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When organizational missions align in concrete ways with a jazz musician's creative desires, jazz thrives on the connections. Minneapolis's Walker Art Center is known mostly for visual arts but has an impressive history of jazz presentation. Last month, pianist Jason Moran premiered Milestone, a Walker commission inspired by visual artist Adrian Piper. Moran's music has referenced his love of art before. But for Milestone, the Walker invited him to root through their archives and meet with curators. When he became enamored with Piper's work, the Walker arranged for Moran to meet the artist. And the center gave Moran, whose club and concert gigs regularly make use of prerecorded tapes, license and budget to create something of an expanded theater piece from his performance.
Jazz will be played in nightclubs as long as nightclubs survive (and they'd better). Dedicated jazz institutions will keep legacies intact. Arts center jazz concerts will present tried-and-true musicians to new listeners. But stay tuned for what develops at arts institutions not dedicated to jazz. These may be the most interesting sounds of all.
"The Walker is about ideas," says curator Philip Bither, "and jazz is about ideas. If jazz is a form of the moment and is ever evolving, then organizations that are set up to support innovation, in whatever artistic discipline they are working, may be more in keeping with what jazz is about than an institution dedicated to preserving its history."