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How Eddie Moore Left Classical Behind And Embraced Hip Hop To Make New Kansas City Jazz

Daniel Hogans
Eddie Moore is trained in classical music, but now he fuses jazz and hip hop.

Kansas City pianist Eddie Moore describes his music like this: "rolling down a hill on a bike with no brakes. You just have to weave through everything that gets in your way or jump over it."

Originally from Houston, he thought he might need to move to a coastal city to make a life in music work. But that changed after he auditioned at the University of Missouri Conservatory of Music and Dance for a graduate degree in music. 

"Oh, I might not have to go to New York to get this kind of experience," he remembers thinking.

He moved to Kansas City to attend the Conservatory in 2010. He'd been playing classical piano his entire life and wanted to explore other genres.

"My mom had to really fight with me. I didn't really like (playing piano) till I was about 18," he says.

That began to change when he began to listen to other forms of music. That included steeping himself in hip hop at a Houston skate park.

"I was listening to a lot of hip hop and jazz-influenced hip hop. As a classical pianist, I didn't know how to play that music and wanted to learn. I'd been listening to jazz through my dad my entire life. Then, when I went to college, I started a journey."

That began with "playing the roots" of jazz here. At first he played with young jazz musicians, he says, "and then a lot of older veteran jazz musicians who really taught me how the music went and the culture of it."

But the sound Moore has created with his new band We the People, is not traditional jazz.

Jazz and hip hop are similar communities, he says. Only the people on the outside looking in don't see it.

"They're two urban art forms, or art forms created through an urban environment in America that are built on improvisation and life experience," Moore says.

Moore has blended the two genres. He says it's a well-paved lane that he's in. Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper were fusing unlike sounds long before We the People.

At first glance, the group looks like a traditional jazz trio. Moore fronts the band on keyboard, DeAndre Manning plays bass, and Zach Morrow is on drums. But they also work with a DJ and introduce sampling for a sound he calls "jazz on jazz with a hip hop methodology."

In one track that doesn't have a name yet, Moore plays "Along Came Betty," a jazz standard by Benny Golson. After a moment, a voice comes in — a voice that sounds like a DJ telling a story. However, the voice is no DJ, but the Ambassador of Jazz himself, Duke Ellington. Moore uses a 1963 interview of Ellington talking about the future of jazz music.

"You're hearing the recreation of the story that I chopped up," Moore says.

He wrote another song called "Bando" for his cousin who committed suicide two years ago. It begins with a Hammond organ, church-music sound. Then drums come in, followed by another musical transition into a hip-hop beat and hip-hop instrumental, until it transitions completely into a hip-hop track, with the voice of musician Duncan Burnett telling about urban life for African-American kids: So, can I let you all know that I try every day to be the best man that I can./And even though I'm surrounded by pain, the young black boy got joy in my life to bring change.

Listen to "Bando":

"I'm hoping that it opens (listeners') minds to what the music really is, and it brings them to listen to more new jazz music or more improvised music," Moore says.

"(It's) the music of the freedom of expression. It's the American idiom," he says of jazz. Add hip hop, and "it's like both of our cultures coming together to create something new," he says.

We the People plans to tour in Houston and Detroit in the months ahead, and Moore says the band will introduce several new songs. He's excited, Moore says, to "get on the road and share Kansas City music."

Eddie Moore spoke with Brian Ellison on a recent edition of KCUR's Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.

We the People, 8:30 p.m., Friday, February 22 the Blue Room, 1616 E 18th St, Kansas City, MO 64108. Tickets are $10.

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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