Going to town

Pianist Jason Moran and Thelonious Monk's drummer son reconnect with Monk Sr.'s Town Hall concert of 1959

Would you consider remixing Thelonious Monk? Pianist Jason Moran would, and he has.

He's not playing those remixes, though, when he comes to town this week to re-create the famed pianist-composer's Town Hall concert of 1959. This time through, Moran, along with Monk's son, drummer T.S. Monk, will play the large-band concert relatively straight. But the performance is a primer for Moran's newest musical exploration: a Monk-based multimedia performance titled In My Mind.

Moran says the idea stems from an SFJAZZ request that he replicate the Town Hall show. The notion wasn't tremendously exciting to Moran until he thought about bringing in some nonjazz elements.

"I wondered what would happen if I didn't think about this musically and only thought about it conceptually," Moran says from New York City.

That's how young pianists think when they are influenced by visual artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Robert Rauschenberg. Moran's interests recently led him into collaboration with video artist Joan Jonas on The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things, a multimedia performance inspired by the writing of the German art historian Aby Warburg.

So conceptual Monk? Why not? "What I'm seeing is a way to look at Monk and this concert as an artifact. Not as music," Moran says.

Moran likes the way artist Fred Wilson recontextualizes images and objects, giving them a new meaning. "Once you start to experience objects like that, you have a different sensibility about what it means to you, its relationship to you," he explains. "That's how I wanted to think about Monk and this concert — what is its relationship to me?"

Monk is the reason Moran started playing piano, and the young player has a deep understanding of the often misunderstood and misrepresented sphinx of the keyboard.

"The hard part is actually trying to unlearn what learned me," Moran explains with a laugh. "I want to reconnect with Monk, not with people talking about his 'quirky rhythms' or 'off-centered humor.' I wanted to get past all that and say this was a real human being who shaped the world of jazz and the world of music, partially because of what he did at the instrument but mostly because of the way he thought."

This first show May 19 won't encompass the multimedia audio-mix aspects Moran will bring to another San Francisco performance this fall, but he thinks people should see both shows, saying, "I want them to understand how jazz performance can change." (Marcus Crowder)


Sat/19, 8 p.m., $25–$64

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

3301 Lyon, SF



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