Picturing Jazz

Works by Jason Moran at MASS MoCA

Painting of bold purple tones reflecting experience of music

JASON MORAN, THE ONLY MORNING COMING, 2022  |   COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND LUHRING AUGUSTINE, NEW YORK

MASS MoCA’s exhibition Black Stars: Writing in the Dark invites visitors to reflect on the experience of making—and listening to—music. The installation offers works by the pianist, composer, and visual artist Jason Moran, who also serves as artistic director for jazz at The Kennedy Center. The more than 40 boldly colored and seemingly abstract paintings (like The Only Morning Coming, above) were actually created as tracings of the movements of Moran’s hands across a keyboard. Two of Moran’s sculptural pieces on display recreate historic venues crucial to the growth of twentieth-century jazz. STAGED: Savoy Ballroom 1 (2015) references the 1930s venue where integrated audiences were allowed to dance together—highly unusual for the time. STAGED: Studio Rivbea pays tribute to the downtown Manhattan loft, and frequent gathering spot for musicians, of integral free-jazz movement artist Sam Rivers and his wife and collaborator, Beatrice Rivers. Sam Rivers joined forces with Moran on the nuanced 2001 album Black Stars. “His style is never showy,” AllMusic critic Steve Loewy wrote of Moran. “He embraces simple, emotional statements sophisticated in their mystery.” Sample some of this jazzy mystique at the MASS MoCA show (through November).

Read more articles by Nell Porter-Brown

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