When I was still in high school and searching through my father’s record collection, I ran across a number of AACM records. There was a solo-piano record by Muhal Richard Abrams called Afrisong, with a red, black and green cover—the Black Liberation colors. It spoke to me. This was a time when I was learning a lot about what liberation is.
As a student in New York, I would always go to the AACM concerts, and one friend, Aaron Stewart, a tenor player, was playing with Muhal at the time. So I was able to get to Muhal and start having lessons with him. This was in the late ’90s, after I’d graduated from Manhattan School of Music and at the same time I was taking lessons with Andrew Hill. I would have these composition classes and lessons with Muhal, and he would start opening my mind about how to put a piece of music together and what kind of phrases it could have—and piano technique as well. When I started taking lessons from Muhal, I did not have a piano in my apartment. He was the one who said, “Well, Jason, if you’re going to be serious about the piano, you need to write to your parents and have them send you that upright piano. You need to have that! Every day!”