Joe Morris: Singularity, Part 2-2
“ If I ever need any inspiration to do something, I just have to think of another part of life, and human interaction, and connections with nature, and it's all there. ”
Joe Morris first started playing the guitar in 1969, at the age of 14. He immediately took to the instrument and started a long process of self-instruction. During his high school years, he spent time playing with other students and listening to a wide variety of recorded and live music. Morris's major influences during this period included seminal free jazz revolutionaries like Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Eric Dolphyas well as West African string music and 20th century classical composers. By the mid-'70s he had established himself as an improviser in Boston, organizing various groups to help realize his musical vision.
Morris's abstract, idiosyncratic guitar style has been quite consistent on record and in performance. He has mostly stuck to the electric guitar, using a clean tone free of distortion or effects. His playing tends to be remarkably dense and organized, relying upon small intervals and angular, clustery runs to achieve momentum. Joe Morris's music demands and rewards attention from the listener. It's sufficiently open-ended that the listener often has to fill in gaps and use imagination to extrapolate his fragmentary themes. Morris has reinvented guitar improvisation with a visionary approach that places him far ahead of his peers on the instrument.
I spoke with Morris one night in March, 1998 in Boston. Our conversation revealed the amazing depth of thought and experience that has characterized Morris's work.
[Note: this interview was performed in 1998 but originally published in 2001. This 2005 update includes all of the original text, plus an updated discography. Readers may be curious to know that Joe Morris, currently a resident of New Haven, Connecticut, now plays the bass (see selected discography entries from 2002 onward).]
AAJ: I was comparing your music to what Derek Bailey does, and there's just something so much more tonal about it.
JM: Well, Derek would never think of himself being connected to jazz. I had a long talk with him once. And although he knows a lot about jazz, and he likes it a lot, and he can play it (Henry Kaiser tells me that Derek can do a great Jim Hall imitation). I played with him once, and it was swinging like mad in its way. Man, that guy has energy and motion in his playing, when you look for it.
That guy is also a complete iconoclast. He's amazing. My thing is to put that rhythm in there. Just intentionally have that rhythm there. I had dinner with Derek and Karen, his partner, and we had a conversation about that. She said, "Why do you do that stuff?" I said, "Derek is Derek. If I want to be like Derek, I'll have to get in a long line of people trying to be like Derek." There's a lot of people trying to be like other people. My take has always been to try and be like me, and suffer the consequences, and reap the rewards, if there are any. I think that's why I even got to talk to somebody like Derek Bailey, because I think he knows that. He knows that I have my own voice.
I also am constantly listening to Thelonious Monk. That guy is the highest priest of deep knowledge in music. Two or three notes out of that guy just blow my mind. I can't believe how he figured out how to place them that way. I mean, I think about things like that all the time, like how is he placing that note against the beat. How do you do that? Where is your inspiration coming from that you can figure out something that beautiful? You know? That's the thing that racks my brain constantly.
Some of it is with drums and bass, and the placement, and thinking about tune and flow, and other things are more about interaction, and a little bit more mysterious, but it's all about how you put things in the right place at the right time, and make it fresh. There are so many different layers to consider there; there's so many different ways to go. Monk's just one of the people who expresses in one note every musical possibility.
AAJ: The compositions are very recyclable, too.
JM: Yeah, they're perfect. Every single one of them. It's mind-boggling.
AAJ: Have you ever thought about doing an album of standards?
JM: Yeah, I thought about it when I thought it would help me get over, but since then I actually got offered to do one of somebody else's music. I think if I did one at this point, I might do a record of John Lennon's tunes or something. I don't know. It's been on my mind the last couple of months. I was thinking of doing a record of Cecil's early compositions, like in his early band, and I got offered the opportunity to do it, and when it was right in front of me, I didn't really want to do it. Well, so, I wasn't going to be able to pick the band, and all that. I wanted to do it 3 or 4 years ago, and then I decided I didn't want to do it. Hopefully I'll be around long enough that I can do a lot of those different things.
But I've been getting more into doing things that are totally free, in a way. I'm writing, and I have bands that are doing that, but one of my biggest things is just getting into setting up groups that cross the border between jazz and improvised music. I'm kind of into that these days too. Writing is always a tricky thing. You write, and you work the music out, you rehearse it, then you record it, and hopefully you get to perform it. Improvising, you go and do it. Then on to the next project. You can move very quickly when you're improvising. Writing is slower. I want to have a body of work, of compositions with different groups playing them, like Monk.
AAJ: What's your favorite setting? To my ears it sounds like you're most free in a trio.
JM: If it's working right, I am. But it's the most difficult, because the instrument can really get overwhelmed pretty easily. That's one of the reasons I started doing it, because it was so hard, and I thought that as a guitarist, I could really work with different flow patterns, and different interactions with the band, so I've made all these trio records. At this point it's really difficult, and I feel the need to maybe take a rest from that.
I like my quartet a lot. It's really challenging... especially one with Mat Maneri in it, because the roles shift so much. And Mat's such an awesome improviser. That guy is so intuitive that you can go anywhere and he can make it music. He's amazing. So I like that, I can write for that in a lot of different ways, I can write pretty complicated things and really simple things, and it sort of unfolds pretty naturally. I can leave that up to chance a little bit more than the trio. The trio is pretty tightly organized. As loose as it can sound, the rehearsals for that are pretty tough.
But, like I said, I'm really into doing these open improvised things, various things, especially without drums. All I can say is, all this stuff is pretty interesting right now. The electric band is a real kick. I haven't worked in it for a long time... I really keep seeing myself doing all these different things, making up my music, not one thing or the other. Partly because I came out at a time after a lot of things have happened that are very specialized. I see the value in a lot of the work that people did, and I don't see it necessarily ending. But I see that you can modify it a lot, and come up with new things. Reining a lot of these extraneous elements in sets up another kind of trail. Another route.
AAJ: And you always have to be prepared to go with that.
JM: Yeah. I don't want to reject the idea of using extended techniques, or using noise. I don't want to reject the idea of using melody. I definitely don't want to reject the idea of using energy, intensity, and subtlety, or beauty or humor. All of those things. Part of my interest in African music was that it made me understand that music is about how people live, and what they do. If I ever need any inspiration to do something, I just have to think of another part of life, and human interaction, and connections with nature, and it's all there. Just be open enough and receptive enough to do something with it. And I think that's where the music is right now. I don't think it's about a narrow intellectual interpretation. I think it's really at the point of really blossoming again for 20 years.
People say jazz is dead. That's because the old jazz is dead. It lived, and now it's not alive any more.
It takes time for people to see what's left, because a lot of times there's a huge sort of reverential industry. You take some icon, and work the guy to death. A lot of times the rhetoric turns essentially into a dead end aesthetic. You say, "Well, this is the music." Whereas if you say, "The music is huge," that's not really dead end. That's open ended. I've never been into dead end aesthetics.
AAJ: I think that's due to the abuse of power. When you're Miles Davis, and you're a multimillionaire, and you drive a yellow Ferrari, and you can do whatever you want, you're going to turn into an asshole pretty quick.
JM: Yeah. I think he probably did. But then again, a lot of people who made him a star, people who gave him the impression that he was the end-all, and the only one you could really admire...they're the ones that are really doing the damage, you know. Miles was just playing what he thought was good music, and people were digging it, so it became popular. It was really strong.
I think there are points where things that are going to run to a dead end have to happen, too. They have to happen. Things that don't seem to offer any kind of opening end up setting up a kind of orthodoxy, and it gives a new group of people an opportunity to break those rules.
Jazz ends up, just like any other art form, for all its talk about freedom, becomes one set of rigid orthodoxy and dogma after another. That's why the trick is to always figure out a way to break those rules, and refine creativity. I mean, Matt Shipp and I have gotten a lot of flack for what we do: for playing melodies, or trying to play intensely, or playing long improvisations, or playing a lot of notes. I've gotten into all sorts of problems for swinging...
AAJ: How dare you!
JM: Or playing the guitar without effects, or not imitating Derek Bailey.
AAJ: That's great! Those are compliments.
JM: And I hope all those people that are pissed off go away, and leave a space for new people who want to hear some new music to come in, and feel like they can be involved in it. It's like the changing of the guard. Just like John Zorn got flack at first for playing duck calls in a glass of water...
AAJ: That's cool stuff. It's fantastic.
JM: It's pretty neat that he did it. Then it gets to the point where he's like Beethoven or something.
AAJ: He's an institution.
JM: Yeah, he certainly did it on his own terms, but somebody has to understand that to break those kinds of patterns, you might have to do it with subtlety. Subtlety is really really hard to control, you know.
AAJ: It's easier to scream than to whisper.
JM: Yeah. Sometimes screaming is important, because subtlety isn't happening.
Then there's a point where everybody hears everything that I do. And they go, "Who cares." Hopefully it will be a while.
I don't mean to get too much into an overview about how art works, but it seems like that's what it ends up being about. I like to think that some of the people who come into contact with my music are new to it. They're new to the whole music. Just like I was. I mean, I know people who were 20 years old, who are identical to me when I was 20 years old, in how they got into this and what they were looking for. And I had help from reading things from people who reminded me of why it was worthwhile. And what it had to do with me. So I kind of feel like part of the obligation is to ... It's not this scary academic exercise, or this conservatory.
AAJ: It's about the doing.
JM: Yeah. It's immediate, and it's raw. And it's just as raw as any good art that ever existed. And some times it's a hell of a lot more raw.
AAJ: Part of the problem is that by virtue of its complexity it becomes less accessible. People have undoubtedly given you criticism for that, too.
JM: Yeah, I mean, my daily life is criticism for that. Having the audacity to try and do such a thing. How can you possibly want to play music that everyone isn't into? I don't know, I guess if everybody was into it, the whole world would be different.
AAJ: The world would be an amazing place, I tell you.
JM: I think it would have a positive impact. Then again, when everybody's into something, almost everything like that turns sour.
AAJ: To be alternative, there has to be a mainstream.
JM: Yeah, I don't really look at it like that. It's kind of like a privilege to do something that's so rarified. You can meet almost everybody in it in just a few years. This is a lot more like being a poet than being a movie director. Whereas being a rock star is a lot more like being a movie director than it is like being a poet.
I really think that if I could have lived in another time, I would have either lived in 1945, I would have been a bebopper, or I would have been a beatnik or something. I definitely aspire to some very small subculture full of people who are nice, with an open mind. Not people who are going, "Man, that shit sucks!" I'm really not into that. I mean, I say that kind of stuff myself, but I don't want to do work that ends up sounding like that... bitter and angry. I'd rather have it be open to more complex interpretations.
AAJ: It's like in science, where there's a process of peer review, and other scientists review everybody's grants. And in a way that's a good thing. But there's also a problem with that, because the leadership roles are not necessarily taken by the people with the greatest vision. I think you have something special, with so much vision.
JM: That's an interesting point to make. It's like when you asked advice for people getting into this. The beauty of something like this is that you can be bold. And yes, there is peer review. But part of it is that you be bold, that you assert yourself.
I remember playing with Dewey Redman once. I was scared. He heard me play once, and he asked me to do a gig, and he was into it. And he basically turned to me before he played and said, "You play your ass off now." He didn't say, "Don't get in my way." He basically said, "You're here to play your ass off, so you do it." I don't know if I did, because I was nervous, but he definitely did not want me to be so respectful to him that I didn't kick him around the stage. He would have loved it. I don't think I was able to, but I mean, he's tough to kick around the stage, especially way back then for me.
I remember when I was thinking about doing this. I was thinking about being an actor, because I could relate to that. I thought about all the things you have to go through, you have to worry about how you look... You can have an amazing interpretation of something, and some person can go, "No, you're wrong. You suck."
AAJ: "My way, now."
JM: It's like art by corporate review. Oh, man. Then I was saying I'd be in rock bands. But it was so difficult, especially then, to be in a rock band that was playing original music. This was a long time ago. And not think about being successful. It seems liketo methat to be successful in that kind of music you can either break the mold completely (and I wasn't going to be able to do that), or you had to wear glitter clothes and makeup.
Forget it! I don't want to do that! What does that have to do with music? That's total show business. I still think a hell of a lot of stuff that's supposed to be alternative is part of a marketing plan that's been around for 30 years. It's like the '60s created a marketing plan for them to sell every piece of junk for the next 30 or 40 years.
AAJ: The minute they start having an Alternative section in the record stores, you know there's a problem. It's really all wrong.
JM: Yeah. So you know, everything I've ever done has always been unpopular. It's so funny. Back in 1978, '76, when everyone my age was into being punk, I was listening to Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. I mean, there are other people my age who were like that, but I think I know all of them! There weren't a lot of people like that. It was a completely different thing. I always thought that was the most radical thing I could do. I thought that was the complete embodiment of being Bohemian. Completely, forever. And I still feel like it is. It's because there's a sort of ...
There's some kind of element of truth in this thing that seems to be constantly in motion. It's like things keep going. People call it the continuum, and they talk about it as spirituality, but whatever it is, I don't know, I personally think that it's linked to nature. It's linked to reminding people of their existence as part of nature. Not as being superior to nature, like classical arts have been. Not like being inferior to other people, like some other things. Not like being in opposition to the status quo, or the world of commerce or business or anything... It's like you're a human being, you live with other human beings, there's other creatures, and there's a planet.
It's pretty awesome. It's impossible to fathom beyond a fleeting thought. But think about that. And if you think about that, then you're actually dealing with the best thing you can think about as a human. It's beyond religion. It's beyond politics. I really think it is. And this stuff lets me think about that. It doesn't make me think about it so much that I can't get the oil changed in my car or pay my bills. You don't die; you don't suffer for it. Just remember. I know personally it's made my life a lot better. I would have been working in a factory. I was a complete failure before I found music.
AAJ: You found your calling.
JM: I found something that let me keep growing and evolving. There isn't a week that goes by when I don't want to get the hell out of it. But that's my artistic temperament. I can't get there, but I don't want to get there. If there isn't a really natural evolutionary process, I don't want to go. I don't want to take some quantum leap and end up in some zone that's completely ridiculous. This is like a parallel world. Yeah, there's all that stuff goes on, you know. But you do this, you hang out with some really interesting people who talk about interesting things, and who have values that make sense. They're not family values or monetary values or something... they're pretty sensible. I suppose there is a Zen factor there.
AAJ: And there are a lot of exceptions. Like Charles Gayle, who's made some amazing music, but now he goes around preaching. It's so out of place and annoying.
JM: It's annoying, yeah. But again, I don't know him, but maybe he was into that before people heard him as a saxophonist. And now he has the right to talk. There's a fine line between taking yourself so seriously that you tell people what to do, and just responding to what people ask you. I think individual expression is a good thing. That's essentially what I tell my students. They come to me, I say, "Play what you want." I'll give you some idea of how I structure what I do, how Albert Ayler structured what he did, or Duke Ellington or Blind Lemon Jefferson. And if you understand that structure, how they put things together, and build a structure for your own creativity off that, you'll have a fluent language that you can use.
AAJ: With depth.
JM: That's right. There's technique and formulating and all that, and there is a way to analyze it, so you do it. But it's not about if you kneel on the corner every day... there's no process that you need to go through. You need to determine that for yourself. But there is form, and there's a way that people have improvised, and it's all documented. You can find out how Cecil did it, or how John Zorn did it. You can find out how Matthew Shipp does it, and Joe Maneri. You can find out how all those people did it.
And if you do that, then you can rationalize your own version of it. And that's all there is to this. It's hard. It's very hard to do it and not be wrong. Because there are people who do it, who think that they're doing something that they're not doing. And the people who know they won't have to deal with it. And a lot of times you can tell that they're not doing it, because the way that they present it is too self-assured.
If you know that much, something's probably amiss. You forgot about one part. I know a lot of people, they'll say this is like this and that, and I'll say, "Have you ever listened to so-and-so?" I run into to drummers all the time, and they tell me something, and I say, "Did you ever listen to Steve McCall?" And they go, "No, I don't need to, man. I never listen to him." And I say, "If you did, you'd know something about the drums that people haven't gone past yet. People have done other things, they've reacted to that, but nobody's made that bold a statement on the drums, to my mind, since then. But if you don't deal with that, how are you going to do it?
It's a funny thing. You have to know a lot, and then you have to go beyond it.
AAJ: I'm intrigued by the role of record producers in this whole thing, because the people who run Soul Note, and Hat Art, and ECM have a lot of power over what happens.
JM: I guess. Most of the artists who record for most of those people... Out of those three, those are three very different labels. I've had interactions with all three of them.
AAJ: What's it like to be inside?
JM: Some of those people insist on having things their own way, and others don't. Like ECM has a very formal plan. They let you do what you want, but they know what they want. So you do what you do, and they're gonna pick what they want. They'll ask you if you like it, but ultimately once you sign the contract, they'll make the final decision.
I'd say Hat Hut is pretty much the same way. I haven't done a record of my own music produced by them, but he has a thing that he wants to do, but even if you give him a tape that you produced (which is what I prefer for everything), he'll want to modify it to fit what he thinks is right. Bonandrini [of Soul Note] takes a tape. If he likes a tape, he'll take it, no questions asked. He's very easy to deal with. The big difference there is if you're exactly what ECM wants, they'll market you and you can get rich.
AAJ: Oh yeah. Look at Keith Jarrett.
JM: He's sold millions of copies. But even guys in the middle have sold tens of thousands of records. If they think that you're creative, but they can't figure out how to market you, then you just sell the same number of records you would with any other label, and basically that's that. With Hat Hut, they can't sell that many records, but they have a credibility factor that's very high. As does ECM too, but it's a different sort of zone. Bonandrini's credibility factor is different, because most of his music swings. I love that label. I like all those labels. The folk music/world music thing of ECM is really good. But there are other things about the label that I'm not so interested in.
AAJ: What ECM music doesn't do it for you?
JM: Well I don't know specifically, but I never liked their guitar sounds.
AAJ: Towner? Abercrombie?
JM: Every one of those guys has something that they do, but I just never liked the way the guitar sounded on them. It's not in your face enough. It's too distant and softened up.
I just set up a deal with Knitting Factory to make a record that I produced. I've been dealing with them for years. They've been totally cool. So I have a rapport with them. Matthew has a rapport with Hat Hut. Joe Maneri has a rapport with ECM.
But I prefer to be the producer. I want to be the producer. I know my music better than anybody. And I'm good at it. I've produced about 12 records. I think I have about 17 or 18 records, and I produced over 10 of them. And those are the ones I feel most comfortable with. The records I made with Matthew Shipp and the Maneris, I have some problems with those.
I like Matthew. His music is difficult stuff. His music is like: "Here, jump over this building with your guitar." And you know, Matt's a tremendous improviser, so I'd do anything with him. And the Maneris are the same way. Playing with the Maneris is a trip.
[Giovanni] Bonandrini has been great. You can't make a living off of Bonandrini, so you gotta do a lot of other things. He pays his bills, he keeps his records in print, he stays out of your hair. He says to you, "Mr. Morris, you can do whatever you want to do. You can record whatever you want." I gotta pay my bills. I gotta sell some tapes. I gotta be creative here.
AAJ: What about the stuff on your label? Is that still available?
JM: Yeah, it's available through Cadence. Some day, if I can get enough money, I'm going to reactivate the label, and, you know, I'd like to make it a label. At least make records on my own label and sell them. I think it's a good thing to do, and it's really the only way to make any money on this... if it's even possible. [Note: Riti Records is up and running as of 2005, with six new releases since this interview was originally published.]
Yeah, they're still in print. A couple of them are still on LP. And when those run out I'll reissue them on CD in a few years. And I have a lot of other stuff in the can that I don't think I would sell, or I could sell, but I could definitely put it out on Riti. I'm trying to get into situations where I license tapes to people instead of selling them, so I can get them back. People are getting more receptive to doing that. Yeah, all that stuff is very tricky.
Fred Hopkins told me one time: you'll know things are going well when people tell you what you said a long time ago.
I've always gotten attitude around here. I'm something less than what other people think they are. I write out scores. I don't write out big scores, because I improvise. As if that's not good. But if I spent a whole lot of time thinking about what the Boston scene thought about me, I would have perished long ago. It's very specialized.
People say, "What do you think of Wynton Marsalis?" I say, "Who cares. That has nothing to do with me." And that's true of a lot of different things. I've always been really specific about what I'm trying to do, and I think it's fertile turf.
I also never was so into showing my interest in world music, with using other notes. I always figured I was part of it. I used to have that argument with people around here a lot. People would tell me how much they were into African drumming, and I would say, "Yeah, me too." I play my music, and then maybe Africans will hear me and go, "Hey, man, he's like into world music." I'm American, you know, I live here, I'm of this time. My music is the same as that.
AAJ: One thing that's sort of interesting is that you don't bend notes too much.
JM: No, not too much. I do, in funny sorts of ways, because I work a lot to get real subtle intonation and inflection, rather than real drastic changes. But I also work to get big intervals, and a lot of this stuff that has stretching is like pentatonic scales and really small spaces. I could do that, but you can't have your own voice if you say the same things everyone else does.
AAJ: Yeah, but there's room for the notes between the notes.
JM: Definitely. That's what Joe Maneri is all about. He once asked me if I would change the tuning of my guitar, and I said, "No, but I will play quarter tones if you want me to." He said, "But you can't play glissando." And I said, "No problem." So in like a week I practiced and learned to play that stuff. It was good for me. He got me to think about getting those subtleties in there. And I use a lot of harmonics in things I do. But I don't expect to be everybody's version of what anything's supposed to be.
AAJ: But you make choices based on some rationale. And that's what I'm here to find out.
JM: My rationale is pretty detailed. But it isn't connected to a lot of the things that people would think it's connected to. If you take the world of improvising, and I've written about this in my liner notes to Flip and Spike, that improvising is like any other art formthe variations on it are based on aesthetics. They are not based on technique. In this thing that I do, the aesthetic demands that you create your own technique to play your music. That's where the music comes from.
Eric Dolphy created a way of playing the saxophone that becomes his music. Monk's the same way. I'm the same way. I'm interested in creating a way of playing my instrument, and that would be my music. That's my aesthetic, it's more detailed and more specific and more personal than that. But it's different from being an interpretive musician, interpreting some other form, or some other musical tradition, or someone else's music.
I'm a creative musician. Not like other people aren't creative, but other people are more interpretive. I create a use of my instrument. And that's what Anthony Braxton did. And to support that, I need to create band material to support the way I use my instrument. Which is exactly what Charlie Parker did. He had to do that. Playing his way with Lester Young's rhythm section is not his music. It had real structure to showcase his own voice, his own sound in. And that's what this is about.
And that's very different from interpreting other forms, or styles, or ethnic traditions, things like that. There's an awful lot of interpretive music, an awful lot of interpretive improvising going on. I'm not about that. Believe me, there's a lot of that going on. I'm not putting it down or anything, but if everybody does that, the music's going to run out.
You need people to make some for other people to interpret. The interpreters are always going to be there, but without people inventing Klezmer a long time ago, you wouldn't have a whole bunch of people today interpreting what they did. You have to have people sticking their necks out and justifying it with almost, seemingly, inexplicable rationales.
It has to happen. That's how people evolve. That's how civilization has unfolded. There's a point in the last ten or fifteen years where a lot of people have gone to music school, and studied the third stream, the world music, and the jazz thing, and come out sort of reshaping their interpretations of what they learned in school. Because in school they don't teach you the structure to invent your own system.
I think I've had a pretty broad ranging recording career, in terms of labels. It's kind of interesting. Suffice to say they're all different in how they deal with you. Some are easier than others. But it's very hard to break in. It's very hard to get in. And it's even harder to distinguish yourself once you get in. You have to promote the records even though somebody else is putting them out. And you can't just sit there, and say, "I made this one record, so it will do it for me." You need to keep making records. You need to keep looking at the other sides of what you do, so you're not making the same record over and over again.
It's important to do the big interviews, you know. But if you wait for those to happen, it takes forever. Meanwhile you can do these, and reach a lot more people, I think. I've got one coming out with Pop Watch, I'm interviewing with the editor of Carbon-14. I'm actually going to be in a skateboarding magazine.
AAJ: Whose idea was that?
JM: The editor. It's a pretty cool magazine, you know... really nice art. He's totally into it...Hell, I would much rather, at this point in my life, try to impress a bunch of skateboarders, than I would trying to impress the jazz establishment.
AAJ: I'm not sure the skateboarders are going to be receptive.
JM: Yeah, but I don't want to waste my energy trying to impress the jazz establishment. Put it that way...
I remember listening to John McLaughlin a lot, back in the '70s. That's what everybody I knew did...
JM: Yeah, exactly. I remember sitting there thinking, "Wait, if I'm going to be as good as him, why don't I just be me, and just be really good." I don't think he wants me to play like him. He probably is so sick and tired of having a million lemmings follow him around saying "How do you do this? How do you do that?" It's a scream!
That was an amazing thing, to finally just say, "I just do what I do, and figure out a way to make it work." That's the only way I got into another area of music. Being a guitar player, interested in Jimmy Lyons. You know... name one other!
AAJ: Jimmy Lyons is the man.
JM: He was a nice guy, too. I was talking to William Parker about him the other day. William knew him really well, I knew him a little bit. Yeah, he was a really nice guy. He was a blast to hang out with, and really sincere. A really nice person, and an awesome musician. That guy's awesome.
I was telling William that the first time I saw him Cecil, I thought he was a millionaire, I thought he was like a playboy who lived in a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. He was really handsome, and he had style. The way he carried himself... If your music is this good, you'd be rich and you'd travel in all these sophisticated circles. I found out later that he worked at the post office for a long time. When I was a piano mover, he told me he once had a job taking bricks off of one pallet and putting them on another.
He was not a playboy living in a penthouse apartment. But he had real dignity as a person. I think he thought that what he was doing was definitely worthy of that type of result. He just couldn't get to it. It wasn't available to him. I really love his phrasing. I got to open up for him once playing solo acoustic guitar. It was a big thing for me, and I begged the guy who ran the place to do it.
They told me I had 15 minutes, you know, "15 minutes and you're out." So I played for 15 minutes and one second, and I stopped. And when I finished, Jimmy was standing in the wings. When I walked over, he hugged me. He was my biggest hero in the world when he did that. He was completely cool. Before I went on he said it was really good that I was going to play because I would inspire him and he would play better.
AAJ: He must have meant it.
JM: Yeah, I don't think he would say, "Get outta here." He just wouldn't have said anything. Everybody I've ever met in that world of music has been nice. Like William Parker... he's the kind of person everybody should be. He's got a great sense of humor. He's not going to accept nonsense, but his way of rejecting it is so quiet and humorous that it's kind of appealing. He makes everybody around him a better person. I played a duet with him last week in front of 10 or 20 people at the Knitting Factory, and I think it was the best gig I ever did in my whole life. We just blew the roof off the place. It was tremendous.
AAJ: He's got amazing technique for not having classical training.
JM: Yeah, he has his own way of playing the bass. It's really deep, too. I like the way he swings. When you play with him in a band, and he swings, it's really unique. He really has his own way of doing it. That's probably the hardest thing to do, anyway, figuring out another way to swing. Making sounds, and interactions, and all that stuff, that's easy compared to figuring out another way to get a rhythm section to work. That's the hardest thing.
AAJ: I really appreciated the rhythmic pulse of Antennae. That's what made me realize that this is very organized music. It's structured, and it has a beat.
JM: But we don't always play it.
AAJ: It's understated, shadowy, and you occasionally come back to it.
JM: Yeah, we always know where it is. It's like the fourth member of a trio and the fifth member of a quartet.
For more information visit Joe Morris and Joe Morris @ AUM Fidelity on the web. A complete listing of Riti Records releases is available here. You may also wish to read Allen Huotari's July '99 AAJ interview.
Selected discography [updated in 2005]
Steve Lantner, Blue Yonder (Skycap, 2005)
Natural History, Fur (Skycap, 2005)
Daniel Levin Quartet, Don't Go It Alone (Riti, 2004)
Stone House, Likewise (Riti, 2003)
Parker/Morris/Drake, Eloping With The Sun (Riti, 2003)
Steve Lantner, Saying So (Riti, 2002)
Joe Morris, Age Of Everything (Riti, 2002)
Joe Morris, Singularity (AUM Fidelity, 2001)
Maneri/Morris/Maneri, Out Right Now (HatOLOGY, 2001)
Lantner/Maneri/Morris, Voices Lowered (Leo, 2001)
Joe Morris & Mat Maneri, Soul Search (AUM Fidelity, 2000)
Joe Morris Quartet, At the Old Office (Knitting Factory, 2000)
DKV Trio with Joe Morris, Deep Telling (Okkadisk, 1999)
Joe Morris Quartet, Underthru (Omnitone, 1999)
Joe Morris, Many Rings (Knitting Factory, 1999)
Joe Morris Quartet, A Cloud Of Black Birds (AUM Fidelity, 1998)
Joe Morris, Racket Club (About Time, 1998)
Morris/Vandermark/Poppel, Like Rays (Knitting Factory, 1998)
Joe Morris Trio, Antennae (AUM Fidelity, 1997)
Joe Morris/William Parker, Invisible Weave (No More Records, 1997)
Matthew Shipp Duo with Joe Morris, Thesis (HatArt, 1997)
Joe Morris Quartet, You Be Me (Soul Note, 1997)
Joe Morris Ensemble:Elsewhere (Homestead, 1996)
Joe Morris, No Vertigo (Leo, 1996)
Maneri/Morris/Maneri, Three Men Walking (ECM, 1996)
Joe Morris/Rob Brown Quartet,Illuminate (Leo, 1995)
Joe Morris Trio, Symbolic Gesture (Soul Note, 1994)
Brown/Dickey/Morris: Youniverse (Riti, 1992)
Joe Morris Trio, Flip & Spike (Riti, 1991)
Joe Morris, Sweatshop (Riti, 1990)
Joe Morris Trio, Human Rites (Riti, 1986)
Joe Morris Trio, Wraparound (Riti, 1983)
Color photo credit