Moran recoded first with Greg Osby and debuted as a band leader with the 1999 album Soundtrack to Human Motion. Since then, he has released eight other albums--with his trio The Bandwagon, solo or leading other ensembles--and appeared in about thirty albums as a sideman. He has garnered much critical acclaim and won a number of awards for his playing and compositional skills, which combine elements of post-bop and avant-garde jazz, blues, classical music,stride piano, hip hop among others.
Moran grew up in Pleasantville, Houston, Texas. His high middle-class parents, Andy, an investment banker and Mary, a teacher, encouraged his musical and artistic sensibilities at the Houston Symphony, museums and galleries, and through a relationship with John T. Biggers and a collection of their own. Moran began training at classical piano playing, in Yelena Kurinets' Suzuki method music school, when he was six. However, his father's extensive records collection (around 10,000 in 2004), varied from Motown, to classical to avant-garde jazz.
As a boy he developed a preference to Hip Hop music over the piano until, at the age of 13, he first heard the song "′Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk at home, and switched his efforts to jazz. Monk's childlike melodies, with their many silent spaces, struck him as relatively easy to play and not overly ornate, while the rhythms were reminiscent of Hip Hop songs, and the harmonies unorthodox. Both jazz and hip hop were part of Houston's skateboarding scene in which he was involved.
In 1997, when Moran was a senior at Manhattan School of Music, he was invited to join the band of saxophonistGreg Osby for a European tour, following a conversation, that lingered mostly on older piano jazz, and no audition. Osby liked his playing, and Moran continued to play with Osby's group upon their return to the United States, making his first recorded appearance on Osby's 1997 Blue Note album Further Ado. He would subsequently appear on several other Osby albums and Osby would introduce him to avant-garde pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Andrew Hill.
His stint with Osby led Moran to signing a contract of his own with Blue Note. His debut Soundtrack to Human Motion was released in 1999. Moran was joined on the album by Osby, drummerEric Harland (a classmate of Moran's at the Manhattan School, and the one who recommended him to Osby), vibraphonistStefon Harris and acoustic bassistLonnie Plaxico.
Moran's next album, 2000's Facing Left (after a work by Egon Schiele), featured a trio that formed out of Osby's group, New Directions: Moran, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Compositions were some of Moran's and some by Mateen, Duke Ellington, Björk and Byard. The trio, which came to be known as The Bandwagon, was joined by saxophonist and pianist Sam Rivers for their next album, Black Stars, which appeared in 2001.Black Stars was included in NPR's "The 50 Most Important Recordings Of The Decade."
Moran in 2010
In 2002, Moran released a solo album, Modernistic, and followed it in 2003 with a live trio album, recorded at New York's Village Vanguard, called The Bandwagon.
Moran's 2005 album Same Mother, an exploration of the blues, brought guitarist Marvin Sewell into the Bandwagon mix.
Moran's 2006 release, Artist In Residence, included a number of selections from different works commissioned by museums, all of which premiered in 2005: "Milestone," is centered on a visual work by Adrian Piper from the Walker Art Center; "The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things," was incorporated into a preexisting installation of that name by artist Joan Jonas; and "RAIN", inspired by ring shouts from African American slaves, is a recording of The Bandwagon with guests Marvin Sewell, Ralph Alessi and Abdou Mboup. Critical reception to Artist in Residence has been arguably colder that to his other releases.
Moran's IN MY MIND, premiered in 2007, is a multimedia presentation inspired by Thelonious Monk's 1959 "large band" concert at The Town Hall in New York City. It utilises filmed and taped material of Monk's rehearsal, found in the archive of W. Eugene Smith, and video art by David Dempewolf. A text-laden painting from Glenn Ligon extracted the words "In My Mind" - which Monk says on one of Smith's tapes - as did Moran, incorporating the soundbyte into the set. The program is played by The Big Bandwagon: the trio with a largely changeable five piece horn section. The New York Times wrote "it had a magical balance of theory and intuition, and the crowd stayed fully with it." The February 2009 installation is the subject of a documentary film of the same name.
In April 2007 Moran took the piano in Charles Lloyd's New Quartet, succeeding Geri Allen. He was the last member to join the group, which keep touring (As of 2014[update]), recorded one studio album and two live ones. Moran and Lloyd recorded a duo album, Hagar's Song, in 2013.
The album Ten, released in 2010, marked a ten year interval from the Bandwagon's debut, Facing Left. It features "Blue Blocks" off the Philadelphia Museum commission, "RFK in the Land of Apartheid," from an original score to a documentary film of the same name, and "Feedback Pt. 2", an homage to Jimi Hendrix's performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Monk's "Crepuscule with Nellie" was recorded at the IN MY MIND tour.Ten also contains a composition by Moran and Andrew Hill, and others by Leonard Bernstein, Jaki Byard, Conlon Nancarrow and Bert Williams. The Downbeat 2010 critics' poll voted Ten "Jazz Album of the Year", while also voting Moran "Pianist of the Year" and "Jazz Artist of the Year." The New York Times chose Ten among 2010 top 10 pop and jazz albums.
Since 2011 Moran has been performing the show "Fats Waller dance party", originally commissioned by Harlem Stage. It became the basis of a 2014 release, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, dedicated to Fats Waller and the form of popular entertainment that jazz was in his days. Participants in the fluid roster have included singers Meshell Ndegeocello, in a co-leader position, and Lisa E. Harris, drummer Charles Haynes' ensemble with trumpeter Leron Thomas and trombonist Josh Roseman, saxophonist Steve Lehman and bassist Mark Kelly.
Moran's composition, "Slang", was commissioned for the 2011 Other Minds Festival in San Francisco. In the May 2012 Whitney Biennial, Alicia Hall Moran and Jason curated BLEED, a week-long event that involved many artists and artisans, and aimed to expose artistic processes to the point "it has to be scary". Later that year a new performance with Joan Jonas, Reanimation was first staged in dOCUMENTA (13). In the summer of 2013 and the next, Moran accompanied, with The Bandwagon and guest Jeff Parker, skateboarding shows in SFJAZZ Center.
In April 2014 Moran and Imani Winds premiered Jump Cut Rose, which he wrote for the quintet and a piano, In May, Looks of A Lot, a theatrical co-production with Theaster Gates on the theme of Chicago artistic history premiered in the city's Symphony Center; participants included The Bandwagon, the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band,Ken Vandermark and Katie Ernst, bassist and vocalist. The same month, the Bandwagon played their composition, "The Subtle One", to a ballet adaptation by Ronald K. Brown. In September he appeared trice in the Monterey Jazz Festival: Leading a Fats Waller Dance Party, in a one-piano duo with Robert Glasper, and with Charles Lloyd New Quartet.
Moran has been on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music since 2010, where he delivers a yearly masterclass, and the Manhattan School of Music, taking over the position occupied by his former teacher, Jaki Byard. In the Kennedy Center he has been the musical adviser for jazz from 2011, and artistic director for jazz from 2014, occupying the position of Billy Taylor. Focused on attracting larger and younger audience, he created at Kenndy the Crossroads Club.
Apart from these positions, Moran has organized events such as "713-->212: Houstonians in NYC" in January 2011 and Very Very Threadgill, a two-day festival dedicated to Henry Threadgill, his "favorite composer", in September 2014.
Moran and his family manage the granting of "Moran Scholarship Award", first set in 1994 for jazz students at HSPVA. In 2005 they set in Houston The Mary Lou Chester Moran Foundation, for similar purposes.
Closing 2010, Francis Davis wrote in Village Voice: "... Moran's only competition in the Fifth Annual Village Voice Jazz Critics' Poll was Jason Moran. Ten, his first trio album in seven years, won Album of the Year in a landslide, but that’s not all. The pianist figured prominently on the runner-up, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green’s Apex, and Charles Lloyd’s Mirror, which finished fourth ... Add Paul Motian’s Lost in a Dream ... that gives the 2010 MacArthur Fellow four appearances in the Top 10"
JazzTimes' 2011 Expanded Critics' Poll voted Moran second place "Artist of the Year", and first place "Pianist of the Year"; the Charles Lloyd New Quartet, "Acoustic Group of the Year" and The Bandwagon fifth place in that category. In 2013, the New Quartet was second place in its category and Moran, second in pianists.
Moran has won a number of awards, including The Jazz Journalists Association's "Up-n-Coming Jazz Musician" award in 2003. The Down Beat critics poll voted him Rising Star Jazz Artist, Rising Star Pianist, and Rising Star Composer for three years straight (2003–05). In 2005, Moran was also named Playboy magazine's first "Jazz Artist of the Year". In 2007, Moran was named a USA Prudential Fellow by United States Artists. In 2010, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Another full length documentary, Grammar about "jazz through Jason Moran" and genre boundaries, is in the making, after first director Radiclani Clytus had found funding in a 2012 kickstarter campaign.
Moran married Alicia Hall Moran, a mezzo-soprano singer and artistic collaborator, in 2003. They live in Harlem and have twins. He has an older brother and a younger. Two of his cousins, Tony and Michael Llorens, toured with Albert King playing piano and drums, and were recorded on In Session. His uncle Joe is a painter.
Soundtrack to Human Motion (1999)
Facing Left (2000)
Black Stars (2001)
The Bandwagon: Live at the Village Vanguard (2003) Jazz Times: 3rd best release
^The editors noted: "Drummer Eric Harland, bassist Reuben Rogers and, perhaps most important, the pianist Jason Moran may technically qualify as sidemen here, but they function as anything but." "2008 Year in Review: Top 50 CDs". Jazztimes. 2009. Retrieved November 26, 2014.