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Joe Morris: Singularity, Part 2-2

By Published: August 25, 2005

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.

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