Live Time on The Quilts Of Gee's Bend

Airs Wednesday, February 20 at 9 p.m.  Jason Moran, the new Artistic Advisor for Jazz, ushers in his era at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, with his suite “Live:Time On the Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” offered by JazzSet for Black History Month.  “Live:Time” was commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art for an exhibition of quilts made by a remarkable group of African-American women in a small rural community in Alabama.

The quilting tradition in Gee’s Bend dates back to pre-Civil War days, when slaves in the remote Alabama town began sewing strips of cloth together with whatever fabric they could find including burlap sacks and old work clothes, to make bedcovers to keep their families warm. It’s a unique style with bold geometric designs and colors, handed down from one generation to the next, from the hard years of tenant farming after the Civil War to the Civil Rights era. In the 1960s the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made a memorable visit in support of the isolated community, which sits on a peninsula in a deep bend of the Alabama River. It was that very isolation that made the quilt designs unique.

In September 2002, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston hosted a special exhibition featuring quilts by Annie Mae Young, Loretta Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph and others. The quilts proved so popular that they toured museums around the country. The U.S. Postal Service even issued commemorative postage stamps. New York magazine art critic Mark Stevens wrote, “The strikingly beautiful quilts just might deserve a place among the great works of 20th century abstract art.”

Composer and pianist Jason Moran visited Gee’s Bend with his wife, vocalist Alicia Hall Moran and writer Asali Solomon. They toured the quilters’ homes and workshops, heard their stories and bought their own quilts. Here on the KC Jazz Club stage, Jason drapes his over a music stand, and members of The Bandwagon “play the quilt,” improvising solos on the patterns, stitched together with guitarist Bill Frisell reading a chronicle of his own visit to Gee’s Bend, and vocalist Alicia Hall Moran, telling the story of Sidney and her man Clovis, shot by a gun. As his blood stains her colorful quilted bedspread, she says to herself, “People are more important than things.”

Underscoring JazzSet host Dee Dee Bridgewater, we hear the quilters in field recordings from 1941 and 2002, recently compiled on the CD How We Got Over: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

Jason Moran & The Bandwagon with Bill Frisell & Alicia Hall Moran
Jason Moran, composer, piano
Alicia Hall Moran, vocal
Bill Frisell, guitar
Tarus Mateen, bass
Nasheet Waits, drums

“Cold Water for Blood Stains” is by Asali Solomon is featured in the Winter 2013 issue of The Kenyon Review

Let Me In/Restin’
Blue Blocks/Lazy Gal
Here Am I/Dear Lord
This World Is A Mean World
Quilting/Playing the Quilt
You Ain’t Got But One Life To Live/Live:Time

Script for “Live:Time” by Mark Schramm. Recording by Greg Hartman of the Kennedy Center, surround sound remix by Duke Markos. Thanks to the Kennedy Center Jazz team of Kevin Struthers and Jean Thill.