Firehouse 12 • 45 Crown Street • New Haven, CT 06510 • 203.785.0468

Butch Morris

Performer's Website

Lawrence Douglas “Butch” Morris was born in Long Beach, California on February 10, 1947. Butch grew up in a musical family and his older brother, the late bassist Wilber Morris, fueled his interest in jazz at a young age. He began playing trumpet and studying composition, harmony and theory in public school, where saxophonist Charles Lloyd was one of his teachers. He also performed in the school marching band. After graduation he studied with a number of notable West Coast musicians and often sat in with tenor saxophonist J.R. Monterose and former Clifford Brown-Max Roach bassist George Morrow. Following a stint in the army, including a tour of duty as a medic in Vietnam, Morris returned home and became entrenched in the “New Jazz” movement, studying with Bobby Bradford and Horace Tapscott and performing in the latter's band with like-minded musicians including John Carter, Mark Dresser, Diamanda Galas, David Murray and James Newton. He found further inspiration when he moved to the Bay Area and became part of an exemplary jazz community that included Ray Anderson, Curtis Clark, Frank Lowe, Charles Tyler and, perhaps most importantly, former Ornette Coleman drummer Charles Moffett who Butch credits with piquing his early interest in the process he calls conduction.

Morris moved to New York in 1976, but spent much of the next half decade living and teaching in Paris and the south of France while teaching in Belgium and Holland. He returned to New York in 1981 and began performing regularly with his own ensembles and those of Billy Bang, Lowe and Murray. It was specifically in Murray's groups, particularly his Octet, that Butch's considerable talents as a composer and arranger began to receive widespread notice. When the tenor saxophonist expanded his group to a big band, the cornetist put aside his horn and began to devote himself almost exclusively to the task of conducting. It is in the role of conductor/ composer that Butch Morris is best known today. Since his tenure with Murray he has conducted many of his own ensembles as well as those of other leaders to critical acclaim all over the world, including legendary engagements at Sweet Basil, the Village Vanguard, the Knitting Factory and the Bowery Poetry Club, here in New York.

The term conductor/composer does not begin to adequately describe Morris' role in most of the music he creates. As the director of conductions, the term conductioneer is perhaps more appropriate. To quote his website, “Conduction (conducted interpretation/ improvisation) is a vocabulary of ideographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct a real-time musical arrangement or composition. Each sign and gesture transmits generative information for interpretation and provides instantaneous possibilities for altering or initiating harmony, melody, rhythm, articulation, phrasing or form.” Morris began his conductions utilizing no more than five signs. Over the years the vocabulary has grown to approximately twenty-six signs, allowing him to increase the possibilities and potential of music. Much of the conduction vocabulary directs common musical components or operations, e.g. sustain, downbeat, repeat, dynamics, tempo, rhythm or change in tonality. Others are more idiosyncratic, dealing with concepts that are specifically related to the conduction process, such as memory, panorama, pedal, pedestrian and literal movement. These signs and gestures which Morris directs at individual musicians, the entire ensemble or to sections thereof, using hand signals, a baton and eye contact are described and defined in detail in the liner notes to Testament (a 10 CD box set documenting as many conductions), but their utility and import cannot be fully comprehended until they are seen (heard) in action.

The rehearsal process is an integral part of each conduction. Morris repeatedly goes over the signs and gestures with members of the ensemble, both familiarizing them with the vocabulary and imparting an intuitive sense of the spontaneous creativity the process attempts to inspire.

Firehouse 12 Performances

Butch Morris Conduction Saturday, October 29, 2005, 10:00p

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