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Jason Moran Brings San Antonio the Party, If Only They'd Dance

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief
anthony.deanharris@nextbop.com / @i_ADH

San Antonio just didn't dance. It's not as though they weren't feeling the music. It's not as though they didn't clap on beat and rise at every appropriate moment for an ovation at the end of the show and for the encore. It's not as though the show wasn't great, it was. Jason Moran seamlessly navigated between piano, Rhodes, and the art of just getting out of the way and dancing around the stage. It was truly a joyful night, literally and figuratively moving. But the folks at San Antonio's Jo Long Theater last Saturday night just didn't get up to dance for Jason Moran's Fats Waller Dance Party.

To be honest, there were a couple points against this show off jump-- the Jo Long Theater's bolted in seats and its generally older audience of season ticket holders. Generally, the older crowd isn't a problem. As jazz ages, so does its audience. That's just reality. Executive Director Yonnie Blanchette and the staff of the Carver Community Cultural Center that houses the Jo Long have done a remarkable job bringing higher profile, diverse jazz acts with modern sensibilities that this audience may generally not know, yet time and again, the jazz shows there are crowd pleasers. People are exposed to new things. Minds are expanded. The music has another triumph in the Alamo City. Even this evening, while unfortunately at about half capacity, was still very well received. However, maybe this audience of mostly senior citizens just weren't the people to get up, maybe the pockets of young people on the edges of the room feared prying eyes, maybe we were all part of the problem instead of part of the solution. By the end of the set, a few young ladies got out of their seats and were with little delay invited on stage along with Moran's sons who joined the band on tambourine. The closer of the evening really got jumpin', and yet this still didn't cause an honest to God groundswell of activity from the rest of us.

This isn't to say the show wasn't moving. Moran and his his band featuring longtime collaborator bassist Tarus Mateen, drummer Charles Haynes, and trumpeter/vocalist Leron Thomas moved through the Waller tunes with skill and with some pepper added. Vocalist Lisa Harris has a sweet voice that seems to coo through these 1920s era songs, mostly of Waller's but also including Al Dubin & Harry Warren's "Lulu's Back in Town" (a rare compositional exception for the evening). Even when the band was pared back to Moran and Haynes dueting, there was a dancer on stage in case things got a bit too intellectual. There were certainly many moments throughout the night that felt like a legitimate jazz concert, but when the band got riled up and Moran spent more than two thirds of the set in his Fats Waller mask (with eye holes in the nose) jumping up and dancing around the stage shaking maracas, this was still something out of the ordinary. Yet one couldn't help but wonder what the catalyst would be to get this crowd out of their seats and on the floor. The presence of the chairs themselves already put a conflict in play that was unavoidable. Maybe if Moran and the dancers leapt off the stage and boogied around the theater (maybe not Moran, if he tripped over a monitor on stage at one early point in the set, Lord knows how he'd handle stairs with no peripheral vision while wearing that mask). Maybe if this performance were held at the Little Carver elsewhere on the premises or some other venue of San Antonio, there'd be a more receptive crowd for this particular kind of show. The night wasn't a failure, but it wasn't the roaring success it was designed to be back when Moran and Me'Shell N'degeocello first came up with the show's concept a few short years ago.

Nevertheless, Moran and his band brought a different kind of show to San Antonio and this crowd certainly loved what they saw. If only they loved it enough to get out of their chairs. Though, that's part of what we all have to do within jazz today. It's a work in progress.

Nextbop @ Art of Cool editor Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current. You should follow him on Twitter.