Actually there were two headphones moments during In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959, which Jason Moran and The Big Bandwagon brought to the Walker Art Center last Saturday.
The first was at the beginning, when Moran walked on stage alone, sat down at the piano, put on a pair of headphones, and improvised to a recording of Monk's original Town Hall performance of "Thelonious." The second happened toward the end, when all eight band members put on headphones and started playing.
It was a wall of sound that somehow made sense. I kept shifting my focus from one musician and instrument to another. There were no solos or duos or back-and-forth exchanges, no negotiations or responses to what someone else had just played, so no specific person or sound drew your attention at any particular moment. Egalitarian and kind of noisy but interesting.
I scribbled in my notebook "Are they all listening to the same thing?" I also wondered if they could hear each other. Later I asked Moran by email. His reply:
"Yes, in the headphones, we were all listening to Monk's Town Hall version of 'Thelonious.' That is the only thing we could hear. No musician can hear each other, and the volume is so loud in the headphones that we cannot hear much of ourselves. We interact with the recording, not each other. But since we are all hearing the same thing, the outcome could be structurally sound."