Butch. . . . .
The first time I encountered Butch Morris was at a Jump Arts festival in NYC at the original Brecht Forum in Chelsea.I had no knowledge of him or his process.I watched several friends of mine set up and was intrigued by the music that transpired having never seen conduction like this.I also witnessed the intensity of the process as Butch confronted a soprano player that was quite a respected cat.I was shocked that Butch got as angry as he did for what he believed was this musician not paying complete attention.
Sometime after this I somehow ended up in an outdoor conduction with Butch at Tribes run by Steve Cannon.I only had Bass Clarinet with me and wont front,I was scared as hell having very little experience with conduction.I did my best and when Butch asked me to provide information to the group I was determined to make a unique cohesive musical statement.I was really on the edge pushing my trippy take on the bass at this time.Afterwords I was shocked to get a call from Butch asking me to join his orchestra called New York Skyscraper getting ready to do 5 Tuesdays at the Bowery Poetry Club.In one of the most important moments in my musical life Butch Morris told me I had something new to say on Bass Clarinet.This level of support coming from a master had deep impact on me.It helped me believe in myself.I am in truth one of hundreds if not thousands of musicians touched by Butch Morris.
* * * F L A S H * * *
I’m in Ornette’s studio with a piano player that seems to know every tune he ever wrote.They are kicking my ass learning a tune.I keep making a half step a whole step in the middle of a fast line I never heard before.During my solo Ornette stops everybody.
“Give me that.”
I handed him my Bass Clarinet which he then took out the room.He returned and handed me my trumpet,looking at me like I was crazy..
Back at the Bowery I fully entered Butch’s world.I was getting it but still was having a hard time with a few signals,especially panorama,or when he reversed everything.The speed! Sometimes he had to search to find a direction that worked and it was hard for him when people just couldn’t be in the moment and allow it to go down.I decided that no matter what I would push my ego down and submit to the process of him needing and trying to create music.He was truly engaging in a gift like no other that would evolve us all.
To this day I have never experienced the feeling I had when all of Butch’s thing came together.It was pure magic.I had a flash of awareness at one point hearing my sound in Butch’s sound world and asked myself if it was really happening.Was I really a part of something so incredible? I had also never been confronted with such range of dynamics in my musical life,it was the beginning of musically growing up.
On the last night of the Bowery run is where I hit my wall.Butch had started bringing in written music and this one piece had a Trane vibe to me.Uh-oh.Shaw nuff when Butch pushed the drummer to light a fire under the group and then set me free I crossed the line I had been walking and got my scream on.To much.With respect Butch let me know I was out,but we were still cool.I knew I took it to far and decided to take the education with me from a fascinating experience.
Wasn’t the last time I would cross paths with Butch by a long shot.Somehow I ended up in a Brooklyn studio being filmed with Butch and found out he was friends with Avery Brooks who was in the house.”Best Captain” I told him,which got a smile.I then ended up on some all trumpet conduction’s with Butch working with the FONT Organization.I brought Flugel and Pocket Trumpet to be different from a huge group of blasters.What a diverse group we had,a who’s who of cutting edge trumpet.I was even written up in the New York Times by Ben Ratliff for “pounding out major triads”.I think I was in Don Ayler mode.
During one of these concerts I had one of my own favorite Butch Morris moments…the whole group ended up on F Blues,I’ll never forget it.My ears freaked out and I couldn’t find the key! I kept going regardless and was playing directly against the whole ensemble.
I could tell this was not what Butch had in mind but couldn’t stop myself.Butch started searching for the person behind this sound with a look that could devastate cats and make them weak in the knees.
Just as Butch was about to find me I found the root!
“Whew!” I made it back into the ensemble.Butch was right to let me go that other time.
Years later I asked Butch about rejoining after seeing him three nights in a row at Nublu.The band sounded so good.I was shocked when he responded that he had read my blog and what I said about conduction after a week of Vision Festival conduction’s and that it wasn’t a good idea for us to mix it up again.We were cool though and the last time I saw him we talked about Brother G.
Butch told me he had checked Giuseppi out in the park and concluded that nobody had ever played the Alto like that and that nobody ever would again,or could.G was truly different.I have reports of Daniel Carter also scoping out G on the DL and reaching the same conclusion.
I’ll leave with my favorite Butch Morris memory.
My friend Stuart Bogie is front and center sitting next to me with his metal Contra Alto Clarinet.Butch asks him to play and tells all of us to follow him,about 15 musicians. . .
Stuart starts with some simple stuff we can all get.. .
“No! Take em’ for a ride man!”
“Take them for a ride!”
Stuart then played the impossible as we all tried to follow.
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God Bless you man. . . .
For Butch Morris.