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Take Five With Morris Nelms

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Morris Nelms:

Morris Nelms, pianist and vocalist, grew up in Frederick, OK, discovered jazz at Cameron University in Lawton, OK, and was instantly hooked. He completed a Bachelor's degree at the University of Oklahoma in 1978 and a Master's degree in Composition at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX in 2000. From 1978-1980 Stephen Fulton, Rich Thompson, Lynn Seaton and Morris Nelms were the members of a jazz group in Norman, OK called Oleo. Currently, he teaches at Texas State University. He has taught and played Jazz for 20+ years. He was the faculty pianist at the Clark Terry International Institute of Jazz Studies from 1994-97. He has performed with Snooky Young, Marshal Royal, Louie Bellson, Ed Shaughnessy, Clark Terry, Jesse Davis, Jimmy Woode, Plas Johnson, Red Holloway, Butch Miles, Kenny Washington, Al Grey, Sebastian Campesi, Sonny Stitt, Mike Wheeler and Small World. He has taught Introduction to the Fine Arts, Aural Learning, Improvisation/Combo performance, Big Band Performance, Jazz History, Jazz Appreciation, Jazz Piano, and Jazz Guitar. He hopes you will buy the CD he recorded in 1999 with Cullen Offer, The Best Thing For You Would Be The Cullen Offer Quartet (Progressive Records).

Instrument(s): Piano, voice, guitar

Teachers and/or influences? Teachers: Flossie Plott, Howard Johnson, Stephen Fulton, Joe Settlemires, Barry Harris, Clark Terry, Russ Riepe, Bert Neely.

Influences on piano: Fats Waller, Count Basie, Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris, McCoy Tyner.

Influences on voice: Billy Eckstine, Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Joe Turner.

Influences on guitar: Freddie Green.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I saw Kirk Lightsey with Dexter Gordon.

Your sound and approach to music: I like what Monk said: "Swing as hard as you can."

Your teaching approach: Jazz in Nine Sentences - Jazz is made up of Sound, Time and Changes and developing each is the job of a jazz musician. First, have a model. Pick a player who fits firmly and comfortably in the mainstream. Could your favorite player make a gig with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis on three separate nights? This addresses Sound and Time. Changes: Know your chords. If you can play arpeggios, major scales and the chromatic scale you know enough to create solos or accompaniments in the style of your model player. Start with arpeggios, and then learn to connect chord tones with scales, while keeping the chord tones on the beat. If you stay focused on your model player and diligently apply this method, you will make remarkable progress if you persevere.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: Worst: First concert date on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I ate some bad oysters and spent the gig in the emergency room. Best: Five clinics played over five summers with Clark Terry Big Band. Marshal Royal or Dave Glaser on lead alto, Snooky Young on lead trumpet, Stephen Fulton on second trumpet, various others.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Not sure. First one I wore out was the Charlie Parker Savoy Master Takes.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I'm an excellent teacher and I get to work with at least two combos of young jazz players every semester.

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