Butch Morris Dies at 65
Bandleader, conductor and cornetist Butch Morris died on Jan. 29 at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., from cancer. He was 65.
Morris was famous for a method he invented and named “conduction.” Morris trademarked the term, which referred to the improvised interaction between a conductor and an ensemble.
Morris conducted ensembles using his own unique set of gestures and symbols. He introduced the concept in 1985 and documented it with recordings such as Conduction No. 1, Current Trends In Racism In Modern America, which included saxophonists John Zorn and Frank Lowe; Conduction No. 22, Documenta: Gloves & Mitts; and Conduction No. 41, New World, New World.
On Morris’ website, a page devoted to conduction workshops lists this definition: “Conduction (conducted interpretation/improvisation) is a vocabulary of ideographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct a real-time musical arrangement or composition. Each sign and gesture transmits generative information for interpretation by the individual and the collective, to provide instantaneous possibilities for altering or initiating harmony, melody, rhythm, articulation, phrasing or form.”
Morris taught conduction workshops around the world and was the recipient of numerous grants, including ones from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Prior to his career as a bandleader, Morris established himself as a cornet player. He collaborated with his brother, bassist Wilber Morris; trumpeter Bobby Bradford; soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and tenor saxophonist David Murray. In recent years, he worked with the band Burnt Sugar.
Morris taught music in France and the Netherlands in the late ’70s and then moved to New York in 1981.
Lawrence Douglas Morris was born in Long Beach, Calif., on Feb. 10, 1947. As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, he played trumpet in the school orchestra.
Morris (whose father served in Navy) served in the Army in 1966 and was stationed in Germany, Vietnam and Japan.
Morris is survived by a son, Alexandre; a brother, Michael; and a sister, Marceline. (Wilber Morris died in 2002.)
At midnight (EST) on Friday, Feb. 1, radio station WPFW (89.3 FM and www.wpfw.org) will pay tribute to Morris with a two-hour program titled “His Friends Called Him Butch.” The first hour will include excerpts from a 1989 interview with Morris, and the second hour will include comments from George Mason University professor Dr. Thomas Stanley, who wrote his dissertation on Morris’ conduction process.
Information on Morris and conduction is posted at the artist’s website.