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This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE.


Jason Moran

Place of residence: New York City

Why he’s a Game Changer: Moran, 38, an international jazz musician, is increasingly becoming an ambassador for the art form while remaining one of its top practitioners. He was named Artistic Adviser for Jazz at the Kennedy Center. He was also the recipient of a 2011 McArthur Fellowship and has received Downbeat magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year Award for 2011.

Moran is simultaneously enmeshed in the history and the future of jazz. Together with singer Meshell N’degeocello, the jazz pianist and composer put together a show called “Fats Waller Dance Party” for Harlem Stage, where they update the music of Waller to give modern day fans an idea of what it might have been like to get down at Smalls Paradise in Harlem. That’s Moran in the picture below rocking a giant Fats Waller mask at one of the Harlem Stage performances.

But at the same time, Moran is not afraid of exploring ways in which  jazz can learn and grow from hip-hop music. The brother did a version of “Planet Rock” on his 2002 Blue Note LP titled Modernistic.

It’s this combination of a deep respect and understanding of the canon but a recognition of how things change that has many critics praising Moran’s work.

“Jazz is a global cultural phenomena as is Hip Hop,” Moran told me in a July interview.  “As jazz morphs, the audience is supposed to change with it,” he added.

He’s also interested in nurturing the next generation of artists. Despite traveling the world, and teaching, he finds local jazz efforts, such as Harlem Stage, of great importance.

“I’ll play in New York and then got to Poland and Japan, but the question remains how does anything artists create in the community stay in the community,” asked Moran in the same interview. “Harlem Stage allows me to still sprinkle the salt uptown to the people who live in the neighborhood.”

The Washington Post writes the following about his appointment as Artistic Adviser for Jazz at the Kennedy Center:

One of Moran’s primary tasks will be to strike that at-times elusive balance between honoring jazz tradition and pushing innovation. Moran, who has played with the likes of Greg Osby, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Christian McBride, and Cassandra Wilson, is generally seen as a musical innovator who blends the traditions of blues and jazz with more modern elements of funk, rock, and hip-hop.

He has received several ‘Rising Star’ awards from Downbeat magazine’s critics polls, as well as a 2010 MacArthur fellowship, and has released eight albums, both solo and with his group, the Bandwagon. He has become a prolific collaborator, particularly in the past five years, forging dialogue between jazz and the visual arts, dance, documentary film, and other musical traditions.

Jazz Pianist Soars Ahead But Doesn’t Forget His Roots  was originally published on