In Your Ear: Jason Moran

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In this occasional series "In Your Ear," award-winning jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran shares some of his favorite tunes. His diverse choices include a remix of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and a piece by one of Senegal's most gifted drummers Dudu N'diaye Rose.

TONY COX, host: And now, to a part of our program we call In Your Ear. That's where we ask some of our guests we've interviewed to tell us what music they listen to. Today we hear from jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. When we caught up with him, he had just been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for $500,000. After our interview we asked him what he listens to in his spare time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T MISBEHAVIN")

JASON MORAN: In my spare time I'm listening to a lot of music. The first song that I'd like to share is "Ain't Misbehavin" by Fats Waller.

FATS WALLER: (Singing) No one to talk with, all by myself. No one to walk with, but I'm happy on the shelf. Ain't misbehavin', savin' my love for you.

MORAN: I'm currently working on a dance party related to Fats Waller's, a dance party I'm creating with Meshell Ndegeocello, a great singer and bassist and composer. And so we are re-examining all of Fats Waller's music, you know, who he was as a pop figure in the '30s, as a great pianist, as a bandleader, and also as a person that made people want to dance. So the aim is to reintroduce Fats Waller as danceable music to a current dancing generation. So "Ain't Misbehavin" is one of his signature pieces and it's always one of my favorites.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T MISBEHAVIN")

WALLER: (Singing) ...no place to go. I'm home about eight, just me and my radio. Ain't misbehavin', savin' all my love for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S GOING ON")

MORAN: Second piece for you is Donny Hathaway's version of "What's Going On."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S GOING ON")

DONNY HATHAWAY: (Singing) Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying.

MORAN: I mean "What's Going On" is the famous piece by Marvin Gaye. But Donny lends the piece a little bit more upbeat but then sings it as heartbreakingly as Marvin Gaye does.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S GOING ON")

HATHAWAY: What's going on? Hey, yeah. What's going on? I want to know what's going on.

MORAN: And the last track that I'll present is "Shake and Jop." It's by a drummer from Senegal, Dudu N'diaye Rose, and this is with his drum choir.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE AND JOP")

MORAN: Dudu is an extremely important figure in the drumming world and a very big star in Senegal and a traveling musician that my band and I happened to see in Strasbourg, France, and were totally floored by what we saw he and his drum choir do, and how he conducts these drummers through this extremely, extremely challenging music. The presence of 40 drums, you know, it's like standing in a club in front of the subwoofer, you know, on the dance club and how it wants to pull your heart out of your chest because the pounding is so prominent. That's what it's like to hear Dudu N'diaye Rose. So much so that one time when I was driving down the California highway, I was listening to this music and didn't know I was speeding until a cop pulled me over. So don't listen to his music while you drive. Those are my pieces, and they inspire me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COX: That was jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, telling us what's playing in his ear. To hear his interview and others from our program, go to npr.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE.

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