Artist Profile: Jason Moran
SONG OF THE WEEK/ARTIST FEATURE:
Honeysuckle Rose, Jason Moran, and Live Skateboarding
Hi I am Julianna! I am a JazzXchange warrior and enthusiast, bringing you our featured song of the week. This week’s choice is Jason Moran’s arrangement of “Honeysuckle Rose”, featuring Lisa E. Harris. This fresh arrangement of a well known standard composed by Fats Waller adds a more contemporary hip-hop groove to the standard, while still playing with a traditional jazz feel. Lisa E. Harris sings the head of the song, trading lines with the trumpet, as if the horn is a fellow vocalist. A great tune, featured on a great playlist by “Katzpheno” for his Jazzism Podcast 12.8
Jason Moran plays often at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco, and is currently a resident artistic director for the organization. A highlight of his presence at the Center, a show that I sorely missed seeing but heard raves about, featured live skateboarders in the auditorium that shared the limelight with Moran’s musicians. Moran’s goal with this collaboration was to examine and celebrate the link between improvisation in jazz and improvisation in skateboarding. Just like jazz, skateboarding requires the skater to make creative decisions from moment to moment, to solo, to improvise, and ultimately groove with the terrain in which the skateboarder comes into contact with. Also similar to Jazz, skateboarding is as much about community as it is about skateboarding itself, a connective interest that empowers skaters to share ideas, and better ones own craft for the betterment of the community. Because skateboarding is thought of more as a sport than an art, Moran’s work is highlighting this Ubuntu (“I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am”) connection, while also creating some phenomenal entertainment. I appreciate Moran’s focus on blending otherwise separate communities, a fantastic interdisciplinary experiment that recognizes mutual values in diverse vocations. Moran supplies the music for the skaters, “to egg them on”, to accompany their free-styling, similar in many ways to what we experience as dancers when improvising to/with jazz music.
When performed at the Center, the SFJazz production crew built a phenomenal half-pipe fitting in front of a small stage space (removing the frontmost orchestra chairs), and skateboarders free skated to the tune of Moran’s lineup. The show was even featured by Thrasher Magazine, one of the most popular skate magazines in the USA. Last time I was at the Center, the crew had just dismantled the last few boards from the half-pipe, as it had lingered intact in the equipment storage underneath the cavernous performance space for a year or so post Moran’s performance. This performance idea remains true to the statement in Moran’s bio: “An ambitiously creative musician who frequently collaborates with artists in film and dance, pianist Jason Moran is jazz’s wild card, a probing conceptualist who transforms everything he touches into a bracingly contemporary statement.”
Back to Moran’s tune featured this week, this arrangement reminds me of my sister’s arrangement of “Honeysuckle Rose” from her debut album “Unfolding”, where she also adds a flavor of contemporary popular music in the rhythm section and blending into her vocals. Her version is more stripped down than Moran’s, and does not feature much horn soloing, besides her own trombone playing -. aAnother enjoyable experience of a great Fats Waller standard!
Here is a link to her version:
Check out Thrasher’s Video Footage from Moran’s Live Skateboarding Project:
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