Grammar is a forthcoming feature length documentary that explores the language of creative expression through the solo performances and collaborations of jazz pianist Jason Moran. As a 2010 MacArthur Award recipient, who also serves as the artistic advisor for jazz at the Kennedy Center, Moran is by far one of the most talented musicians working in jazz today.
However, because much of Moran’s ongoing oeuvre blurs the boundaries between jazz, rap, and visual and performance art, our documentary will not only explain how his style of percussive playing and use of digital sampling is informed by his coming of age during the emergence of electro music, 80’s funk, house, M-Base, and the culture of hip hop but it will also argue that Moran’s hybrid sense of musicality portends a foundational shift in how we define jazz music today.
Over a five year period of filming (beginning in February 2011), Grammar seeks to problematize those static representations of jazz musicianship in order that we might better grasp the interdisciplinary language that enables Moran’s collaborations with poets, and visual and performance artists as diverse as Terrance Hayes, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, Adrian Piper, Alicia Hall Moran, and Joan Jonas. In other words, Grammar documents the fruitful synthesis that is occurring between jazz and the contemporary creative arts in order to reveal the ways in which the inherently improvisational and amorphous nature of jazz music is implicit within the language of innovation. Significantly, while Moran and his like-minded cohort (such as Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer, Matthew Shipp, and Esperanza Spalding) are now only beginning to receive widespread critical acclaim, their concerted efforts as artists who work beyond the perceived boundaries of their discipline suggest a latent synergy that has been decades in the making. Arguably, this ongoing musical evolution cannot be told until there is a recalibration of how we talk about the artistic legacy and multi-dimensional nature of jazz. What Grammar provides at this juncture in American cultural history is a compelling visual narrative that expands the art form’s heritage beyond the category of musical genre.
By examining the symbiotic relationship between Moran’s pronounced eclecticism and the creative arts at large, our documentary purports that jazz never truly ceased to be America’s most popular art form. As our interviews with notable contemporary artists and key pioneering rap producers of the 1990s will reveal, the grammar of jazz (with its emphasis on quoting, referencing, looping, grooving, and deconstructing) not only continues to stimulate the creative ethos of a range of aesthetic practices but it also maintains the genetic structure of American artistic expression.