January 6, 2020


Jason Moran is making jazz history. Don't miss it. (Chris Richards, Jan. 2, 2020, Washington Post)

When was the last time you visited the observation deck of the Washington Monument? Amazing view, but what's the rush to see it? Same for browsing the shelves of the Library of Congress or dropping by the National Archives to catch a glimpse of that Constitution that everyone keeps talking about. In a city that constantly beckons us to check out its most astonishing perma-stuff, it's easy to put things off forever.

I'm ashamed to admit that I thought of Jason Moran the same way. As the Kennedy Center's artistic director for jazz, the New York-based pianist graces our town nearly a dozen times a year, routinely proving he's one of the most sensitive and inventive musicians alive. And while Moran has been working intensely with the Kennedy Center since 2011, it was only recently that I realized I was suffering a bad case of the I'll-catch-him-next-times.

To remedy that, I resolved to hear him as often as possible in 2019, and here's one thing I learned very quickly: Moran isn't like all those other Washington monuments. He changes. From show to show, he adapts to the contours of the moment, and his flexibility sparks big questions about how artists square bold vision with deep empathy.

Moran grew up in Houston listening to Thelonious Monk and hip-hop, and by the time he turned 22, he was one of jazz music's brightest rising stars. He won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2010 and became Kennedy Center's artistic adviser for jazz in 2011 before being promoted to artistic director in 2014. Now, at 44, Moran is a towering figure in this music of endless possibility, and he appears to be taking those possibilities more seriously than ever.

The New York Times recently declared that the work Moran has undertaken in 2019 ranks among the decade's most significant achievements in jazz. His performances in Washington were only a part of it. Moran opened a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York in September, blending live performance and installation to enthusiastic reviews. Before that, the pianist and his wife, vocalist Alicia Hall Moran, had assembled "Two Wings," an ambitious musical program about the Great Migration that they toured from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center to Berlin. It's been a massive year for sure.

And when an aesthetic proposition feels as broad as Jason Moran's, the best way to understand it is to experience as much of it as you can. I tried.

Posted by at January 6, 2020 6:12 PM