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Spoken Word and Jazz: Escaping Predictable Habits

New creative pathways for top musicians

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Miguel Zenon, Newport Jazz Festival, 2014
Jason Moran at the Village Vanguard
Drummer Jaimeo Brown's Transcendence, with guitarist Chris Sholar and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, Winter Jazzfest NYC 2015
Robert Glasper

At the Village Vanguard on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, pianist Jason Moran and his trio, the Bandwagon, refashioned Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” to include samples of African chanting and drumming, some tuneful gospel inflections and rattles banged against the piano strings. After a breather, Moran punched the MiniDisc player sitting on the grand piano again and out came a vintage radio interview with Waller given by Jack Benny’s longtime sidekick, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

Anderson was obviously reading the questions in his signature raspy voice, while Waller answered them in his sly, playful tenor. Back and forth the interview went; finally, Moran’s mix looped one of the Waller’s sentences, “I think swing will be here forever and a day without let-up,” again and again. Moran, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen began to play under the repeating phrase, echoing its spoken rhythm and implied melody before improvising on the same and then, after the sample faded out, seguing into Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

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