A Fireside Chat With Joe Morris

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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. —Joe Morris
To me, Joe Morris is about as good as it gets these days. Sure, I pine for the days of Trane and Ayler. But every now and then, I am pleased to be alive and well (relative) in 2003. Morris' discography is impressive, records with both Ken Vandermark and Vandermark's DKV Trio, Joe and Mat Maneri, William Parker, John Butcher, AALY Trio, Hamid Drake, Matt Shipp, Roy Campbell Jr., Raphe Malik (my fingers are starting to hurt). So when Morris announced he would be dusting off his record executive shoes and getting his label Riti back into nationwide circulation, I was on the bandwagon. From his home, Morris spoke about the label, its future, as well as his not so recent, but newsworthy, interest in the bass, as always, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about Riti Records.

Joe Morris: I started it in 1983 and released five records on it until about 1992. I then realized that I had to start recording for other people, but all the time that I was, I had in my mind, first a five year plan that I would do that. I think it went about seven to ten years before I was really sort of in the position to do it. Not that there is a lot of money involved with it or anything, but just that I got emotionally ready to do it again. I have a different situation with it now, so it's a little bit for feasible. Also, I have a better rep. It is easier for me to sell records now. That is mainly the reason I did it.

FJ: Being an artist first and foremost, what is your process of choosing material to release?

JM: I've been following a deliberate path about what I wanted to play and why I wanted to play for twenty years or more now, starting with my first recording in '83. So I kind of did what I wanted to do all the time. I made maybe a couple of records that producers suggested with other people in sort of collective type situations that I probably wouldn't have done otherwise on my own, but those are things I wanted to do and I didn't ever really do what I didn't want to do.

But because of the changes in the business, in the scene, in the last couple of years, it was definitely becoming something where people were starting to tell me what they wanted me to do—or saying that we will do this as long as you do that, and this and that, and I am interested in that. I wanted to do what I am doing now. I wanted to do different things that maybe weren't commercial because things were being suggested that I was supposed to sell a certain number of records and I didn't come into this for that. I am an artist. I don't care about the business end of it that much. So it was just better to be independent, Fred.

FJ: When a producer or label guy tells you to sell 'X,' what is 'X?'

JM: It is hard to say. It depends on who you are and what you do. No one sells a lot of records in this thing. If you can sell two thousand records in the independent jazz thing, you are doing really good. Guys who are doing really good might sell that or three thousand records. It is just a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, little world. And when people start getting competitive over who is sells fifteen hundred records and who sells twenty five hundred records, it is silly. That is exactly what has been happening in the last few years.

So rather than being either led around by some record company—and I am not talking about any of the people who I have dealt with—who haven't done that, but trying to find somebody else and realizing that I would be led around or feeling guilty for not living up to somebody's expectations, I just rather avoid the whole thing if I could. The people I have dealt with in my recording history have been cool, but I have been very direct with all of them. I have managed to come out feeling pretty good about it all.

FJ: It means little, but I dig the packaging. Simplicity.

JM: Well, it is a combination of things. Obviously, when you are making jazz records or free jazz records or new jazz records, there is not a lot of money in it, so you don't want to spend a lot of money and if you can have a good looking and well manufactured CD without spending the usual amount of money, then you are going to keep your costs down and it is possible to keep the flow of records coming out. But also, we don't need anymore jewel boxes. I like the cardboard sleeves. I like the simplicity of it. They remind me of old records. They are certainly not as wasteful and I like that part. But is much cheaper to do it that way. My wife is a professional graphic designer and I take the pictures. We sort of come up with ideas for them and she does the Photoshop work on them. She is great, so it is all in the house. It is great. She has done almost all of my record covers since forever.

FJ: I like the rock photo on Age of Everything .

JM: That is actually a rock behind my house. That is actually on my property. Isn't that cool? It is called a geological abnormality or something. I forget, but no one can really figure out how that rock ended up there.


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