The ceaselessly innovative and searching composer and Butch Morris died yesterday in New York. He had been under treatment of cancer for several years. Morris was 65. He developed an approach to big band music that he called conduction. It made demands on musicians by insisting on intensive, intuitive listening, reaction and interaction. The effort involved adjustment to Morris’s highly personalized methods of conducting while simultaneously composing and arranging through a system of cues and hand motions. Sometimes combined with written scores, the technique required rigor and concentration that not all players and audiences were willing to bring to his efforts. Many who found the results rewarding considered him a genius. Ben Ratliff’s obituary in The New York Times traces Morris’s career.
Morris was not merely a composer, arranger, bandleader or conductor. Or he was all of those things and more. In a film about Morris, our colleague Howard Mandel, a specialist on the avant-garde, says Morris’s music “is not jazz.” Or it is. This promotional clip for the film will give you a hint.
For a full sample of how Butch Morris worked, here he is at a festival in Italy in 2010. The players are J. Paul Bourelly (Guitar), On Ka’a Davis (Guitar), Harrison Bankhead (Acoustic Bass), Greg Ward (Sax), Evan Parker (Sax), Pasquale Innarella (Sax), Hamid Drake (Percussion), Chad Taylor (Drums — Vibraphone), Riccardo Pittau (Trumpet), Meg Montgomery (Electro Trumpet), Alan Silva (Synthesizer), Tony Cattano (Trombone), Joe Bowie (Trombone), David Murray (Sax)—an elite of the outcats.
To listen to Howard Mandel’s appreciation of Morris on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, click here.