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Jason Moran Pays Tribute to James Reese Europe at Kennedy Center

The pianist will give the U.S. premiere of "The Absence of Ruin," his piece inspired by the legendary bandleader, on Dec. 8

Jason Moran at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival
Jason Moran at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival (photo: Alan Nahigian)

Pianist and composer Jason Moran will pay tribute to the legacy of James Reese Europe, the African-American bandleader who introduced jazz to France at the end of World War I, with the U.S. premiere of a new original piece at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The piece, titled “The Absence of Ruin,” will be performed on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. and is scheduled to coincide with the centennial of Armistice Day.

Moran will play with his usual trio, the Bandwagon, along with a 10-piece ensemble. Visual media components will be contributed to the show by filmmaker John Akomfrah and cinematographer Bradford Young.

Europe, who died in 1919, was known as the “Jazz King.” In 1910, he formed the Clef Club, a New York-based union and contracting agency for black musicians. In 1912, the Clef Club Orchestra, which was exclusively black, performed at Carnegie Hall—the first time that jazz-influenced music was played there.

Europe served as a lieutenant in World War I and helped form the all-black and Puerto Rican 369th Regiment, known as the Hellfighters, whose marching band helped introduce jazz to Europeans during the war.

“This piece is a meditation on the life and music of James Reese Europe,” Moran, now in his fifth season as the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz, said in a press release. “A composer, war hero, activist, and bandleader, his music and advocacy laid the groundwork for early jazz—without his demand for excellence, we would not have a Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake or a Duke Ellington. This rare human being demands multiple tributes to understand the breadth of his artistic and civic commitment.”

For more information and to buy tickets, go here.

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