Lawrence D “butch” Morris

American composer Lawrence “Butch”, who died from cancer at 65, had a global project that drew on many talents, including jazz from the US, Europe, Turkey, and Japanese kabuki. He also used the talents of classical music, dance, poetry, and jazz from other countries. Morris described his approach to the world as an “improvised duet between ensemble and conductor”. Morris steered these encounters using a baton. However, his sign language, which he called “conduction”, was a homegrown technique that he called “conduction”. This term has been described as a fusion between conducting and improvisation and of combustion, ignition, and propulsion. Morris was responsible for more than 150 conductions, most of which were simply named by the number of sequences. He performed them in over 20 countries within a span of a few years. His techniques were a mix of gestures borrowed from Charles Moffett and Sun Ra, as well as the electronic and computer composer Larry Austin. Morris’s unusual approach to conducting a pedigree group of British improvisers at London’s Southbank Centre in 1997 was evident. In the middle of a conversation between a few members of the band, he would summon an explosively dissonant note from the group or coax a cellist to make high, softly squealing noises against the lilty of a Harp. He then admonished the other members by pointing to his ears to remind them to listen to the cello first. The 1997 performance, London Skyscraper was one of many Morris-related ventures that took place in the mid-90s. They were named after their respective locations, including Bologna and Berlin Skyscrapers. They used conduction techniques to facilitate communication between musicians from different backgrounds. Some improvisers thought Morris was an authoritarian. His occasional flashes and irritation could be evidence of that. He told me that he once went to a rehearsal with a classical orchestra. “The moment I got through the door, one of the trumpet players began playing jazz licks. I asked him, “What are you doing?” I asked him, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I like playing with jazz.” I thought you would come to teach us jazz. I replied, “I don’t care what you play around with. I care what you care about the most.” After a few days of silence, he suddenly started to play this amazing trumpet stuff in an improvisation. “What was that?” He said. He replied, “Haydn.” He said ‘Haydn.’ He said, “I can’t.” I explained to him that by the time he had deconstructed it and changed the phrasing, used certain notes but not others, no one was going to be able to tell. This was the music that he loved, but he used it in a different way. Morris was born in Long Beach, California. He started playing trumpet and switched to the cornet at the age of 14. From 1966 to 1967, he was an army medic. He also served a time in Vietnam. After his return to the USA, he was introduced to west coast free jazz by his brother Wilber. Butch was a member of Tapscott’s bigband, studied music in Oakland and became associated with Moffett, the San Francisco new-jazz scene, and also taught and played in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands between 1976 and 1981. His imaginative cornet playing changed from a melodic and bebop-oriented style, to one that was more abstract, using a tight, muted tone. He joined Wilber in David Murray’s octet. Murray was his first band member. He also played on the 1980s New York loft scene with the guitarist Bill Frisell, and Bobby Previte. Current Trends in Racism in Modern America was his first conduction. It was recorded at The Kitchen in New York in 1985. He had an unconventional band that included John Zorn, Christian Marclay and a harpist. Morris’s albums can sometimes sound more like news reports about rapidly unfolding events than cohesive musical stories. However, Burning Cloud (1993), was a rare example of his fine cornet playing and creativity with a small group. The 10 disc Testament (1995), which included music for voices, classical European performers, and free-improvisers, represented his entire work. Morris’s conductions did not make him financially independent. He was the director of the jazz ensemble that appeared in the Robert Altman film Kansas City (1996) and, from 1998 to 2001, he was a resident instructor at Bilgi University. He wrote music for contemporary dance and was briefly the musical director of the TV crime series A Man Called Hawk. Dave Douglas, a trumpeter, said that Butch could take a room full musicians to new and unimagined places. It was like being a part of a nirvana. Being in a swinging group is the pinnacle for belonging. It’s like creating something from nothing. A scaffolding constructed on a diverse musical language is a great way to make it happen. I will never forget how he listened to us and reimagined the sounds of our music. He also flashed thunderbolts when needed. Morris, who divorced Therese Christophe was survived by Alexandre, his brother Michael and sister Marceline. * Lawrence Douglas Morris (composer and cornetist), was born 10 February 1947; 29 Jan 2013 from

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