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Jason Moran Joins the Kennedy Center as Artistic Director for Jazz

The 36-year-old jazz pianist will take on the late Dr. Billy Taylor’s former role.

Photograph courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

When it comes to shoes, few are bigger or harder to fill than those of the late, great Dr. Billy Taylor’s. The sterling jazz pianist was an icon, an educator, and a fixture at the Kennedy Center for 16 years, where he became artistic director for jazz in 1996. Since he died almost a year ago at the age of 89, his role has remained open, but news emerged today that the KenCen has hired pianist and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran to take his place.

In addition to being 50-plus years younger than Taylor, Moran has been described as “jazz’s most innovative pianist” by New York magazine; he frequently incorporates multimedia, spoken word, archived recordings, and visual art into his live performances. Moran credits his career as a jazz artist to hearing a Thelonious Monk record at the age of 13, which prompted his switch from classical to jazz piano. Monk, Moran told New York, “set the benchmark for what a creative musician should be.”

Monk released his first solo album, Modernistic, in 2002, and has since worked with a variety of artists from Ravi Coltrane to Wayne Shorter. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010. “Through reinterpretation of jazz standards and new compositions of his own, Moran is expanding the boundaries of jazz expression and playing a dynamic role in its evolution in the 21st century,” said the foundation’s statement. His new role at the Kennedy Center will doubtless help the institution affirm its commitment to jazz in the future.

You can catch Jason Moran playing at the Kennedy Center December 10, when he joins NEA Jazz Master Barry Harris, Eddie Palmieri, and Alfredo Rodriguez for NPR’s “A Jazz Piano Christmas.” Tickets ($55) available at the venue’s Web site.