Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Jason Moran

Failure is often more instructive than success. Seeing a performer unable to accomplish a basic task reminds us of that task’s importance; listening to comments that betray a lack of comprehension helps us understand where the commenters are coming from. The biannual William Kapell International Piano Competition and Festival exists mostly to winnow out the Next Great Classical Piano Soloist from among a pool of relatively young talents, and so does not often devote much time to jazz piano. On Tuesday, July 22, however, Jason Moran and McCoy Tyner were invited to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, in part to introduce the Kapell’s classical audience to what remains, for many of its members, a mysterious music; the failures of the day gave a window both on how jazz works and why it sometimes remains mysterious.

Just how mysterious became apparent after Moran had concluded the master class he gave in the morning and begun taking questions from the audience. The students Moran was instructing had technique enough to allow him to discuss the more cerebral aspects of solo jazz-piano performance: finding the bits and pieces of melodies you really like to play, testing those fragments and teasing out their intricacies, the problems of being overliteral and of being overly obscure, creating and developing incident within improvisation. His criticisms were respectful and right-on, and the students were rapt as they listened to and attempted to implement his suggestions.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published