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Jason Moran & the Big Bandwagon: Boston, February 2, 2012

A Monk-inspired rumination worth rejoicing over

Jason Moran performs with the Bandwagon at the 2010 Rosslyn Jazz Festival

Recordings and concerts honoring a certain revered jazz titan have been so ubiquitous that pianist Kenny Werner once told me he “used to joke that you could not get your union card unless you did a tribute to Thelonious Monk.” Yet even in a world chockablock with Monk tributes of varying merit, it’s worth rejoicing over Jason Moran’s refreshing multimedia work In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959, performed most recently in Boston on February 2, at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

The work, commissioned by Duke University, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the Chicago Symphony Center and the Washington Performing Arts Society, got its start five years ago when Moran was asked to help celebrate Monk’s 90th birthday year by recreating the famous 1959 concert documented on the live album Monk at Town Hall. A passionate Monk admirer since an epiphany-inspiring incident in his early teens, Moran was nonetheless leery of a straightforward recreation of the original concert. He proposed using video and recorded conversations to examine the making of Monk’s Town Hall concert, and performing that historical exploration alongside the music itself. The result was In My Mind, which, Moran writes in the program notes, “allows me to ruminate on African-American slavery, jazz history, the piano, my life, religion and redemption.”

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