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A Fireside Chat With Joe Morris

By Published: February 14, 2003

JM: First of all, Riti, right now is operating as a coop. Whit's record, he produced that and we're releasing it on Riti, which is distributed by AUM Fidelity. Thank, God. He has really helped us out a lot, Steven has. Whit and Rob and I have played together since 1992 when Rob made a recording that is on Riti called Universe. It is a really great recording, but it was basically Rob's group with his pieces. Since then, over the years, we have gotten together a few times. I've booked a few gigs. It was sort of like my group and then Rob's and Whit decided to do it and so he recorded us last year and this one is all free. It is very interesting. I get to sort of play the role of the bassist or the accompanist. We have done a lot of gigs. We played the Vision Festival last year. It is kind of a unique sort of thing. There is a history and common understanding of the things we do together. It is very different than the other record. There is a given understanding there.

FJ: Anything in the can for Riti?

JM: I'm not sure. There is a record with Dave Ballou and a cellist and me playing bass that should be coming out on Riti this year. I'm going to do another trio record. I have a bunch of things that I am looking into and trying to figure out what I am going to do. The good thing about this is I can respond very quickly. I could just say that I am going to do that and then do it. I can record things in my house. I have an engineer that I work with. They come out looking good. I send them to the plant. They are ready a month later and we send them to the distributor. It is pretty quick. I might be doing a solo electric record. I think I will try and do that this year and I have been playing bass with a lot of people. So there is a whole bunch of possibilities there that I haven't figured out yet.

FJ: Nuances between bass and guitar?

JM: They are totally different instruments. The advantage is they are both string instruments and they are both the top four strings and the low four strings are tuned the same way, so I know where I am note wise. But the functionality is totally different, although I guess I have played kind of bass parts on the guitar. I have always wanted to be a bassist. I write all my music off of what the bass does. All my understanding of music, jazz music, free jazz is focused on how the bass works. I could tell you as much about Fred Hopkins and Henry Grimes and Mingus as I can about Jimmy Rainey and Wes Montgomery.

I really love the bass. I think the music always changes when the bass playing changes. I am totally into playing bass right now. I have a nice old instrument and I play it all the time. I've got gigs and more recordings coming out. It is like I have reinvented myself. It is totally neat (laughing). I am a totally middle aged guy in my late forties and I am playing a new musical instrument like I just started. It is so exciting and I am getting pretty good too. I am happy with my playing. It has grown a lot. It is nice to see something change with practice and effort.

FJ: How's the touring work?

JM: I have been playing a lot between Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York in the last year. I have been teaching at the New England Conservatory and so that has helped things financially. I have had some good gigs playing the bass. I have been doing pretty well. I haven't really had much of a desire to hustle to go to Europe, so if I get invited, I go, but I have no desire to hustle. I have two kids and a young son and I've really been trying to do different music than what I think everyone expects or wants in Europe. It's gotten so strange to stand up there with two guys no one has ever heard of and basically swing at these rapid tempos and articulate these really quick, melodic things, I don't think it's trendy. I'm upset that it's not trendy, but I don't care either because so much of the scene seems to be about not playing or about some kind of conceptual scheme and I am just going to bide my time and wait.

I don't miss it. The hustle was something that I think was the way I evaluated my worth as a musician, and I am over that now. I don't really care about that anymore.

FJ: The bane of the hustle.

JM: Yeah, I have been working on it a long time and I am always the person who falls in the cracks. I'm a guitarist. That's strike one. I like jazz music. That's strike two. And I actually like to play things that swing and are melodic. That's strike three. If I was putting the guitar on the table and playing it with open tuning or I was playing a tape along with it or if I was doing something that was considered 'experimental,' whatever that means, I would probably do better. But I don't fit in in that world. I don't care about that kind of stuff. I care about Jimmy Lyons and all these great alto players. I care about Ornette and I care about having a drummer that swings like crazy in a really modern sense.

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