In 1997, while Moran was still a senior in college, the drummer Eric Harland, a high school classmate of Moran’s, recommended him to saxophonist Greg Osby who was in the process of assembling a band for a European tour. Osby hired Moran based solely on Harland’s description of his playing, and the match proved to be auspicious. The connection between Osby and Moran was present as soon as they hit the bandstand, and Moran has become a fixture in Osby’s touring and recording bands ever since.
Moran made his professional recording debut on Osby’s 1997 Blue Note CD, Further Ado, which brought him to the attention of Blue Note executives who signed the pianist to his own record deal shortly thereafter. The association with Blue Note is fitting, placing Moran in the lineage of innovative pianist/composers whose career beginnings were nurtured by the veteran jazz label, musicians such as Monk, Herbie Hancock and Herbie Nichols.
Moran’s debut recording as a leader, Soundtrack to Human Motion, which found him in the company of Osby, Harland, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and bassist Lonnie Plaxico, was released in 1999 to great critical praise (Ben Ratliff of The New York Times named it the best album of the year). The following year’s Facing Leftfound Moran stripping down to a trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, and prompted JazzTimes magazine to declare the album “an instant classic.” Moran augmented the trio for his third Blue Note release, Black Stars, adding avant-garde icon Sam Rivers, who plays saxophone, flute and piano on the recording. Gary Giddins of the Village Voice exclaimed “Black Stars is possibly a Blue Note benchmark, definitely one of the year’s outstanding discs.”
In 2002, Moran released his universally acclaimed solo piano disc Modernistic. The Cork Jazz Festival awarded Moran the 2002 Guiness Rising Star Award. 2003’s The Bandwagon, culled from the trio’s six-day stint at New York’s Village Vanguard, earned the team of Moran-Mateen-Waits a title as “the best new rhythm section in jazz” (The New York Times) and caused Rolling Stone to proclaim Moran “the most provocative thinker in current jazz.”
The Jazz Journalists Association awarded Moran with the “Up-n-Coming Jazz Musician” of 2003. He has appeared on the cover of JazzTimes with Joe Lovano and on the cover of Down Beat with his mentor Andrew Hill. Moran topped the Down Beat Critics Poll in three categories in 2003 and 2004 – Rising Star Jazz Artist, Rising Star Pianist, Rising Star Composer. In 2002 and 2003, the First Run Film Festival awarded Moran “Best Original Score” for Pagan Harlemann’s “Two Three Time” and Chris Dillon’s “All We Know of Heaven”. New York’s Nightlife Awards honored Moran with awards for “Best Jazz Combo – The Bandwagon” and “Best Performance – Solo Piano at The Jazz Standard”.
He has been lecturer/instructor at Banff Center for The Arts (’03,’04), Denmark’s’ Vallekilde Jazz Camp (’03), Skidmore (’00), Manhattan School of Music (’02-’04), The New School (’04) and his alma-mater, HSPVA (High School for the Performing and Visual Arts). In 1994, Moran’s family created HSPVA’s “Moran Scholarship Award,” which is awarded to an outstanding junior and senior in jazz. Moran took over responsibility in 2001 as a commitment to education.
His sixth release on Blue Note, Same Mother, was released in February 2005. This blues based recording adds guitarist, Marvin Sewell, to the Bandwagon. Same Mother is “a reconsideration of the blues that doesn’t depend on clichéd dynamics and song structure” (The New York Times).
In 2005, Moran accepted three separate commissions from three different pre-eminent American arts institutions: Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Dia Art Foundation. Selected movements from the music created for these commissions—RAIN, Milestone, and The Shape, the Scent, The Feel of Things—constitutes the recording, Artist In Residence, which was released in 2006.
In 2011, Moran began a fruitful association with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. where he is now the Artistic Director for Jazz, a role that allows him to develop programming and curate artists for one of the largest jazz programs in the United States, as well as working with the Center’s other programming departments to coordinate programming for multidisciplinary festivals and events.
In the Fall of 2014 Moran released All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, a collaboration with the vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello that recasts the music of the legendary jazz entertainer Fats Waller as a modern dance party. The album is the studio culmination of a project that was born onstage at Harlem Stage Gatehouse as the Fats Waller Dance Party in 2011 as part of their “Harlem Jazz Shrines” series.