A jazz musician meets the inspiration behind his work blending jazz and skate

Friday Feb 19th, 2016

Blog > A jazz musician meets the inspiration behind his work blending jazz and skate

What did music and skate do for a young black boy growing up in the 80s in Houston? We learned the details in an intimate Salon Series talk, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with YoungArts alumnus Jason Moran, a 1993 Winner in Jazz.

When Video Days became a seminal film for skaters back in 1991, Mark Gonzalez—'The Gonz,’ Salvador Dali of street skate—stood out as the protagonist gliding to John Coltrane. Witnessing this pairing of skate and jazz was the seed of validation that, many years later, manifested as Moran’s ‘Finding the Line’ performance at Kennedy Center. Yet even after a successful premiere last fall, and in spite of all his success as a composer, interdisciplinary artist, and agent for social practice, Moran had yet to meet the source inspiration, Gonzales. “[Mark Gonzales] helped me, as a young teenager, deciding to dedicate my life to the piano after skating for many years,” said Moran.

Things came full circle at the Salon talk at YoungArts: a first-time meeting between the jazzman in full elan and a skater of legendary status. YoungArts Director of Campus Programming Esther Park made that introduction happen, because like fellow event organizers Joel Meinholz and Ian O'Connor, she saw an opportunity to plant another seed—perhaps one that could this time take root with Gonzales.

At the Salon talk, Moran explained to the audience that he and The Gonz had actually met for the very first time earlier in the day to “discuss” the night’s performance. Instead of talking, Moran played and Gonzales skated, and that’s all that was needed to find a common language. “I’m not a musician so I don’t know for sure, but I can hear the music and how [jazz musicians] are figuring it out until they get it. ‘Oh yes, that’s it. Right there,’ said Gonzales. “In street skating you’re constantly trying, seeing what’s going to fit.” Looking at the men on stage, and how one would frequently elaborate on or deconstruct what the other was saying, there was a palpable level of trust and understanding not often seen with strangers. Perhaps most interestingly, everything said by Moran and Gonzales—even the abstract ideas or minutiae that at the time seemed irrelevant to the public—made better sense in the face of their performance.

While these creatives found synergies on the skate ramp, they invited hundreds in the audience to share in the experience. Under the historic YoungArts Jewel Box, Moran, Gonzales, musicians and skaters taught process and language. And not even the rain could dim that shine.