At the heart of pianist Jason Moran’s recent exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York—the first full-fledged museum survey of his work, simply titled “Jason Moran”—were three life-size stage sets. Each replicated a long-gone venue that had once played an important role in the history of jazz: the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, the Three Deuces on West 52nd St., and Slugs’ Saloon in the East Village (the latter complete with sawdust on the floor and a fallen chair, clearly meant to evoke memories of trumpeter Lee Morgan, who met his gruesome end there in 1972). Over the course of the exhibition, various musicians performed in each of these “rooms,” sometimes moving from one to another, as if to call up different spirits for different songs.
That the presence of music can turn four walls, some furniture, and the air in between into something special, memorable, even sacred is no novel observation. It certainly must have been on the minds of the folks who reopened the legendary Café Bohemia in its original West Village location last October. As of this writing, I haven’t paid it a visit yet, but the mere thought of hearing new sounds in the same room that Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley brought alive in the 1950s is thrilling.
As JazzTimes enters its 50th-anniversary year, I’d like to think that this magazine has become one more such sacred space. It may only physically exist on a few square inches of paper (or screen, depending on your preference), but somewhere between that artifact and the reader’s mind an emotional connection is made—and jazz happens. I look forward to celebrating five decades of those connections with you in 2020.