“Looks of a Lot,” a blues/jazz-based multimedia project created by pianist Jason Moran and visual artist Theaster Gates, will receive its world premiere May 30 at Symphony Center. The work, commissioned by Symphony Center Presents for its Jazz Series, will be performed by Moran and his group, the Bandwagon, along with Gates, sax great Ken Vandermark, vocalist Katie Ernst and the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band, from the South Side high school.
Moran, who was interviewed for Sounds & Stories, also spoke recently with Peter Margasak of the Chicago Reader. Here are some quotes from that interview, which also features Gates. (Both interviews were conducted before the shooting death of a Kenwood Academy Jazz Band member, 15-year-old guitarist Aaron Rushing, on May 18.) The photos were captured by Jim Fahey, director of programming for Symphony Center Presents, during rehearsals this week at Orchestra Hall.
Like a jazz improvisation, “Looks of a Lot” promises to take its definite form in concert. As Gates tells the Reader: “We won’t truly know what it is until it’s over.”
Jason Moran: My goal is to look at the people who I come into contact with and the common stories of the city and of their relationship to the city through their artwork, whether it’s through their music or it’s through their sculptures — how sound and the arts revitalize communities or give people inspiration.
[Gates] has these sculptural elements that he’s made that will be on the stage, and then we have a central structure that comes apart in various ways and sets up different metaphors, so they’ll all be activated throughout the evening.
Theaster Gates: In many ways I feel like I’ve just been a sounding board for some of the great ideas that Jason has. I think he wanted somebody who had a sense of the visual world and how that might play out onstage. It’s been a real honor to listen to Jason — he’s not just a musician. I think he has a strong sense of space. I was definitely taking cues from things that Jason was talking about. So if he mentioned being interested in hanging out on a stoop or a way that black people communicate their ideas, whether through music or dance or performance, I tried to create a visual experience that was responding to how we shout. So there’s a set of objects that are about the architecture of speaking. [It's] a poetic use of the stage as a framing mechanism for sculptural objects, and also an opportunity for me to prompt Jason to think about music differently.