An interview with Jason Moran

We both know artists who use musicians as mere performers, or even props. But in your collaborations with Stan Douglas, Julie Mehretu, Ragnar Kjartansson, and especially Joan Jonas, the relationship seems more like what you were just saying. It’s almost as if Jonas is a bandleader, who affords an independence to her collaborators—to you, even to your own children in one project—even as she provides the beat.

There was a moment… Now that I have a little bit of distance from my mother’s death in 2004, I realize that it was right at that moment that I met Joan Jonas, and I met Adrian Piper. These two women stepped into my life and changed how I viewed the work I was making, the future possibility of the work. And the rigor that I would need to actually have a long career.

My first collaboration with Joan was for The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things [at Dia:Beacon in 2005]. This was the hardest I had ever worked in my life. We were up there for about three months in Dia’s basement, this big garage, and we worked Monday through Friday for about seven, eight hours a day. Here I was, sitting at the piano. I don’t think I’d ever sat at the piano that long in my life. After the first week, I was literally exhausted. I needed a week to recover, but we had to go back to work. Joan, somehow, was there fresh every day, pushing every wall, bringing on every prop, lifting every iron ring. This woman was beyond — and also so engaged with every collaborator, and asking everyone, “What do you think about what you just saw?” She really wanted input as well.

This was a revelation. I know that, as an artist, the thing that I search for is to allow other people to give creative input, to help shape the piece that we’re working on together. Joan was particularly powerful at demonstrating the ability to do this — she makes these wild pieces, and they really have everybody’s hand inside it.

The full interview is available in Even no. 10, published in summer 2018. Buy issue 10 now.