Robert Glasper and Jason Moran Create a Piano Lounge
Robert Glasper and Jason Moran blend music genres for a jazz concert at the Kennedy Center to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month.
Two baby grand pianos that appeared to touch were the only instruments on the Kennedy Center stage.
A “chill” concert of music from two of the most talented artists on the scene today was delivered by Robert Glasper and Jason Moran recently at the Kennedy Center. Emmy Award and four-time Grammy recipient Glasper and Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran gave “an unforgettable evening” as the performance was billed.
Both performers are known to blend different genres of music, but this night was mostly about jazz to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month.
Chat between Glasper and Moran and the audience was minimal. It usually was funny when they did speak, but the dialogue helped frame their jazz philosophies. A close and respectful relationship steered by intuition and improvisation drove what we heard between the two composers, producers and bandleaders.
No additional musicians came to the stage. No setlist was in the program guide. We only needed to listen.
“We play whatever we are inspired by, that’s it,” Glasper said. “No rules here.”
Glasper and Moran began their set with three songs honoring some of their jazz heroes. I heard strains from Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” in the first number. Then a blend of Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner, two jazz legends who died in recent years, filled the second selection with fluidity and punctuated melodies.
I could see that Moran can be a rapid pianist, a trait similar to Tyner’s style of working the keyboards. Glasper introduced Roy Hargrove’s “Liquid Streets” for the third tribute. Hargrove died in 2018 at age 49.
Like Glasper and Moran, Hargrove practiced genre-blending music by grabbing the sharpest musical talent on the scene to create sounds that can’t be placed in specific buckets. That’s what Glasper did with his award-winning “Black Radio” album series and what Moran does by bringing hip-hop, comedy performances, spoken word, ballet and other bold combinations into the Kennedy Center’s jazz programing.
“He was the first jazz musician I saw that dressed like me,” Glasper said. “That made me believe I could do that.”
We saw and heard the duo expand the sound of their pianos with an assortment of accessories. We saw that when placed inside a piano, a tambourine, wine bottle, drinking glass and a red Solo Cup can change the dynamic of a composition.
Moran received a 2010 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” and currently, Moran teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He and Glasper graduated from Houston’s prestigious Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but not in the same year. Moran was a few years ahead of Glasper.
The vibrancy and emotion poured into this performance created a surprise when Moran’s chair broke a third of the way into the concert, but it didn’t stop the action. Moran had to stand at his piano to continue playing, so Glasper took the same position in an “I got you, bro” moment.
“I’ve had that chair for 18 years,” Moran said.
Extraordinary artists, comrades and lovers of all things music made for an incomparable concert. I turned around to look at the audience’s reaction at one point. There was stillness with complete focus on the stage. We witnessed two dudes who just came to fill every soul in the room with sweet, thoughtful harmonies.
If you came in appreciating Glasper and Moran individually, this concert made you fall in love with them completely.