Jason Moran, Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz
As our Crossroads Club enters its third season, I’m thrilled to invite my compadres in Mehliana to open the new KC jazz season. Mehliana focuses the fire that Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana bring to electronic beat music. These well-structured improvisers create new songs on the spot and are sure to transport the Crossroads Club to another dimension. Mehldau is a thrilling musician, so this is your chance to dance up to the stage and watch him create up close and personal. And Guiliana has been a devotee of brilliant beats for a while now, so this is a natural fit for his extreme sense of rhythm-making. Get ready to sway.
Later in the month, SFJAZZ Collective brings its constantly shifting ensemble to the Terrace Theater. The current lineup gathers bandleaders from across the globe: Australia, Israel, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the United States. There are several different voices in this great band of composers and bandleaders. For example, alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón has been in the band from its inception, while trombonist Avishai Cohen—who’s part of a musical family with siblings Anat and Yuval—returns to the KC after more than a decade away. We also welcome stunning Baltimore vibraphonist Warren Wolf to the collective, as each band member takes a turn at leading the ensemble through their pieces. This group has always been a great way to hear what’s going on in contemporary jazz, and the various voices within the field.
Also in the Terrace, it’s an honor to have one of my former teachers with us: NEA Jazz Master pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams. A co-founder of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), the Chicago native has a long history of breaking through walls with sound. When I arrived in New York in the ’90s, I sought out composition lessons with Muhal, and those lessons continue to resonate today. Now 84, he has always been a role model for the generations behind him. His new quintet features the young Bay Area trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, as well as his longtime collaborator, drummer Reggie Nicholson.
Muhal Richard Abrams
Opening up our KC Jazz Club this season, drummer Louis Hayes has made heads bop for decades. He has given bands by Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, and Oscar Peterson the kind of pep in their step that defined the sound of the hard bop movement. A longtime bandleader, Hayes brings his Jazz Communicators to share the word. There are very few originators of the language still with us, but Louis Hayes bears the torch.
Saxophonist Craig Handy also comes to the KC Jazz Club—he has toured and recorded with the finest in the biz. For the past two years, he was on the faculty of our Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program. His latest recording 2nd Line Smith takes a look at the music of master organist Jimmy Smith through the New Orleans Second Line lens. Be ready to stomp your feet and clap your hands in this soulful night of music.
Each new jazz season, we present musicians to you that all consider themselves “students of the music.” I’ve heard countless masters commonly utter this phrase. Being a “student of the music” means we’re always open to new ideas of thinking, playing, and composing. Many times, we’re unsure where the inspiration will come from, but throughout our past 100 years of jazz history, it’s clear that inspiration comes from our environment. And what better way to learn about our culture than through music!
From the roots of Muhal Richard Abrams’s 1930s Chicago upbringing to Louis Hayes’s Detroit childhood in the 1940s, these two have explored countless territories in their music, earning their titles as masters. We all continue to find inspiration not only from our past, but most importantly from our present. Craig Handy identifies with organist Jimmy Smith, Brad Mehldau engages with analog synthesizer histories, and SFJAZZ Collective embraces global perspectives within jazz.
Music is about dialogue, and it’s our duty as listeners to continue the conversation once we depart a concert. We should continue to ponder what we feel as we listen to music—because that’s exactly what these artists are considering when they compose and perform it. Sometimes it’s a breeze, and other times it’s a challenge, but these are the virtues of listening to experienced musicians. They share their stories through sound.
- Jason Moran