A Lifelong musician, Max Moran is now a well-known jazz bassist, playing in the Donald Harrison Quintet and Congo Square Nation Band, The Bridge Trio and his own group, Neospectric. After years of study in the JAS (Jazz Aspen Snowmass) Academy before attending NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), he now composes and performs around the world.

New Orleans is, of course, the center of the jazz world, so it is only natural that Louisiana-born musician Max Moran would learn, train and develop his skills there. Yet, he is not bound by just one style: During his career, he has been attracted to many musical influences, fusing them into a style that bridges traditions and makes them into something new and exciting, while staying true to his roots.

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Max in the studio

Creole and Black Family

Born in Cane River, Louisiana, to an extended family that identifies itself as Creole and black, Moran grew up in a tradition that is unique in the United States. “Growing up and living as a black Creole man in America,” he explains, “has given me a very specific perspective on the world and has shaped the way I think and feel about society. My culture and ethnicity influence my art because I use my own history and background as a guide.”

Moran’s family has a tradition of musical talent. Best-known is his cousin, Jason Moran, who, as a world-renowned pianist and composer, is the Artistic Director for Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Other cousins, Tony, Mike and Ronald (“Pee-Wee”) Llorens, play the keyboards, drums and bass and have played for such greats as Albert King and James Brown, while another relative, Wilfred Delphin, is a pianist in the duo Delphi and Romaine. His father, he adds, “played harmonica and was a vocalist in a band while he was young – and even took up the accordion at the age of 50”.

Violin to guitar to bass

Beginning with lessons on the violin at age 5, Moran soon took up the guitar. By the time he was 13, a few years after his family had moved to New Orleans, he discovered that his real calling was for the bass. He attended the JAS (Jazz Aspen Snowmass) Academy before attending NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) for four years, where he was mentored by the legendary clarinetist and pioneer jazz educator Alvin Batiste and bassist Chris Severin. Then, he was able to attend the Tipitina’s Internship Program (TIP) throughout high school, where he was able to study under and play with famed jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison.

Carrying his musical education past high school, Moran earned a degree in Professional Music (with a concentration in Music Production and Engineering) from the Berklee College of Music. He continues to give back as an instructor at the Tipitina’s Internship Program as well as a visiting artist at NOCCA.

With such a solid grounding through study with these jazz greats, Max Moran has spent the past decade performing – with the electric bass, upright bass and bass synthesizer – in the Donald Harrison Quintet and Congo Square Nation Band. He was one of the founders of The Bridge Trio, along with two other young musicians from Harrison’s group: Joe Dyson (drums) and Conun Pappas (piano). They have released two albums, The Bridge Trio (2012) and The Search: Departure (2015).

Moran also fronts his own group, Neospectric. In addition to performing with these three groups, he has had the opportunity to tour with Christian Scott, Henry Butler, Bryan Lynch, Herlin Riley, Leo Nocentelli and others, appearing at festivals and in halls throughout the United States, in the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe and Japan.

“Music is my main obligation and priority,” he says, “I am constantly listening to music when I am driving, cooking, cleaning or working around the house. I am a full-time musician, so when I am not performing, I am learning music for an upcoming performance or listening to and studying music.”

Max Moran’s “Nouveau Swing” style and musical tastes

Known as a musician in the “Nouveau Swing” style, which merges R&B, hip-hop, soul and rock with the Afro-New Orleans tradition in jazz, Moran draws upon a wide range of musical interests. “There is so much great history behind us that I am always digging into the past much more than I am listening to contemporary music. Some of my favourite older albums are My Funny Valentine and Four & More by the Miles Davis Quintet and Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter. I am also very influenced by recordings from the ’60’s and ’70’s, by artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Stanley Clarke, The Meters, Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone.”

He also states that other favourite musicians include Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley and Nat King Cole. Some might be interested to discover that he is currently enjoying the music of the French classical composer, Claude Debussy!

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The Bridge Trio, from left: Max Moran, Joe Dyson & Conun Pappas, Jr.

Music that makes me cringe

This is not to say that he finds all musical styles to be admirable. “I cringe when I hear vulgar music on the radio today,” he states, “because I think that so much of it is completely inappropriate for young people. I do enjoy some music that has adult content, but I think that such music should be enjoyed by adults. I have censored myself to the extent that I have written music that I am uncomfortable releasing at this time, due to its content. If I continue to write such music, I may release it one day, or I may not.”

Moran’s process of musical composition

He describes his own composition process as a combination of inspiration supported by technology:

“A piece could start with just a drum groove, just a bass line, a few chord changes, or the beginning of a melody. Once I have the initial idea that inspires me to make it into a song, I piece it together by adding other necessary elements. If I have the melody first, then I add chords that work with the melody in a way that fits the mood I am looking for. If I have chords first, then I write a melody that fits with the chords. I try to listen to where the song should go without forcing anything. I often use computer programs like Garage Band, Logic, Pro Tools and Reason to sequence and record different instruments, so I can hear how the parts work together. Sometimes I write the entire song with my bass alone and don’t need to use the computer.”

And the future?

Despite his busy schedule, Moran has plans for even more work in the near future. He will be recording a new album at the end of October 2015 with New Orleans clarinetist Gregory Agid, whom he has known and since high school and with whose band he frequently plays. Meanwhile, he and his bandmates in The Bridge Trio will be booking gigs and tours through 2016. “My goals for next year,” he says, “are to play more heavily and regularly with The Bridge Trio in order to continue to spread our music to as many people as possible and to possibly release our third studio album.”

“My ultimate ambition” Max Moran says, “is to bring beauty and joy to as many people as possible through music. In addition to playing, I have aspirations to own a recording studio and record label, and to produce concerts and music festivals, improve communities in New Orleans through music and art programs for children.”