Interview with Jason Moran

(Originally posted on September 18, 2006.  We spoke Saturday night after the gig at the Blue Note.  Naturally, the topic is other piano players.)

EI:  One record I know we can agree on is Money Jungle.

JM:  Mmm…

EI:  My song is “Fleurette Africaine.”

JM:  Yeah.  The melody is genius – and it’s got a great bridge.  But Mingus is doing this ignorant thing that makes it work.  (And you know Ellington didn’t write it.)  Tarus never listens to Mingus, but that’s his closest cat: Mingus, at least the way he plays on “Fleurette Africaine.”

EI:  There’s also a Richard Davis/Andrew Hill thing between Tarus and you, right? I’m thinking especially of Smokestack.

JM:  That’s one of my favorites.

EI:  We agree on Pax being a great date, too.  What are your favorite Hill records?

JM:  Besides Smokestack and Pax, anything of him playing solo!  Check his website – there’s some stuff from London that is out of sight. Point of Departure for the writing…and of course Bobby Hutcherson’s Dialogue, where Andrew wrote half the tunes.  What about you?

EI:  Well, my record is Black Fire.

JM:  Yeah!

EI:  Did you ever hear that 80’s date with Clifford Jordan, Shades?

JM:  No, what is that?

EI:  I think you would like it – it’s sort of the most conservative Andrew album, with some killing Jordan.  It’s fun to hear Andrew confuse the rhythm section of Rufus Reid and Ben Riley.

JM:  Oh! I want to hear that…lemme write that down…

EI:  Jaki Byard was your teacher, and you play a song of his every night.  I heard that he made his students write a rag.

JM:  He made some others do it, but not me.  He did make me write a fugue that sure was terrible.  He really believed in knowing two- and four-voice counterpoint.

EI:  You told me to get the Live at Lennie’s stuff with Joe Farrell.  That blues on Vol. One remarkable.  The Jaki album that I grew up with is The Jaki Byard Experience, with that extraordinary piano solo on “Evidence.” What else would you recommend?

JM:  Out Front with Roy Haynes on drums.  He gets to serious compositional stuff there.  Oh yeah!  And on his solo on “Out Front,” there is classic Jaki misplacement.

EI:  I also love his playing on Eric Dolphy’s Outward Bound, like on the slow blues “245” and his comping on “On Green Dolphin Street.”

JM:  Yeah! The comping on “Green Dolphin…”  His thing was how he touched those notes, not what the notes were.  It’s almost like the intervals don’t matter.  But the feel is killing!

EI:  Once upon a time I transcribed quite a bit of Herbie Nichols.

JM:  For me, after Monk, he is the most perfect piano player.  I could listen him forever! My bag with him is very deep.  His touch, his voicing low in the piano.  Jaki’s “Out Front” was a song about Herbie’s touch.  The solo piano piece is incredible.

EI:  What solo piece?

JM:  On Love, Gloom, Cash, Love.  It’s called “Infatuation Eyes.”  Apparently he wrote it for strippers, but it’s hard to imagine – weird music for that!

EI:  I guess I only ever had the Blue Notes.  I got the Mosaic box in high school, and I still have it.

JM:  How did you know to check him out?

EI:  Huh…  Well, I guess from the A.B. Spellman book: my local library had a copy of Four Lives in the Bebop Business.

JM:  I see.  Well, you know, his daughter is a musician.  Toyin Spellman-Diaz plays oboe in Imani Winds.

EI: No kidding! I saw Imani Winds play Ligeti earlier this year.

JM:  I’m writing a piece for them, actually.  A.B. is a nice cat – very approachable.

EI:  Well, his book remains one of the best books on the music ever written.  There’s a chapter on Cecil Taylor, too.  You must be a Cecil fan.

JM:  Major.  I’ve seen him play a lot.  One time was with a Japanese dancer, who was at the opposite end of the street as Cecil.  I saw him duo with Max Roach, where Cecil even played a ballad!  It was heavy.  The best real free jazz I’ve ever seen was Cecil’s quartet at the Iridium.  There were no egos involved.  Just incredible music.

He came and saw me play, and I had piano at half stick.  He said: “Listen! Don’t ever let the motherfuckers put it half stick!  You have too big a sound.”  He said this to me about my teacher: “I have never met anyone who knew more about the piano than Jaki Byard.”  Coming from Cecil, that really means something!  Records?  Well, I like some of the Blue Notes, and what about that version of “Love for Sale”?  What do you like?

EI:  There’s a lot, but…you must have heard “Mixed,” “Pots,” and “Bulbs.”

JM:  No…

EI:  With Ted Curson, Archie Shepp, Lyons, Roswell Rudd, Grimes, Sonny Murray…an Impulse date, only three tunes…half an LP.  Early sixties.  They are sort of Ellingtonian compositions, and the piano playing is sick.

The late Kenny Kirkland was a real force.  For our age group, he was the one.

JM:  Yes.  He was the guy.  The last innovator.  He took the Herbie/McCoy thing to the next ship.  His sound was big!  His chords always had overtones making them sound bigger then they were.  I’ll have to play you some of these bootlegs I have of Kirkland with Kenny Garrett – you’d be amazed.

Then Geri Allen was going to be the next thing, but she retreated.  It’s one of the mysteries of jazz.

EI:  Yeah, she’s playing a lot of Herbie Hancock these days.  But I hear that when she plays with Charlie Haden once in a while, she can still play her old way.

JM:  I always make sure my students hear her record with Charlie and Paul where they play “Lonely Woman.”  I mean, it’s a classic.  Also Homegrown and The Printmakers.  She is brilliant.

EI:  Did you ever see her play with Cox and Pheeroan akLaff?

JM:  No.

EI:  One of the best shows I ever saw.  You’re right, it was supposed to be the next thing.

JM:  Maybe she’ll come back someday.

EI:  Keith Jarrett.

JM:  I would have never fronted for Keith in the past.  I mean the stuff with Dewey Redman is great, of course, but I never really checked him out.  But last year I paid a lot of money to see his Carnegie Hall show.  Really, he might be the living Tatum.  Full of soul, and so complex at the same time.  He’s really got a language.  And as a pianist, he just makes you mad.

EI:  Randy Weston.

JM:  My moment from him was when Muhal Richard Abrams, Geri Allen, John Hicks, Randy Weston, Andrew Hill, and me all played.  Weston was playing full piano: his left hand was a lesson in itself, on something like “Take the A Train.” A great record is the one with The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco, who only chant when someone is sick.  Randy Weston plays only at the end, but it is a beautiful record.

EI:  Ahmad Jamal.

JM:  I saw him here, at the Blue Note.  It was the best show I ever saw.  The flash and the style and the sound.  And how he LED the band.  Idris Muhammad was on drums.

I always loved his records.  He should be a bigger influence than he is.

EI:  I couldn’t agree more.  Too many cats just want to blow when they play trio.  I guess both of us are students of Ahmad since we are interested not just in blowing, but in creating pieces with atmosphere…

JM:  No doubt.

EI:  I’m a big Paul Bley guy.  Have you checked him out much?

JM:  No…I don’t have many of his records, but I love his playing.  I’ve met him, and he’s an impressive character.  We were on a bill together, and he grilled me with about twenty questions about piano before he went on (I played first).  Some of his questions were things I had never thought about!

Then one time I heard some bad stuff on the airline radio – solo piano.  It was ridiculous.  I was like, “Who is THIS?”  Of course, it was Paul Bley.