Out and About results from some considerations about happiness. I wondered what within my grasp would make me happier, and one of the answers was write about music more. I love writing, I write about music for one of the most prestigious outlets in the world, but I don’t write there often. Not too too long ago, I wrote about music two or thee times a week. I can’t do that again, but I can write more often, just because I’m not paid for my musings doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the exercise
On the day after Christmas, I went to the Whitney Museum of American Art to see Jason Moran. I’ve been to see and hear Moran, one of the most important jazz pianists, many times at concert halls and jazz clubs, but this experience promised to be completely new and exciting. And it lived up to expectations; Moran’s show “Jason Moran,” which sadly closes January 5, was stimulating and provocative in all the ways that his music is and much more.
Although it seemed to catch some of the jazz press by surprise, a museum show of Moran’s work seemed like a logical next step. Some of his work was exhibited at the Luhring Augustine Bushwick in 2016, and some of his work appeared in the Venice Biennale in 2015. In addition, he has collaborated with such remarkable artists as Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Joan Jonas and Adrian Piper. If you didn’t get the drift, he spelled it out for you with his 2006 recording, Artist in Residence (Blue Note).
The Whitney show consists of four parts. Artwork made from print impressions of works by a player piano; the Stages, replicas he made of The Savoy Ballroom, The Three Deuces and Slugs Saloon, famed and now defunct jazz clubs; a video compilation of details from collaborations with other artists including all of the ones named above; and a six hour video of music from the 70s (which I didn’t get to as I allotted two and half hours to take everything in not realizing that ten might have been a more sensible estimate).
The works draw deeper connections to the past than most jazz. The Savoy installation includes field recordings of work songs and other pre jazz styles. But my big takeaway is how much the show advances the discussion of jazz as art going forward. For decades, jazz has straddled this uncomfortable dichotomy of craving some significant fraction of the popularity it had at mid 20th Century when it as the lingua franca of popular music, and the respect it has attained as art music where the lineage of great American composers includes both Steve Reich and Tyshawn Sorey.
Moran’s show at the Whitney, which hosted a smaller but no less affecting exhibit of Cecil Taylor’s works in 2016, made me realize that we in the jazz critical community need to posit the new music more broadly. Instead of placing this guitarist or that pianist in a lineage of jazz artists on their instrument, it might be more useful to parallel them to emerging art filmmakers or painters or choreographers or dramatists. Moran’s work is creating explicit dialogue with the creative artists in other disciplines. Shouldn’t we assume that at least implicitly that the work of oh say Vijay Iyer, Mary Halvorson, Miguel Zenon, Kris Davis, Nicole Mitchell, and many others are doing the same?
Martin Johnson is a freelance writer whose work on music, sports and culture has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Newsday, New York, Vogue, Rolling Stone, The Root, Slate, The Atlantic, and numerous other publications and websites. He also blogs at Rotations, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.