At Home With The Morans

Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran, as photographd by Dawoud Bey
Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran, as photographd by Dawoud Bey

I got a chance to sit around the kitchen table at the Harlem home of pianist Jason Moran and singer Alicia Hall Moran, for this interview piece in The Wall Street Journal. The piece was ostensubly pegged to the release of Hall Moran’s debut CD, released on a new imprint the couple established together—a worthy release that celebrates the pure essence of Hall Moran’s voice as it blurs lines between genres and toys with aural textures
But the Journal piece really was a chance to check in on a remarkable couple who absorb and radiate cultural details with remarkable energy and insight, and whose presence in New York recalls a moment when Harlem was full of families that made art out of community and community out of art. I’ve known them both for more than a decade and it’s been inspiring and educational—about music and marriage–to see how husband and wife affect each other’s experience and expression.
When I asked Did you open musical doors for each other? Alicia said this:

Jason took me to hear Cecil Taylor and Henry Threadgill. Those doors needed opening for me. But on a deeper level, he helped me grasp how important each individual instrument and personality is in music.

And Jason told me:

Dating a girl who knew Western classical music inside and out—who felt it—was a new kind of education. She taught me that Alban Berg was as soulful as Duke Ellington. She helped me focus on narrative. As a jazz musician, living life with someone who always demands a story makes you check everything you’re going to play.

And Jason pointed out that Alicia helped him think more deeply about the idea of narrative in his own music. He said:

Jazz instrumentalists once played with a sense of narrative but now that’s mostly not true. And in school they weren’t teaching you how to play a story. Singers always have to tell a story—in English or German or whatever. We instrumentalists don’t, and though there was a generation that said you really have to learn the lyrics, it ain’t really a rule out here for success. So living life with someone who’s always trying to tell a story or who regularly asks ‘What do you mean by that,’ makes you rethink certain things.

That last part didn’t make it into the article, but here’s the complete text: Continue reading “At Home With The Morans”