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A Fireside Chat With Joe Morris

By Published: February 14, 2003

I am trying to push that to a new, meaningful place, which is what I have always tried to do. I don't really think the scene in Europe has ever been very supportive of that. In pockets it has. I can go to Portugal. It works there. I've done some nice gigs in France. I've done some nice gigs in Ireland. People like it in England. But overall, it hasn't ever been like I was the right kind of guy. Rather than feel bad about that, I just figured so I am not the right kind of guy. I will play here. I will play here and the audiences like it and I'm happy and I have a good life. If I am not on the road all the time playing to people that are indifferent in Europe, then I am lucky. I'm fortunate to not have to do that. I'm home. I get my son on the bus everyday to go to school. I sleep in my own bed every night.

FJ: Being mutual Ornette aficionados, I few to San Francisco to hear Ornette. It was only his second public appearance in years. He played for two hours, no breaks, no intermission, took a bow, an encore bow, and left.

JM: Yeah, that is great. The greatest thing about Ornette is you can listen to it and it doesn't need any explanation. You don't have to walk away going, 'Now, why am I supposed to like that?' (Laughing) And that is true of just about everybody that I like. I like stuff that is real direct. I am curious about everything. I'm open to just about anything that goes on. I keep returning to the place of playing, really playing and trying to get up some energy and articulate the finer points of that energy and be melodic within these really roaring grooves and playing with guys that are playing the hell out of their instruments. That is what I like. I like it to be spectacular. I've done some other things out of, I think I used to be more of a pluralist in a way. I sort of took the new jazz, new music kind of thing as a point of study. Now, I think that is sort of a bankrupt sensibility that has just gotten all involved with itself. I want to go out and hear somebody play something in an exciting way that I have never heard before.

When I hear Timo play every night, my jaw drops. He is an absolute phenomenon. He's phenomenal. He's sensational. When you hear him play, when you watch him play, you can't believe that somebody can do that on an instrument that huge and still, he is deep and melodic and rich and musical to the max. He plays melodies on the bass that I don't think I could ever play on the guitar. He is that spectacular and Luther is the same way. For a young guy, he's thirty years old, he has so much depth and so much swing and so much melody in his playing. He is such a great person to play with. He is just always there. I say, 'La.' He says, 'Di-Da.' It is like mind reading going on. I like that and it is free of the sort of conceptual baggage of an awful lot of stuff out there. I know that sounds really negative and I don't mean to discredit other people's work, but gee, we heard an awful lot of that for the last thirty years.

How about somebody picking up the alto and playing it in a way that is exciting that has never been done before? That's what I like. That's all I've ever wanted from this. I just want to play with a roaring band and have a really good time and have people sit there and go, 'Wow.' That is all I have ever wanted from this. I don't care about being a genius or having opinions. I just want to play the guitar with a really great rhythm section or play bass with a really good horn player and a good drummer at this point.

FJ: Sounds like you are at the mountaintop.

JM: Yeah, yeah, I have never felt better playing music. I've never had more fun. I've never played better. I'm really harsh on my playing as everybody else is, but what I do is very difficult, although it might not seem that way, and I feel really in control of all of that right now. Part of that is ridding myself of distractions of other people's aesthetics. I've been consistent in my aesthetic for all the years that I have been doing this and I've allowed a lot of other influences to come in and I have gathered that technique.

But ultimately, I am right where I have always wanted to be. I love the alto voice of the freest, most rhythmic music and I want to play that on the guitar. I want to support that on the guitar or on the bass. I've got that. My band is roaring. I trust all the people that I work with. The record company is doing well. My relationship with AUM Fidelity, which distributes the records is healthy and nice and very positive. So in this really weird time in the music, I feel fantastic. It is really great. I feel lucky, but I also feel like I had to make some tough decisions about whether to be a careerist or to enjoy playing and I decided I would enjoy playing and that has worked out for me.

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