Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How I Got Here: From music student to jazz master

Click to play
The new face of jazz
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jason Moran performs jazz all over the world and also teaches music to the next generation
  • He says in the jazz world, a "village" helps the younger generation by providing guidance from the older generation

"How I Got Here" is a series of conversations with newsmakers about the path they took to their present place In America.

(CNN) -- Jason Moran is a jazz musician who has one foot in the past, one in the future and a career grounded in the present. From the past, Moran has built on the tradition of Thelonious Monk and other jazz greats. For the future, Moran looks to a new crop of musicians, teaching the next group of performers. In the present, there is his new album, "TEN." Moran shares where he has been and why "knowing when to 'shut up' is extremely important."

Who are you? How do you define yourself?
I am Jason Moran, son of Mary and Andrew Moran, brother of Yuri and Tai Moran, husband of Alicia Hall Moran, father of Jonas and Malcolm Moran. I define myself as an American jazz pianist, father and teacher. Music is my livelihood and art is my life. My fatherhood is contribution to the earth, and my music is my contribution to the function of humans.

What is something that everyone should know about you?
I'm a jazz pianist that makes a living by composing/teaching/performing music. I compose music for my band, for film and in collaboration with artists of all genres. From Simon Schama to Kara Walker. I am currently on faculty at the New England Conservatory. I've been teaching since 1998. I was a student to a lot of great teachers, and now I enjoy sharing my experience with the younger musicians coming up the jazz ladder. I perform about 130 concerts per year around the world. Music is my life.

What prepared you for where you are now?
The village that raised me in Houston, Texas, prepared me for where I am now. The village is my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, brothers. ... The values I learned as a young boy in Houston are what have been integral to my success. Southern hospitality is a serious characteristic. Knowing when to "shut up" is extremely important. Knowing how to show respect to older people/musicians is a major factor as well. I work with people from 20 to 80, and each musician is different. Having older musicians tell me early on, sometimes very bluntly, what they liked or didn't like in my playing also helped. There is a jazz village that raises its young jazz musician[s]. The jazz village has helped my career tremendously, and prepared me for the climate today as a contemporary musician.

What is the biggest obstacle you've ever had to overcome? How did you get there?
Deciding to be a jazz musician was the largest obstacle, because I did not understand how to make a living as one. I figured it out once I began working and touring. I got there by studying vigorously, and asking questions of myself and my peers. I studied and conceptualized ideas so much that when the big opportunity arose, performing with then-Blue Note artist Greg Osby, I took the music by the reins and began to run wild with it.

What would you tell your younger self about who you are now? How would you advise your younger self about how to get to where you are now?
I wouldn't tell my younger self anything. All of the good and bad things that happened to me on my journey all inform me of how to live as a contemporary artist/musician. And I cannot complain about where I am.

What are your guilty pleasures?
My guilty pleasure is buying contemporary art. An expensive habit I usually cannot afford.

What do you believe in?
I believe that music can heal.