Jazz Pianist Jason Moran
He's been awarded the 2005 Pianist of the Year award by the Jazz Journalist's Association, and he also received the first ever 2005 Playboy Magazine Jazz Artist of the Year. His new album is called Same Mother, which reflects the 30-year-old musician's current interest in the blues.
Other segments from the episode on September 27, 2016
DATE June 27, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Jason Moran discusses his new CD, "Same Mother," his
childhood and career
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is the jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. Our jazz critic Kevin
Whitehead described him as `one of those rare up-and-comers who makes you
optimistic for the future of jazz.' Moran turned 30 this year. He first
became known as a sideman with the saxophonist Greg Osby and has been leading
his own band for about five years. His music is filled with what jazz critic
Ben Ratliff of The New York Times described as, quote, "the curious
juxtaposition of idioms, jostling jazz against opera, stride piano, film
music, pop, the music of human speech patterns," unquote. And, as we'll hear
in a few minutes, Moran has also performed his own adaptations of hiphop. A
few tracks from his latest CD, "Same Mother," draw on the blues. Here's his
composition "Jump Up."
(Soundbite of "Jump Up")
GROSS: That's "Jump Up" from Jason Moran's latest CD, "Same Mother."
Jason Moran, welcome to FRESH AIR. I know one of...
Mr. JASON MORAN ("Same Mother"): Thank you.
GROSS: ...the reasons why you play a couple of blues on your new CD is that
you had two second cousins who played with the blues guitarist and singer
Albert King. How often did you get to see them? I mean, did you hear them
Mr. MORAN: They would come to Houston every once in a while; they lived in
Chicago, so that's why they were playing with Albert. And when they were on
tour, they would come maybe once a year during my teens--or maybe that's when
I started to notice--maybe when I was like 12 or 11. And when they came to
town, they'd be playing at a club that I couldn't go hear the music, which was
unfortunate. But they would always come by the house. And so my--his name is
Tony Lorenz. He's the pianist and organist in the group. And the drummer was
Mike Lorenz. And Tony would come by, and when he would sit at the piano--I
was playing Suzuki piano, and, you know, everybody...
GROSS: Yeah, Suzuki...
Mr. MORAN: ...knows what that sounds like.
GROSS: ...is a very disciplined teaching method for children.
Mr. MORAN: Right, right and, hopefully some adults.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: But I was learning that and didn't really feel too attached to it.
And then when Tony would sit at the piano and play, like, these blues pieces,
I was--just thought, `Wow. He actually is having fun while he's playing the
piano.' He would teach me Weather Report songs and, you know, things like
that. And I never really forgot that kind of enthusiasm he had for the
instrument that I definitely did not have, you know, as a young teen-ager.
And so that was--you know, after a while it was like what I learned from just
watching him those times when he would come to Houston and sit at the piano
and play and show me what he, you know, had learned or--what Albert King
called the tickle, where you'd moved your hands real fast over the keys, you
know, in one position--after a while I just left classical piano and started
working on jazz and blues stuff.
GROSS: Whose idea was classical piano in the first place?
Mr. MORAN: It was my mother. That's another reason why the record is
entitled "Same Mother." My mother was instrumental in putting my brothers and
I into music classes. She put my older brother into violin, and then my
younger brother and I started playing violin. And then for one summer, maybe
when we were six or seven, my older brother was going to be in a violin camp,
and my mother needed something for us to do, my younger brother and I. And so
she just stuck us in piano class. We hadn't played piano before, but she was
like, `Well, this should work, and this will keep them busy during the
summer.' And, lo and behold, it became an occupation for me. But it was my
GROSS: Do you like classical music any more now than you did when you were
Mr. MORAN: Oh, you know, of course. I couldn't even get on the radio and say
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: But...
GROSS: You'd be driven out of town, out of the industry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Off of public radio. Banished.
Mr. MORAN: But, no, it's--when I got to Manhattan School of Music up here in
New York, every musician was required to take Western classical music or
Western music history at the Manhattan School of Music. That's where I
create--you know, I found a new passion in listening to the music and
just--you know, it's a great world to study in.
GROSS: Now you have a series of pieces that have `Gangsterism' in the title
on your new CD. You have a piece called "Gangsterism on the Rise." What is
the gangsterism theory?
Mr. MORAN: Well, the gangsterism theory was born out of--it's part of the
hiphop movement. I grew up in the '80s, so that was the time when everybody
was really sampling a lot of music. It's something that I still think is
pretty gangster that you just take somebody else's track and then, you know,
you put a beat on it and then you rap on it, then it's your track. You know,
you're just really kind of stealing in a lot of ways, which is mutual.
And so, in the same way, one time when I was visiting Houston, back home, I
was trying to remember an Andrew Hill piece entitled "Erato." Andrew Hill is
one of my mentors and great pianist of the world. And I couldn't remember the
entire thing, but I could remember certain phrases of it. And so eventually I
just formed my own composition based off of his composition, and then I
entitled it "Gangsterism on Canvas." And the title comes off of--from a
Jean-Michel Basquiat painting entitled "Hollywood Africans." And he has a lot
of words, you know, throughout this painting, but at the bottom there's this
word scribed, `gangsterism.' And I used to have this poster on my wall, while
I was writing this piece--or working on this piece, and then I decided to work
on an entire series of pieces centered around gangsterism. And each
gangsterism is put into new clothes, and so I just take the theme--or a small
portion of the theme and rework it every time.
GROSS: So how have you reworked it for "Gangsterism on the Rise"?
Mr. MORAN: Well, "Gangsterism on the Rise" is--still maintains a portion of
the melody from "Gangsterism on Canvas," the original piece, and--but it's
mixed in with the sound and feeling of some of the field hollers from, like,
those Parchment Farms recordings that--Oh, what's my man's name that worked
GROSS: Oh, oh, yeah. Alan Lomax.
Mr. MORAN: Lomax, yes. So it has that feel and that vibe of people working
in the fields and the kind of chugalug of hammers falling, the rhythm that
feels like in some of the, you know, kind of--what later became
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear "Gangsterism on the Rise"? This is pianist
and composer Jason Moran from his latest CD, "Same Mother."
(Soundbite of "Gangsterism on the Rise")
GROSS: That's "Gangsterism on the Rise"--Jason Moran, pianist and
composer--from his latest CD, "Same Mother."
Well, we've established that you draw on a lot of different kinds of music.
You know, you've played classical music, jazz, of course. You're interested
in hiphop. And my understanding is you grew up with a record collection in
your house that was, really, quite eclectic--your father's enormous record
collection. Can you describe what that record collection was or is like?
Mr. MORAN: Well, it--you know, there would be a Henry Threadgill record from
his old group entitled "Air" with Fred Hockinson--I forget who was playing
drums--right next to James Brown, right next to Andre Watts playing Beethoven,
right next to Cream?, right next to Muhal Richard Abrams, right next to
Thelonious Monk, next to Jim Hall, next to Miles Davis, next to Weather
Report, next to The Beatles. He--my father had a pretty wide view of what he
thought good music was, and it's very in tune with what I think is good music
now. And he's still avid: `Hey, did you hear this new' blah, blah, blah.
`Did you hear the new' blah, blah, blah, you know. `Oh, I got this whole
record collection from this old guy around the corner,' blah, blah, blah, you
know. And it's hilarious because he's--you know, I never thought of him as
like an avid record collector, but now that you say that, I really think he's
really into it.
And when he listens to a piece of music, my goodness, he wears it out, you
know, like, maybe a hundred times a day. Like, he'll just put it on repeat
and just really, like, get into something. And a lot of that--growing up with
that type of enthusiasm surrounding music really had a great effect on me.
And having that record collection right there was, you know, monumental.
GROSS: Did he sit you down and play things that he wanted you to hear?
Mr. MORAN: Not really. It was just he had it there. And actually he had a
kind of a media room where he had all his records, and he had a sign on the
door. It says--you know, he had three sons who were pretty bad. It said,
`Keep your beep out.'
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: And so you really weren't supposed to go in there. And as we got
older, I think the sign came down, and he didn't mind us going in there and
checking out his records. But it was--but he would play the music, but it was
more every time we got into the car, they would always have it on the jazz
radio station in Houston, KTSU. And that was kind of how we, you know, really
kind of got our feet wet with listening to jazz as a form of music.
GROSS: Now you said it was your mother who got you to take piano lessons.
Was your father excited that you were studying music, since he was so into it
Mr. MORAN: You know, as a child, I wouldn't say I was studying. I'd say I
was doing. And as an adult or, you know, as a teen-ager, I think he got
excited when I started playing jazz and, you know, started playing a Stanley
Turrentine piece or a Thelonious Monk piece or a Horace Silver piece. I mean,
you can't imagine the joy that our father feels when you play a Horace Silver
song for my father. You know, `Oh, that's great, and he's playing that for
me,' you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: So it's--he's definitely extremely enthused now, and, you know,
he's started to come see me play at different venues around the country, and
so it's a lot of fun. And, you know, he gets to meet some of his favorite
musicians, so I feel like, you know, all of his record collecting paid off.
GROSS: My guest is pianist and composer Jason Moran. His latest CD is called
"Same Mother." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: GROSS: My guest is pianist and composer Jason Moran. His latest CD
is called "Same Mother."
Now I've read--so correct me if I'm wrong here--that your father did very well
as an investment banker. So would you describe, like, the home and the
neighborhood you grew up in?
Mr. MORAN: Well, it was a black neighborhood called Third Ward. Third Ward
is also where the black university is in Houston, University of--I mean, Texas
Southern University. And the neighborhood was really great. It was, you
know, kind of a maybe--I wouldn't say--maybe a lower-middle-class, black
neighborhood. And when we were growing up, there were a lot of kids in the
neighborhood that we played with, and so the feeling was really a lot of fun.
And they were--you know, everybody was into different things.
So I had one friend who lived around the corner who was really instrumental in
kind of introducing us to how hiphop is made, meaning he became, you know, a
person who makes beats, a producer. And he was really into it way--at an
early age. So while we'd be riding bicy--actually riding skateboards at that
time in his back yard, you know, on his quarter pipe--but then he would take
us upstairs. And he had, like, you know, maybe the first generation Casio
keyboard, which is maybe like two octaves that had a sampler in it, which
would allow you to sample for, like, two seconds or three seconds. And, man,
we had so much fun with just that, you know, tiny instrument, though we tried
to make beats off of everything, and everybody was trying to rap. And it was
pretty funny. But it...
GROSS: Did you try to rap?
Mr. MORAN: Oh, of course. I mean, who wasn't trying to rap? This was in the
'80s, and you listened to hiphop, I mean, you know, it became a pastime.
Like, while the teacher was blabbing about something that--you would say, `Oh,
let me just try to, you know, write a quick verse.' That's hilarious. But...
GROSS: Did you have a rap name?
Mr. MORAN: Oh, heaven--well, you know what? After a while, when I gave up
the rapping, I called myself 88 Keys.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: Terribly corny, but, you know--but...
GROSS: Was that K-E-E-Z or K-E-Y-Z?
Mr. MORAN: Oh, wow. I wasn't even thinking that deep.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: Yeah, that was K-E-Y-S. My goodness. Yeah. Well, you're
bringing up things that I never thought I'd talk about. We're desperate.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: So do you remember any of your rhymes?
Mr. MORAN: No. And if I did, I definitely wouldn't share them.
GROSS: I understand.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Now I read--so tell me if this is wrong--I read that you grew up in a
compound with a tennis court in back. What...
Mr. MORAN: Right, that's kind of correct. We lived in a neighborhood with,
you know, fairly modest-size houses, meaning, you know, one-story, maybe
two-bedroom, three-bedroom. And we enjoyed the neighborhood so much that my
father saw a house across the street where we were actually living and decided
to renovate it until we redo it in this really kind of modern architecture.
And so then it looked almost liked, you know, this mansion that took up maybe
three or four--no, maybe six or seven plots that a normal house would take up
in this neighborhood. And my parents put a gate in front of it. And we also
had a tennis court in the back yard and a basketball court and a nice pool.
My parents really gave us everything that we could have asked for but nothing
more, if that makes any sense. I mean, they didn't spoil us, but they did
give us everything that could supply us for actually a healthy future. They
didn't deprive us of anything.
GROSS: It must have been kind of odd to be living in what you describe as a
lower-middle-class neighborhood but to have an almost mansionlike place with a
tennis court in back within that neighborhood. Did it make you, like,
different from everybody else? Did it make your house almost like the
amusement park in the neighborhood?
Mr. MORAN: Well, yeah, that's kind of true. We did have a lot of friends
over when my parents were out of town. I guess that--I'm sure they knew that
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: But, you know, I mean, we would--if we broke anything, it was
while they were actually at home. Like, oh, man, we would play tennis in the
house and, like, break, like, expensive champagne flutes, and, oh, we were
ridiculous. But I think a lot of the kids, because they were--it wasn't an
open-door policy, but we had a lot of friends all over the neighborhood. And
so there wasn't, I don't think a--I'm speaking from the inside, of course--I
don't think there was a--I mean, we had a strong representation in the
neighborhood. They were on--my parents were on the Civic Council. So it was
not like we were just in the neighborhood just kind of sectioned off from
everybody. Everybody knew each other in the neighborhood, and it was--that
made it quite comfortable.
GROSS: I think it's interesting that your parents decided to, you know, build
their place within the neighborhood as opposed to moving out to a different
Mr. MORAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, I mean, of course, that seems like an easy
way to go. I mean, you know, lots of people move to the suburbs and build
their nice house on a golf course, but there's something about being at home
with your folks; when I say `your folks,' I mean being around other
African-American, that feeling of coming home. I mean, when we travel through
the world with the bandwagon, we're on the road and you're in Zagreb, you're
in, you know, Prague, then you're in, you know, Brussels, and then you go up
to Copenhagen. And when I come home, you know, and drive across 125th Street,
my goodness, you know--the joy I feel, you know, of being back home with your
people. And I think that's a lot of what my parents were--you know,
this--enough people abandon each other, and I don't think we have to be a part
of that crowd that abandons one another.
GROSS: Jason Moran will be back in the second half of the show. His latest
CD is called "Same Mother." Here's another track from Moran's Gangsterism
series. This is "Gangsterism on the Set." The drummer is Nasheet Waits. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "Gangsterism on the Set")
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with jazz pianist and composer
Jason Moran. Also, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Gimme Fiction," the latest
CD by Spoon.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with pianist and composer
Jason Moran. Earlier this month he won the Pianist of the Year award from the
Jazz Journalists Association. Moran turned 30 this year and has been leading
his own band for five years. His music draws from stride piano, the
avant-garde, film music and hip-hop. His latest CD is called "Same Mother."
Let's hear some more of your music. On your previous CD, "Modernistic," you
did a version of James P. Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic." And this
was, I think, composed in the 1920s...
Mr. MORAN: Right.
GROSS: ...by the great, you know, Harlem stride piano player James P.
Johnson. Why did you want to reinterpret his composition which, I must say
as a listener, sounds like the composition would be really hard to play, very
tricky rhythms and fingering?
Mr. MORAN: Well, James P. Johnson represents a lot for me, and the title also
represented, you know, what I thought I should be constantly striving for as a
musician, that you've got to maintain kind of your ear to the floor of what's
happening right now. And so James P. Johnson also represents, you know, this
titan of stride piano that was happening in Harlem in the 1920s and '30s and
this kind of impeccable technique that is impossible to copy. And so
therefore, you know, you can't actually touch it because it's so sacred that
nobody else can really imitate it.
And so on a solo piano record, I thought the way to kind of set the tone of
where the record would go would be with a great title like "You've Got to Be
Modernistic" and then with a great piece by a great pianist, but then not
trying to totally re-create the many elements that James P. Johnson had going
within his piece. And there's a whole section that I didn't play that comes
after what you hear. But you know, it was to challenge myself.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear Jason Moran's interpretation of James P.
Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic" from Jason Moran's CD "Modernistic."
(Soundbite of "You've Got to Be Modernistic")
GROSS: That's pianist and composer Jason Moran's interpretation of James P.
Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic," and it comes from Jason Moran's CD
"Modernistic." He has a newer CD that recently came out called "Same Mother."
When you went to New York to study jazz, you studied with the great pianist
and composer Jackie Bayard. And one of the things I've always loved about
Jackie Bayard's playing is the way he managed to combine harmonies and rhythms
of the avant-garde with just, like, the fun of stride piano and all the things
that were really fun about early jazz. So you had this complete package of,
you know, avant-garde, contemporary and, you know, earlier eras. And why did
you want to study with him? How did you know his music? Why did you want to
work with him?
Mr. MORAN: There was a choice that I had to make as an 18-year-old graduating
from high school, and it was whether to come to New York and study with Jackie
or to go to University of Miami and study with whoever's teaching down there.
The choice was pretty simple except that the scholarship money, you know, gave
me issues. But I'd heard Jackie's music from listening to a lot of Charles
Mingus records, listening to Eric Dolphy records, and then also knowing--but I
hadn't heard these records yet--knowing that he had an extensive, you know,
solo, you know, recording catalog. And so it was pretty easy, but I also knew
that Jackie represented a lot of tradition, but, you know, he repackaged it
when he put it together on his piano and through his hands and through his
And so I thought that I would, by studying with Jackie--that I would be
presented with, you know, like you said, the complete package of a musician, a
person who understands the past, who was a part of the past and who was part
of this--extending the jazz language and the jazz, you know, sentence phrasing
and a person who was very in tune with what was happening today and created
more things that were modern or more contemporary in the 1950s than what I
GROSS: What was his approach to teaching? I imagine it was real different
from the Suzuki Method that you had grown up with.
Mr. MORAN: Well, we sat--we had two pianos in the room, so first of all, it
was basically for--I mean, dual piano most of the time while we were in there.
And I remember my first lesson, going in, and we played a piece together and
he quickly stopped me and told me that I was playing entirely too loud. And
so he would have this way of telling me things, you know, in a very blunt way,
which was--you know, is what a student needs, actually, or what I needed. And
I knew that I shouldn't cross him twice (laughs) or I shouldn't make the
mistake again. So that was the first way.
The other way was that he wrote out everything that he played, and so all
these stride piano pieces that seem--when you're listening to them on a
record, seem so extremely complicated, which they are, he would take the time
to write them out by hand. And so every week he would give you a new piece
almost. And so I have, you know, a book of his music maybe, you know, 150 or
200 pieces, you know, of what he wrote out by hand. And so therefore you
could see the science behind the stride.
But, you know, that was only the science; you could only see what was on the
page and you could only play that. After a certain point, you have to then
put the feeling into the music. And so Jackie was about, you know, showing
you how to relax your hands, how to make your hands reach the tenth on the
left hand--that's a little over an octave--and by showing you techniques on
the piano that would allow you to be more fluid while you played rather than
wasting energy. And so, you know, he was like the Zen master of piano.
GROSS: My guest is jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. Here he is playing
Jackie Bayard's composition "Out Front," which Bayard dedicated to the pianist
and composer Herbie Nichols. This track is from Moran's 2001 CD "Black
(Soundbite of "Out Front")
GROSS: We'll talk more with pianist Jason Moran after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is the pianist and composer Jason Moran. His latest CD is
called "Same Mother." When we left off, we were talking about studying with
One of the things I always loved about Jackie Bayard is that his interests
were so diverse. You know, he liked, like, Henry Cowell and Burt Bacharach
and Frankie Carle. You just never knew--his tastes ranged from, like, kitsch
to classical avant-garde and all jazz. And it strikes me--I mean, one of the
things you have in common with Jackie Bayard is you have really diverse
musical interests and you're able to draw on all of them in your own music.
Let's hear some more of your music, and as we've talked about, like, you know,
you came of age in the '80s, you grew up in the '80s and you loved hip-hop.
And, you know, you can hear that in some of the music that you've composed or
And so I want to play your reworking of Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock,"
which is, you know, a classic of very early hip-hop. And before we hear it, I
want you to talk about what you're doing on this, because one of the things
you've done on this is take a technique that comes from the classical
avant-garde and applied it to your piano. Would you describe how you're using
prepared piano technique on this track?
Mr. MORAN: Well, yeah, you know, this is John Cage meets, you know, the
Bronx. And so I listened to a lot of Cage's music and made sure that I
understood how he was preparing some of his piano works. And so when I
started working on "Planet Rock," it's impossible to play this song or, I
think, you know, many of the hip-hop standards in the world without having
something that mimics the bass or the drums, because that is such a, you
know, extremely important element to hip-hop music. And so I decided to have
the bass region of the piano prepared in a way that made it sound like the
drums. So this is John Cage playing, you know, the bass line and the drum
track on Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock." But--and then I also...
GROSS: You know, well, let's just explain a little bit more what John Cage
did for prepared piano is, like, put things into the piano on top of the
strings so that, instead of the strings vibrating in a pianolike sound, they
would be altered in some way.
Mr. MORAN: Right.
GROSS: And what you did is you put objects on the lower notes of the piano so
that it would sound more like percussion than piano. What did you stick in
Mr. MORAN: There are erasers. There are butterfly clips.
GROSS: Like blackboard erasers?
Mr. MORAN: Yeah--no, no, no, like pencil erasers. Pencil erasers, butterfly
clips. There's clothespins, and then there's paper. And that's something
that's--that's about everything that's in the piano. But I also did overdubs,
so I, know, recorded just the drums and the bass, and then I recorded the
The other part of the song is that I took--you know, in most hip-hop
re-creations, that people just play the actual music and they never play the
lyrics. And so I transcribed the lyrics of the first two verses of this
pieces and I played it, you know, exactly what, you know, pitch--related every
pitch with every word that the Soulsonic Force said on this track, so that you
also, like, get to hear the first two verses of the track, and then it moves
into the following section. And so what seems to be, like, a random melody is
actually, you know, `It's time to break your dreams up out your seat, make
your body shake'; you know, it's just a guy rapping. And so I overdubbed it,
and I was really scared when I recorded it. I was like, `Is this gonna work?'
'Cause it works in my brain, but is it going to really work in the studio?
And it came out--you know, I was more than pleased with it.
GROSS: Well, let's hear it. So this is Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" as
reinterpreted by pianist and composer Jason Moran from two CDs ago; this is
from the CD "Modernistic."
(Soundbite of "Planet Rock")
GROSS: That's Jason Moran reworking Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," and
that's featured on Jason Moran's CD "Modernistic." He has a newer CD that
recently came out called "Same Mother."
So do you do this kind of thing a lot of reworking, like, hip-hop pieces or
doing prepared piano a lot?
Mr. MORAN: I do, and most of the time it's in the privacy of me listening to
the radio and then sitting at the piano and playing along to the radio. And
so like just yesterday I was playing along to this song which I think is just
one of the greatest songs, one of the greatest summer hits of 2005, Amerie,
and she has a song called "1 Thing." My goodness, it's great. But, yes, it's
a constant hobby of mine to play along to old hip-hop tracks or new hip-hop
I think the first solo I actually learned was from this group Digital
Underground from California, and they had a song called "Doowutchyalike,"
and in the middle of the song they had a piano solo and, you know, it quoted,
like, all the hip-hop hits from, you know, back in the mid-'80s. And so I was
like, wow, this is a great thing for me to learn, you know. And so that's
where I started, you know.
GROSS: Is it one of your ambitions to someday have one of your records
sampled by a hip-hop group you really like?
Mr. MORAN: Yeah, I'm looking forward to the check that is associated with
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: We'll see.
GROSS: Now your wife is a soprano, a classical singer. Do you ever accompany
Mr. MORAN: Yes. When I can muster up enough practice time to actually learn
the pieces correctly, I do. We actually did something recently at The Nordia
Gallery(ph) up here in New York, and she was a great contributor and director
and kind of dramaturge for this huge piece that we did at the Walker Art
Center in Minneapolis called "Milestone," and she wrote some pieces also for
that evening of this kind of dramatic interpretation of how The Bandwagon
And so I do accompany her a lot. And--but we often have issues when working
together, but I've gotten a lot better because she demands, you know, only the
best from me and sometimes I try to, you know, not give my best, and she's
very in tune or attuned with what I can do. And so we've gotten a lot better
with working together and, you know, we have a lot of projects in line in the
future that hopefully the public will hear.
GROSS: Well, I hope so. It's been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so
Mr. MORAN: Oh, thank you, Terry.
GROSS: And you're going back on tour?
Mr. MORAN: No, I'm actually off tour for the whole summer. I'm calling this
summer "The Summer of George," you know, like on "Seinfeld," he had, like,
"The Summer of George."
Mr. MORAN: He didn't do anything, so that's been--you know, my wife and I's,
like, whole motto for the summer, `Oh, this is "The Summer of George,"' like
going to Miami, doing--you know, we're just chillin' all summer.
GROSS: Oh, good for you. That sounds great.
Mr. MORAN: Yep.
GROSS: Jason Moran. His latest CD is called "Same Mother."
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews "Gimme Fiction," the latest CD by Spoon. This
is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Spoon's new album "Gimme Fiction"
TERRY GROSS, host:
"Gimme Fiction," the latest CD by the Austin-based band Spoon, is the group's
first CD in three years. Rock critic Ken Tucker says Spoon's mixture of
catchy songcraft and odd, oblique lyrics combine to create one of the year's
most intriguing records.
(Soundbite of "The Beast and Dragon Adored")
SPOON: (Singing) The beast and dragon adored. You've been gone so long.
Where you been for so long? I went to places unknown, rented a room and I
forgot my pen, shook my twin, and I had to find the feeling again.
KEN TUCKER reporting:
That new Spoon song is called "The Beast and the Dragon Adored," and I find it
extremely alluring, immediately accessible, yet mysterious. Don't ask me what
it's about. From the title onward, singer-songwriter Britt Daniels keeps us
at arm's length from the emotions that fill his throat as he sings.
Eventually a kind of chorus develops around the idea of a feeling that worked
its way into the morose singer's soul, and that feeling, quote, "came from
rock 'n' roll." From a lesser band, this would be pretty trite, another hymn
to the redemptive power of rock. But the good thing about Britt Daniels and
Spoon is that they don't play this for irony or laughs or excessive emotion;
they play it straight as simple fact. Something similar is at work on the
next song, "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine."
(Soundbite of "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine")
SPOON: (Singing) Every morning, I've got a new chance. Oh, I want to land
the part of Eddie in "The Stranger Dance," 'cause he gets to sword-fight the
duke; he kidnaps the queen. And you think the score is set, but you can't
truly see till you know the two sides of Monsieur Valentine, till you know the
two sides of Monsieur Valentine. Every morning...
TUCKER: On a song like this, Britt Daniels seems to be reaching for the sort
of non sequiturs that Bob Dylan so masterfully amasses, that resonate with
emotional, if not grammatical, sense. I like the way Britt Daniels creates
alternate universes in his songs. Here he says he wants to, quote, "land the
part of Eddie in `The Stranger Dance,'" a play or a movie that, to my
knowledge, doesn't exist. A little later on, in the song "Sister Jack," he
claims to have spent time in a heavy metal band called Requiem, which sounds
unlikely, but the band's bassist apparently really did. This is one thing I
like a lot about Spoon, the way they avoid trite proclamations of love or
heartbreak and they aren't afraid to invoke looming worlds that are framed by
musical references to monumental bands like The Beatles and the Rolling
(Soundbite of "Sister Jack")
SPOON: (Singing) Always on the outside, always looking in. I was in this
drop D metal band we called Requiem. And they say, `Relax,' but I can't be a
man this far down on the map, whoa, oh, no. I was sold for suspect drawings
underneath a makeshift awning. Now I'm yours, know I'm here, read it all
front and back. But I can't relax with my knees on the ground and a stick in
my back. Sister Jack, sister Jack, sister Jack, sister Jack, uh-huh, uh-huh.
TUCKER: As a chunk of music, that song "Sister Jack" sums up everything I
enjoy about Spoon. Britt Daniels plays all the guitars and what are listed
merely as sound effects. The melody starts out as a '60s British Invasion
stomp, nailed into place by the hammering drums of Jim Eno, and then swerves
into chaos. Daniels doesn't take guitar solos so much as he bookmarks the
place where they'd go with some sudden scratchy, screechy noise, as though he
was just scratching the guitar strings or rubbing them randomly with a violin
bow. The strategy works because the organizing melody is so shapely and so
full. It gives him room to experiment without going all Frank Zappa on us.
(Soundbite of "I Turn My Camera On")
SPOON: (Singing) I turned my camera on. I cut my fingers on the way, the way
I'm slippin' away. I turn my feelings off. You made me untouchable for life,
yeah. And you wasn't polite. It hit me like a tom. You hit me like a tom,
on and on, and on. Ooh, yeah. When I turn my feelings on...
TUCKER: That's Britt Daniels going up into his Mick Jagger falsetto, as
distinct from his John Lennon rasp on "The Beast and the Dragon Adored." On
another song, "My Mathematical Mind," Daniels lifts a Lennon-McCartney phrase,
`I'm looking through you,' to complete the couplet `You know who you are.' Yet
this, I think, is what Spoon is trying to get it, that you or I or they don't
know exactly who we are, that we're always in the process of creating or
reinventing ourselves. As low-key and cool and abstract as Spoon can come
off, that's a pretty upbeat notion, one that their songs pick apart and really
savor. The band reportedly hate the puns their name inspires in headline
writers, but too bad; Spoon cuts like a knife.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is film critic for New York Magazine. He reviewed "Gimme
Fiction" from Spoon.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.