November 14, 2012
Even if Mozart’s generation had worn porkpie hats instead of powdered wigs, pianist Jason Moran doubts he would have opted for a classical music career over jazz.
Though he finds the European classical music that he has studied since age six artistically beautiful, it doesn’t move him emotionally the way jazz does, he says. Jazz, America’s classical music, has a sound he can relate to, a cultural history he can identify with, and role models, who have inspired him since he was a teen growing up in Houston.
“For me Thelonious Monk became the mountain top,” he says.
Now as Artistic Advisor of Jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the MacArthur Genius Award winner is drawing on those memories to make jazz both personal and emotionally engaging for a new generation.
Making music relevant so that it touches people where they live was a focus of a recent Kennedy Center happening, “Insider Event with Jason Moran,” that offered insight into Moran’s aspirations for jazz music and education programming at the Kennedy Center, a role previously held by his mentor, the late jazz pianist Billy Taylor.
“Billy would ask, ‘are you making people dance? Are people listening to your music, Jason?’” he recalls Taylor saying to encourage him to stay attuned to the needs and feelings of his audiences.
If music is a universal language, Moran is an articulate, multi-linguist, providing the right sound for the occasion. At the historic groundbreaking on the Mall for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in February 2012, Moran performed as the jazz artist of choice. Throughout the Kennedy Center discussion, his words and thoughts flow effortlessly between his responses to interviewer Willard Jenkins and the piano Moran plays to musically punctuate points.
“Music is more than notes. It’s emotions,” says the 37-year old. Younger audiences crave emotional engagement in their learning. People remember music that touches them, is generationally relevant, and emotionally stimulating. He offers examples.
After his grandmother died, he says he paid homage to her spirit musically at a family gathering, playing Duke Ellington’s tune Single Petal of a Rose. As the artist spoke, the room filled with the sound of the beautiful, haunting melody as Moran’s improvisations evoked memories of his grandmother.
“I knew which notes I played were making my aunts cry,” Moran remembers. He talked to his family by letting the music speak words his voice couldn’t.
On election night, he hosted a party at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Revelers talked and watched the returns on a big screen while grooving to live, jazz infused with everything from blue grass to electronic mix music to old campaign songs like “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet or Crazy, which was Ross Perot’s theme song,” Moran says, playing the tunes.
The idea was to create a memorable experience that made jazz, campaign music, and political tidbits a winning combination.
Another recent jazz program featured the band Medeski, Martin and Woods offering a millennial happening as more than 300 people stood for hours in a mosh pit environment connecting with jazz infused this time with rhythms from funk to hip hop. An “older” patron who attended wanted a chair, says Moran, but still got the point.
A recent music event invoked the spirit of vaudeville and bygone jazz club scenes when Woody Allen played the Village Vanguard and Miles Davis shared a bill with Richard Pryor. Billed as an ode to jazz and jokes, comedian David Allen Grier hosted the program that used comedy as a connector to the music.
With cultural tastes that run from Fats Waller to hip hop, Afrika Bambaataa and Jaki Byard to his wife Alicia, an accomplished opera singer, Moran says he views himself as a “musical tour guide” offering people “musical history that is very personal and engaging.”
If he has his way, jazz programming at the Kennedy Center will become a musical tour de force, reflecting the multiple joys and sorrows that comprise the lives of everyday peoples.
October 24, 2012
Joe Bataan’s Band is slamming, delivering high energy salsa rhythms and soulful funk with a 1960s intensity and a new freshness. A few original members remain in the band but it is Bataan, the smooth, Afro-Filipino vocalist and keyboardist reared in Spanish Harlem, who drives the eclectic sound.
At a recent performance at the National Museum of Natural History nearly 500 fans, mostly Asian, Black, and Latino—aging from millennial to middle age—clapped and danced in the aisles or their seats. Some waved album covers and sang along. At age 69, Bataan is still the king. After the concert, Bataan took a few minutes to discuss with me the highs and lows of his career.
How have your audiences changed over the years?
The first supporters of my music were Latinos. Then with my crossover into rhythm and blues, I got the African American folk who learned I was part black. They liked my style. Recently, we’ve gotten Filipinos, Asian populations and people all over the world— Australia, Spain, Germany. I’m hoping to make a trip to Argentina soon.
Why do you think you have such broad appeal? Is it your heritage as an African American-Filipino from Spanish Harlem?
The nostalgic sound of my music is beginning to have an awakening among people who remember it and others who never heard it before. People are turned on to the Latin Soul sound. Music is a universal language and I happen to appeal to different cultures because of my openness. Being open to different cultures is right up my alley. I think if someone who wasn’t open or didn’t have my story tried to do this it wouldn’t work.
The Fugees covered your music in their runaway album The Score. How did you feel about that?
I thought it was whimsical until I learned it was an infringement of my music. I kept quiet about that a long time. But they were good about it and settled with my attorneys. It brought recognition to my sound. I guess you could say I got in one lump sum what I never received all those early years.
As America embraces its diversity how is your story and music instructive?
There are so many talented Asians, especially Filipinos, who don’t share their gifts. A lot of talented Filipinos never get off the island. A lot of people with mixed backgrounds were lost. We didn’t know where we fit in. With my song Ordinary Guy (Afro-Filipino) they’re beginning to come out and show pride in their mixed heritage. It’s no longer something to hide. My message is, it’s time to stand up and be as aggressive about who you are in life and in music as you are in the workforce. Bruno Mars and one of the Black Eyed Peas are of Filipino heritage.
What’s next on your schedule?
I’m working with Kilusan Bautista on a Unity Program that will get Asians involved all over the world. We want to launch a Unity Day November 2. He does a wonderful play, Universal Self. My touring will take me back to the Philippines in February, to London in March, and Rutgers University in April.
Any final words from the King of Latin Soul to his fans?
This is something I used to tell my kids when I was a youth counselor. There are three ingredients to success. The first is Spirit. You must believe in a supreme being who is bigger than yourself. I thank the Lord and lift him up for my success. The second is Health. You must take time to take care of your body. And the third is Knowledge. It’s criminal to let a day go by without learning something new.
Joe Bataan performed and was honored at an October 19 Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center tribute highlighting his career and the socio-cultural activism of Asian, Latino and African American communities in the sixties and seventies. The Smithsonian Latino Center, The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, The Smithsonian Immigration/Migration Inititative, Smithsonian Consortium for Understanding the American Experience, and the National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture were co-collaborators.
June 26, 2012
Tuesday, June 26 This Is Your Life: Duke Kahanamoku
Gear up for the Olympics with the American Indian Museum’s June Daily Films, which wrap up this week. In 1957, the TV show This Is Your Life hosted native Hawaiian swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku, who won the 100 meter race in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and later became a world famous surfer, to discuss his incredible journey to the Olympics and his legacy. Don’t forget to visit the related exhibition, “Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics.” Free. 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Wednesday, June 27 Bring Back the Funk
Get funkadelic with George Clinton, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk at the opening concert of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. These music legends are taking over the Mall to celebrate the 2012 groundbreaking of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (which will house Clinton’s iconic Mothership in its “Musical Crossroads” exhibition). Discover how funk has influenced hip hop, soul and rock—and get up and dance! Free. 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. National Mall.
Thursday, June 28 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Since 1967, the Folklife Festival has drawn more than one million people each year to celebrate community arts and culture. Meet musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks and storytellers who come to the Mall from all over the world. This year’s festival explores three themes: Campus and Community: 150 years of land-grant universities and the USDA; Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River and Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Check the Folklife Festival website for a full schedule of events. Free. Events run today through July 1 and again July 4 through 8. National Mall.
June 14, 2012
Friday June 15: Book Signing: Phillip Thomas Tucker
Before the Tuskegee Airmen took to the skies during World War II, no African American military aviators had served in the United States armed forces. When faced with adversity and the restrictions of the Jim Crow Laws, this group of pilots flew with distinction. Between 1941 and 1946, 992 were trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. This Friday, Phillip Thomas Tucker, prolific writer and historian will sign copies of his book Father of the Tuskegee Airmen, John C. Robinson. Copies of the book are available at the signing. One of the planes used by the Tuskegee pilots at Moton Field, the PT-13D U.S. Army Air Corps Stearman, is slated to go on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in 2015. Free. 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. American History Museum.
Saturday June 16: Developing Connoisseurship in American Glass
Even glass has a history—especially when it comes to the decorative arts. This Saturday, trace this art form from the Colonial period to the present. In this fascinating, all-day seminar, Glass historian and educator Mary Cheek Mills will unravel the mystery of one of the most-used materials in the decorative arts. Learn important details assessing glass color, weight, form, function, technique, decoration and more. Purchase tickets here. 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. S. Dillon Ripley Center.
Sunday June 17: Native Music: “Jim Thorpe: American Sunlight and Shadow”
In case you missed the memo, this Sunday is Father’s Day. What better present to give him than to spend some quality time? Bring him and the whole family to join Jack Gladstone, Montana’s Blackfeet troubadour, for an original multimedia musical performance honoring the enduring spirit of Native American athletes, especially Sac and Fox Olympian Jim Thorpe, who swept the Pentathlon and Decathlon events exactly 100 years ago at the Stockholm Olympics. This program is presented in support of the museum’s exhibition, “Best in the World, Native Athletes in the Olympics,” now on view through September 3, 2012. Seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Free. 3:30 p.m. American Indian Museum.
June 7, 2012
Friday, June 8 Celebrate World Oceans Day at the Smithsonian
When you walk into the Sant Ocean Hall in the Natural History Museum, look up. Phoenix, a full-scale model of a North Atlantic right whale hangs from the ceiling—a staple piece in the museum’s largest exhibit. This Friday, celebrate World Oceans Day; meet at the whale to begin your afternoon of activities and presentations. Experts will discuss our planet’s oceans and ocean careers in a series of events throughout the day. From 2:30-3:30 p.m., help cartoonist Jim Toomey, well known for his comic Sherman’s Lagoon, create a mural of the ocean at the Ocean Explorer Theater. Later, gather the group to watch a series of short films on Marine Protected Areas and meet the producers in the Baird Auditorium. At 4 p.m., listen in on a panel discussion with renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and Youth Ocean Leaders. 1 to 5 p.m. Free. Natural History Museum.
Saturday, June 9 Girl Scouts 1912-2012
No one can resist digging into a box of Thin Mints or Samoas® come Girl Scout cookie season. They are a classic snack that represents a much larger organization: the Girl Scouts. This year, the iconic program for young girls celebrates its 100th year.
Come check out the exhibit, Girl Scouts 1912 – 2012, at the American History Museum this Saturday, and begin the morning with breakfast with a curator at the Stars & Stripes Café. A preview of the museum’s History Highlights Display Case on the Girl Scouts, including a guided tour through the artifacts, will follow as a part of the “Girl Scouts Rock the Mall” 100th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. The exhibition focuses on the evolution of the Girl Scout organization, which began with 18 members and, over its 100-year history, has grown into the world’s largest voluntary organization for girls. Don’t forget to visit the portrait of Girl Scouts founder, Juliette Gordon at the National Portrait Gallery. Reservations for breakfast are required. Call (866) 868-7774 or or make reservations online. Girl Scouts 1912 – 2012, which runs through June 11 is free. American History Museum.
A “showstopper” is what milliner and accessories designer extraordinaire Lula Mae Reeves called her marvelous hats. Reeves is the first African American woman to open her own business in downtown Philadelphia, and her collection of toppers are now at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This Sunday, learn how to make a paper hat inspired by her designs in a workshop at the American History Museum. Participating Girl Scouts receive a patch upon completion of the activity. Free. 1 to 4 p.m. American History Museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.