Director Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” tells the story of the events leading up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark 1965 march for voting rights — an event that forever changed history.
In honor of the 91st anniversary of King’s birth and Black History Month, the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) at California State University, Northridge will show “Selma” on a large screen, with its score performed live by its composer, acclaimed jazz pianist Jason Moran on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m. Moran, artistic director of Jazz at Kennedy Center, will be accompanied by the New West Symphony, conducted by Cheche Alara.
Film Music Magazine called “Selma,” Moran’s first feature film score, “an unstoppable sense of history making that could, perhaps, only be captured by a musician so steeped in jazz and its cultural heritage.”
Tickets for this special performance start at $36 and can be purchased by phone at (818) 677-3000 or by visiting the website TheSoraya.org.
CSUN’s Tom and Ethel Bradley Center (named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley) recently received a collection of work by acclaimed photographer John Kouns and is partnering with The Soraya to display these photographs in The Soraya’s Art Gallery space. Kouns photographed historically significant events during the civil rights movement, including the little-covered Selma voting registration drive in 1963, and the Selma march with King in 1965.
“Selma,” a 2014 Academy Award Best Picture nominee, portrays the bravery and defiance of those participating in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, a defining moment for the civil rights movement. Moran’s score captures the tension and drama surrounding the march as events played out in public and in frenetic, behind-the-scenes negotiations at the highest levels of the government.
Crafting a striking orchestral work laced with the blues, Moran wrote themes that seemed to breathe with the film — somber, thoughtful and redolent of America’s South. Moran and guitarist Marvin Sewell will accompany The Soraya’s screening of “Selma,” offering an immersive experience of the film.
Prefacing an interview with Moran for Film Music Magazine, Daniel Schweiger wrote: “In the civilly disobedient musical case of Martin Luther King Jr., the impact of ‘Selma’s’ score comes from its subtlety of meeting racist fury with soft dignity, as the jazz, soul and spiritual rhythms of an oppressed black nation join hands with a measured symphonic approach, especially when detailing the movement’s effect on a troubled marriage through soft strings and piano. Yet this is also a soundtrack that truly knows when to raise its emotional fist to shattering orchestral effect — both in getting across King’s still-unmet call for racial equality, as well as announcing an impressive new voice on the major scoring scene.”
In addition to composing, Moran is a pianist, educator and curator. The Houston, Tex., native has been hailed as one of the most original voices on today’s jazz scene. He is active not only in music, but also in the visual arts, film, performance art, theater and dance. Rolling Stone magazine said “Jason Moran is shaping up to be the most provocative thinker in current jazz.”
Moran began his professional career playing with Greg Osby. His debut recording on Blue Note Records, “Soundtrack to Human Motion,” was released in 1999 to critical acclaim. The following year, his recording “Facing Left” established his trio, The Bandwagon, with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, and prompted JazzTimes magazine to declare the album “an instant classic.”
Since his first album, Moran has produced 10 additional albums and six film soundtracks, including the scores for “Selma” and DuVernay’s documentary “13th.” In 2007, he was commissioned to create “In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall, 1959,” producing a critically acclaimed, multimedia performance investigation Thelonious Monk’s famous recording, “Monk at Town Hall.” Recent releases by Moran include “The Armory Concert” in 2016, “Thanksgiving at the Vanguard” in 2017 and “Bangs” in 2017 under his own label, Yes Records.
In 2010, Moran was awarded a MacArthur fellowship. In 2011, he was appointed artistic advisor for jazz at the Kennedy Center, and was subsequently named artistic director for jazz, working closely with the center’s staff to expand the breadth of its programming and emphasizing cross-genre collaboration.
Alara is a composer, arranger, producer, music director, conductor and virtuoso keyboardist — a skillset expansive enough to make him “one-stop shopping” for creatives. Among those who’ve availed themselves of Alara’s various abilities are Barbra Streisand, Natalia Lafourcade, Christina Aguilera, Mike Patton, Lady Gaga, Alejandro Sanz and Colbie Caillat.
He was brought in to produce Natalia Lafourcade’s Latin Grammy-winning “Musas” Vol. 1 & 2, Thalia’s “Habítame Siempre” and Il Volo’s “Grande Amore;” served as music producer and musical director for the Grammys premiere ceremony, the Latin Grammys, and Person of the Year galas for Caetano Veloso, Shakira, Alejandro Sanz and Placido Domingo; led Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane orchestra, penning arrangements, conducting and playing keys; and composed for projects like “The Titan Games” for NBC, “Death by Magic” for Netflix, and “To Tell the Truth” for ABC. Barbra Streisand invited him to join her “The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic” tour as keyboardist — and then tasked with arranging and recording the opening and closing sequences for the production of the tour’s Netflix concert special.
The 2019-20 season marks the ninth year for the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, which has quickly become one of the cultural jewels of the Greater Los Angeles region. Under the leadership of Executive Director Thor Steingraber, The Soraya continues to expand its programming and outstanding multidisciplinary performances. The Soraya presents a wide variety of performances that not only include new and original work from the Los Angeles region, work from around the world appealing to all of L.A.’s rich and diverse communities.
Located on the campus of California State University, Northridge, The Soraya’s season offers a vibrant performance program of nearly 50 classical and popular music, dance, theater, family and international events that have established The Soraya as the intellectual and cultural heart of the San Fernando Valley, and further establish itself as one of the top arts organizations in Southern California. The award-winning, 1,700-seat theater was designed by HGA Architects and Engineers and was recently cited by the Los Angeles Times as “a growing hub for live music, dance, drama and other cultural events.”