Very killer. That’s the best way to describe the jazz programming that the Kennedy Center has on the menu this spring, and there are at least two ways to explain the imminent lethality. The first is that today’s jazz world, in and of itself, feels increasingly broad and prismatic. Reason No. 2: Jason Moran has his ears opened wide enough to hear it all.
“It’s my job to know what’s happening in the field,” the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz says. “Traveling in the world, I get to hear what people are thinking about.”
For that, we’re lucky. Moran has been improving the Kennedy Center’s vibes exponentially since he first came onboard in 2011 (he was promoted from adviser to director in 2014), and this season, the pianist-composer’s fingerprints are all over the calendar — which includes performances from guitarist Mary Halvorson (March 28), drummer Tyshawn Sorey (March 29), Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Henry Threadgill (April 5), as well as Moran appearing alongside trumpeter Ron Miles (Feb. 2), saxophone superhero Archie Shepp (Feb. 10) and Moran’s wife, vocalist Alicia Hall Moran (April 14).
Bring your wide ears out to Moran’s upcoming performances and you’ll hear him balancing his double-role as an artist and an educator — an improviser who knows how to lean into jazz’s bright future in hopes of better illuminating its past. What goes on inside Moran’s head when he’s doing that kind of musical calculus under the Kennedy Center’s roof?
“I try to maintain the integrity that got me to that piano in the first place,” he says. “But how not to lose your mind that you’re playing with Archie Shepp? I think you have to show that you’re from your generation, and you have to play that way. It demands that intersection. That’s what makes it interesting.”
Shows: With Ron Miles on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, $45. With Archie Shepp on Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, $20-$59. For additional programming, visit kennedy-center.org .