Jason Moran on 'The Bandwagon'
Jason Moran is busy. Busy touring to promote his upcoming release The Bandwagon , a live album featuring his outstanding trio; he’s busy winning critics and readers poles; he’s busy talking to reporters; and he’s busy carving out time for younger musicians like those gathered at the recent clinic Moran held at the University of Maryland during the 25th Kappel International Piano Competition and Festival.
When I caught up with him, Moran had just finished a full day’s speaking engagement, but was still shaking hands and talking enthusiastically with the patrons, especially the younger students, who had come to hear his presentation. Luckily, I was able to speak with Moran for a few moments between his last clinic and the start of the evenings performances.
Asked about the clinic, Moran made it clear he enjoys participating, mostly because he remembers being just like the kids in the audience, hoping to meet someone they admire who can direct them a little farther along the path to jazz. “I was that kid” Moran stated, as we began talking, still searching for the way back to the green room. “These small interactions can be so important.”
Locating the room, we were finally able to sit down. We turned our attention to Moran’s many other activities, including The Bandwagon.
All About Jazz: I’d like to ask a couple things about the album you’ll have out in August. The two tracks on there which use spoken language, Chinese and...?
Jason Moran: Turkish.
AAJ: Right, Turkish. How’d that come about? As far as I know, that’s not been done.
[Note: Jason Moran uses live loops of spoken language as improvisational material on two of the tracks on The Bandwagon ]
JM: Well, It’s been done. The guy I heard do it was Pascoal from Brazil. He was doing it with political leaders, children’s classes, pigs, and chickens. He was transcribing that stuff. Now, I’d heard what he’d done, but he only did it with keyboard and whatever the voice or sound was. But I wanted to translate that to a band, which was taking it another step as far as I was concerned, especially in the “jazz” realm. I thought it would be a shocker, as well as something that would inform the audience and give us more information as far as rhythm and melody are concerned. Transcribing a language is not like transcribing Thelonious Monk or Duke Ellington. It’s a different process. So that’s where I got the idea from. As I’ve been performing it recently... people come up to me and say, ‘Have you heard Steve Reich do this, or Frank Zappa?’ And there’s this guy in New York—I can’t remember his name—there’s another composer who has done it. But my thing was, ‘Did the McCoy Tyner Trio do this?’ A classic group like that. Not an anthropological thing, or an experiment where it’s like, “What the fuck is this? Why is he doing this?’ I did it more as an exploration of the idiom, of the sound, and of what we think melody is. That’s what those pieces are about.
AAJ: Focusing on the voice like that reminds me of what we were just talking about in the classical repertoire. The last impressionists also started doing things like that, experimenting with birdsong etc.
JM: It’s a fun exercise. I thought of it more as an exercise. The first thing I did with it was maybe four years ago—I did it with Japanese. And we played the song that came out of that on Facing Left ...But we never performed anything with the sounds.
AAJ: Performed it live.
JM: Yeah, playing it live, in front of people. Not as a studio trick, but to actually do it on the bandstand. How do you teach musicians rhythms like that? I gave them the cd to listen to and said, ‘Listen to it’. [Laughter] And each time they still tell me, ‘I never heard her say that before!’
AAJ: It seemed to...fuel a lot of rhythmic ideas that would be hard to extract from your typical jazz chart.
JM: Right, right. That’s the point of any composition. You give it to a musician and with that little bit of guidance, they launch off from there. That’s the great part of having Nasheet[Waits] and Taurus[Mateen] in the band because they are true rocket ships.
AAJ: How did that happen? Was that through the Osby connection again?
JM: No, it really came about because of New Directions. We did twenty cities throughout the U.S. By the time we got to the fifteenth city we realized we had a lot going on as a trio. We like to play in time, but then we like to get loose. So it can be kind of swimming and then get really solid five seconds later. When we did Facing Left three, four years ago, it was at that point. I really wanted to do another trio record now to show how we’ve developed as a group and have it be live. No fixes, just straight up.