Jason Moran: Fats Waller Dance Party
Few jazz musicians smash boundaries like MacArthur Grant-winning pianist Jason Moran, whose multifarious work pushes not only toward disparate musical styles, but also toward other artistic disciplines. After all, this is a guy—who with his wife, the opera singer Alicia Hall Moran—organized a daring multi-arts residency at the Whitney Museum in New York in 2012, mixing film, video, dance, poetry, lectures, and alternative healing in addition to all kinds of sound. So, naturally, when Moran chooses to celebrate one of his piano heroes in Fats Waller—a natural entertainer, composer, singer, and pianist who refused to be hemmed in my any single discipline himself–he wouldn’t simply perform new versions of “Jitterbug Waltz” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
The Fats Waller Dance Party project finds Moran and an eclectic crew of cohorts using the music and era of Waller as a jumping off point, building new works from memories and melodic fragments (by Waller and contemporaries like stride pioneer James P. Johnson) of the past. Donning a massive paper machier Waller mask made by Haitian artist Didier Civil, Moran oversees a polystylistic bacchanalia of sound and rhythm, colliding early jazz with heavy funk vamps, hip-hop breaks, house grooves, and Motown soul. The pianist creates a freewheeling spectacle, but one where the music always comes first. The group includes bassist Earl Travis, trombonist Joshua Roseman, trumpeter Leron Thomas, drummer Charles Haynes, singer Lisa E. Harris, and guitarist (and Chicago native) Martin Sewell, with dancing choreographed by Maija Garcia (FELA!) for dancers from her company Organic Magnetics.