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Joe Morris: Singularity, Part 1-2

By Published: August 25, 2005

AAJ: So how about an integrative funk/free thing?

I have two bands. One has a record out since 1990 called Sweatshop. That's a trio. When I first started playing improvised stuff, it was loud and it was funky. It was electric, fusionish. Until fusion became fusion, and then it sounded horrible. When it was jazz- rock, I was really into it. Back in the 70's I did that. Then I got into other things.

As I started making records, people were saying that I didn't have a power trio sound. They would compare me to guys that were playing big loud stuff. So I said, I'll play big loud stuff, and show that I can do that. So we made this record Sweatshop, which I think is one of the best records I ever made. It's different from Blood Ulmer, but it's as dense. I admire Blood Ulmer, so I think that's a mountain to cross, and I crossed that mountain with Sweatshop.

Then I have another band, with a record coming out this year on About Time, called Racket Club, which is the next step from Sweatshop. Sweatshop was about the blues, pentatonic scales on the guitar, a trio. Racket Club is more about the drums. The tunes are built on vamps. It's more about a band like that with drums that actually work rhythmically, rather than like fusion drumming. It's like tribal drumming, with a really huge loud polyphonic band (a six-piece band). That's coming out this year. I made it five years ago, and I couldn't get anybody to put it out, and then the people who decided to put it out decided to do that two almost three years ago, and they've been really slow to get it out. But they've been good people, so I don't ...

AAJ: It must be hard to shop around to release things. Do people come to you? Do you go to people?

JM: Well, it's different now than it was a few years ago.

AAJ: Yeah, you're a big star now.

JM: I don't know if I am that, but I definitely get more opportunities than I can take, which is great. It used to be that I would send stuff around and get no response. The first guy that ever did respond to me was [Giovanni] Bonandrini, at Soul Note. He rejected two of my tapes. He was the first guy to pick one up. Other people never would respond. There are people who have asked me to do stuff since then, who didn't respond then and basically came to me saying, "Where were you?" I was here all along, but they waited until someone else took a chance, and when that started to take off critically, then they showed up.

Ultimately it's pretty hard for anybody to do it, so I appreciate whatever I can get. It's not like anybody's really getting rich off this. People have to think that your music is good to make records.

AAJ: What advice would you give to somebody just starting out?

JM: It depends where they're at musically. If they feel as if their music is ready to be presented... I tell students (who study with me privately or in workshops) to take their music seriously, and to document it every way they can. And if they feel it's time to document it, to document it. But, at the same time, while they take it seriously, they have to keep looking for people who've done more work. You can't get too big a head. I see people like that now, they've done one or two things, and they're good, but they don't have the depth that people who've done more work have. So they may prove that they do, and they get a little cocky sometimes, and I don't know if it helps them.

In this kind of music, there are people who are 80 years old who have had fewer gigs than I've had, who are tremendous. So you can't get too self-absorbed about what's happening with you. The thing that I'm doing is not about that. It's really about being part of that group. Like getting permission to be a part of that group. So you went through it respectfully, you know.

Having humility is really hard to do. You have to be able to have humility and be very bold at the same time. But that's the payback. Being able to participate in that little subculture. To me, that's the reason for doing this. That is the thing. It's a parallel world. It's a rare thing. I can talk to people and feel as if I'm in the tradition that Eric Dolphy and Derek Bailey are in. That's amazing to me. I get chills when I think about that, because I admire their artistic commitment, and their humanity. That's my goal, to be part of a thing like that.

AAJ: I think it comes through in the music. You have to have a deeper sense of tradition to make that work.

JM: There's been a lot of talk about tradition in the last 20 years, in music. A lot of it's overdone. It's like, "Yeah, okay, it's there. We know." I don't know anybody who would deny their desire to be connected to people who are of a similar aesthetic. But also, when everybody gets too into it, you're talking about living in the past.

When you think about anybody who's really innovative in this music, like Dolphy... yeah, of course they're connected to people before them, like any other art form. But they're about right now, what's happening right here in this room. You know, it's relevant to the day. People like Matt [Shipp] and I are kind of down on the level of discussion about the tradition, and how institutionalized it got. Yeah, I think anyone starting out should know everything they can know about everything. That's what this is about. This is a way of showing, mirroring your growth. You do this and you can see what you learn. And you can see if it works. Yeah, there's business, and success issues, there's drive and planning and strategy. But if that becomes a prime goal, your music's just going to go straight to hell.

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