Jason Moran on 'The Bandwagon'
JM: I love that city too, man.
AAJ: I lived there for awhile. I lived in Berlin, and outside Tokyo for a little while. That’s one reason I wanted to bring that up, since you tour there. I think my eyes were opened up just by living there because they pay so much attention to it[the arts]. A jazz musician can go over to Japan and just pack a stadium.
JM: It’s crazy.
AAJ: It’s a different experience.
JM: It is, it is. They just pay attention to arts in general all across the boarder. Americans don’t. They have little bitty towns outside of Bologna, outside another little town, then there’s this festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of people, ‘What?! How? That makes no sense.’ but then you go to Kentucky’s smallest town. It’s not going to have a jazz festival that will then attract people from all around.
AAJ: Are you now dedicated to the trio setting, or...
JM: I enjoy other settings, but for right now it’s either solo or The Bandwagon, or Greg[Osby] and I did a duet tour this year and we might do some more duo work. Those are my main focuses, especially the work with The Bandwagon since the cd is about to go out.
AAJ: I don’t know how I got into it, but I’ve become absolutely fascinated by the trio format. I had a period with the Bill Evans trio.
JM: Right, right.
AAJ: He sort of changed the expectation level regarding group interaction. It seems some of shied away from that, but you definitely haven’t.
JM: Right. No, I haven’t.
AAJ: So I was wondering if that idea of having a standing group that you work with a lot is important to you?
JM: It’s so important. One thing that used to annoy me about Greg’s band was that the bassist and drummer situation never got solidified. There was always this point where he’d got tired of them and we’d have to hire new people and we’d have teach the new guys the music again. We’d have to through this whole process of them learning the music. When I’d been playing this music, and I’d already be deep inside it and I’d have to revert to being like an elementary student again because these guys don’t know it yet.
AAJ: There is that side of jazz, though, when great players can get up together on the bandstand and play together, but not quite the same way those three dudes who’ve been playing every night together.
JM: I mean, I’ve played with great bass players, great drummers. But I don’t feel I have to play as much when I’m playing with Nasheet and Tarus. They bring so much to it, so much for me to respond to, and so much for them to respond to from me and I know that I can just stop playing and they’ll keep going, hard.
AAJ: I think it gives the audience more to listen to because it’s not just focused on one player.
JM: Those trios—when done correctly—you can’t beat it. It’s just excellent. There’s no way around it. But then sometimes when it’s being done by other musicians and it’s a little less than excellent, it’s just a little boring. Because you know it’s just standardized. There are no surprises. There is no mystery to their playing. So when you’re listening to it you’re—at least I’m—able to predict what’s going to happen and I shouldn’t be able to.
AAJ: Now you’ve touched on something I ask a lot of people. I guess it’s a personal obsession or something. As a trained musician, you’re hearing something very different than most listeners, but at the same time that’s your audience. I imagine that a large percentage of jazz fans don’t know what they are hearing, in a theoretical sense. How do you think music appreciation works for that segment?
JM: Now, there are two different things. First, when people buy a cd and listen to it at home and they’re visually stimulated by what they’re watching, whatever they’re seeing in front of their eyes while they’re listening to the music. Or they’re in the car. That’s one way that the person who doesn’t know music encounters my music. The other way is they come to a show and they visually see how we make the music. Once they see the enjoyment and the vigor with which we play the music, that effects them equally as much as what they’ve heard. I’ll tell guys it’s like going to a baseball game instead of watching it on T.V. There’s just a different element when you can see something right there in front of you.
AAJ: Absolutely. I think you learn a lot that way. I think it’s something missing in our culture now to a great degree. Sure, you can go see U2, but you don’t really see the process.