Butch Morris

Butch Morris

Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris (b. Long Beach, California, February 10, 1947) is an American jazz cornetist, composer and conductor.


Before his musical career, Morris served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Morris came to attention with saxophonist David Murray's groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Morris's brother, double bassist Wilber Morris sometimes performed and recorded with Murray during this period.

He also played with well-known artist and would be drummer A.R. Penck in 1990.

Morris currently leads a group called Orchestra SLANG. The group features Drummer Kenny Wollesen, alto saxophonist Jonathon Haffner, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and others. He performs and presents regularly as part of the Festival of New Trumpet Music, held annually in New York City.


Morris has gained more notice and acclaim directing various ensembles in what he calls "Conduction" (a term knowingly borrowed from physics): a type of structured free improvisation where Morris directs and conducts an improvising ensemble with a series of hand and baton gestures.

Morris developed this system gradually in the 1970s and 1980s, after his work in jazz, free improvisation and contemporary music left him dissatisfied. He had tired of the theme-solo-theme patters of jazz; collaborative improvisation had moments of brilliance, but Morris's desire to isolate and elaborate interesting melodic or rhythmic fragments was generally frowned upon; and he felt the reverence towards composers and printed scores in contemporary music did not allow for the full use of each musician's unique voice and improvisations.

Keyboardist/bandleader Sun Ra and drummer Charles Moffett both conducted improvisations of jazz musicians in the 1970s, and Morris credits both as major influences.

Morris's first public conduction was in 1984, based on a Beethoven string quartet (opus 130, presto; published 1825), and used only four gestures, instructing the musicians to repeat a melody or phrase, sustain a given note, improvise, and change tempo.

Encouraged by the good results, Morris continued refining his system and rehearsing, making his first entirely improvised public conduction in 1985 (recorded and released that same year as "Current Trends In Racism In Modern America").

Eventually, Morris used about 20 gestures that allowed him to shape, in real time, nearly every aspect of a performance, including changes in tempo, key or pitch; improvising freely or based on a certain melody; repeating a passage as an ostinato or riff; remembering melody to be later used a motif; mimicking another musician; and separating an ensemble into sections the way a traditional orchestra is divided into string, brass, woodwind and percussion sections. Unlike a traditional orchestra, however, Morris can combine different instrument families into sections, and can change the line-up of his sections if he chooses. Morris admits that most of his gestures are open to varying degrees of interpretation, and he enjoys the freedom this gives musicians, and the random factor this introduces to his music.

For a given conduction, Morris usually combines musicians from different traditions, hoping to capitalize on each group's strengths (jazz and improvising musicians thrive on improvisation but have little to no familiarity with conductors, while orchestral musicians are comfortable with conductors but limited improvising experience), usually enhanced by a small core of regular Morris collaborators

These conductions have received generally positive reviews, and are often considered quite unique, not quite fitting into any one musical genre: critic Thom Jurek has written, "There are no records like Butch Morris' conduction sides, nor could there be, though he wishes there were." [ [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=A48ngtq5zpu43] Jurek, Thom, "Berlin Skyscraper '95" review from Allmusic.com; URL accessed February 15, 2007] and Ed Hazell writes, "At his best, Morris can shake players out of their old habits, or place a microscope on one aspect of a musician's artistry and build an orchestral fantasia around it." [ [http://www.bostonphoenix.com/alt1/archive/music/reviews/01-18-96/BUTCH_MORRIS.html Hazell, Ed, "Out of the lab: Butch Morris's bold experiment yields 10 CDs"] URL accessed February 15, 2007]

Frequent or notable collaborators

In his travels and many recorded conducting occasions, Morris has worked with a wide variety of musicians. A partial list of such musicians follows, but special note should be made of frequent collaborator J.A. Deane, and his innovative use of live sampling.

*Arthur Blythe, saxophone
*Christian Marclay, turntables
*Myra Melford, piano
*Günter Müller, percussion
*Le Quan Ninh, percussion
*Jim O'Rourke, guitar
*William Parker, bass
*Elizabeth Panzer, harp
*Voice Crack, electronics
*Otomo Yoshihide, turntables, sampler


External links

* [http://www.conduction.us/ Butch Morris official site]
* [http://lacan.com/frameXII7.htm Interview with Morris]
* Notes from "Testament: A Conduction Collection," a 10 CD set are available online in PDF format, and contain a detailed description of Morris' conduction gestures: [http://www.newworldrecords.org/linernotes/80482.pdf]
* [http://www.fmp-label.de/freemusicproduction/musiker/morris.html FMP releases]
* [http://home.arcor.de/nyds-exp-discogs/morris.htm Comprehensive discography]

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