you think, This may be attainable,” he said.
Andrew Moran remembers playing “ ’Round Midnight,” but he didn’t know that his son had encountered his future when he heard it. “That’s what moved him away from classical music into straight-ahead jazz?” he said. “I remember he got really heavy into Monk, and I noticed he was wearing a lot of hats.” A hallmark of Monk’s appearance was a succession of hats worn with a severe aplomb. . . .