Jeff Morris creates experiences that pop audiences’ minds out of the ordinary, to realize new things about the sounds, technology, and culture around them. His performances, installations, lectures, and writings appear in international venues known for cutting-edge arts and for asking deep questions in the arts. He has won awards for making art emerge from unusual situations: music tailored to architecture and cityscapes, performance art for the radio, and serious concert music for toy piano, slide whistle, robot, Sudoku puzzles, and paranormal electronic voice phenomena.
He has presented work in the Onassis Cultural Center (Athens), Triennale Museum (Milan), D-22 (Beijing’s avant-garde music scene), the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum (Austin), the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s “Open House Chicago,” and the Boston Microtonal Society, and won awards in the Concours de Bourges (France), Viseu Rural 2.0 (Portugal), “Music in Architecture” International Competition (Austin), the Un“Cage”d Toy Piano Competition (NYC), and the “Radio Killed the Video Star” Competition (NYC). Jeff’s writings that explore the aesthetic questions raised by his music have appeared at the International Symposium on Electronic Art, International Computer Music Conference, Generative Art International Conference, and Computer Art Congress, as well as in publications by Leonardo Music Journal, Springer, and IGI Global.
Today, Jeff is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to discover who “Butch & Butch” are, and why they had such an impact on Jeff’s musical career…
Tell us about your first performance.
I got to perform (as a trumpeter) at the Riverfront Jazz Festival in Tampa FL, sitting in with Belinda Womack, because I was one of three scholarship recipients. That was especially memorable because although two of us played jazz, the third recipient was a classical horn player. We ended up playing “Take the ‘A’ Train” in the key of F so that the horn player could read it out of someone’s concert-pitch Real Book without having to transpose it on the fly. I’m proud that my teachers had cultivated my musical ear to that level, that I could play it in a different key by ear while still in high school! John Baker, Tim Dixon, Danny Compher, Luke Lindsay, and Vivian Johnson in Tampa all contributed to that. (The other student recipient was a drummer, so he didn’t have to think about what key we were playing in.) I also got to hang out with Nat Adderley backstage; what an experience!
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I’d be doing something completely unrelated… and still be making music out of it.
If we looked through your music library, what would we be surprised to find?
When are you at your most creative?
When I really should be doing something else, or when everything is broken.
What was the first performance you remember seeing?
I went to see “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band while I was in grade school. My trumpet teacher, John Baker, got me backstage access, and I got the director to autograph my program. That was Colonel John R. Bourgeois, the eighth person to hold the position since John Philip Sousa.
Who are your musical mentors?
Many people built the musical experiences and opportunities that shaped my education and career. For now, I’ll just focus on “Butch & Butch.” When I joined the New World Ensemble at Florida State University, they had just recorded Conduction #41 “New World, New World” on CD with Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris (no relation). So, my first experiences in new music were in the wake of Butch Morris’s visit, and his influence shaped my musical intuition throughout my career. I finally got to meet and play with Butch Morris during a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, over a decade later—that’s where I met Eric KM Clark and recorded tracks 7 and 8 from WITH STRINGS, by the way.
Before I left Florida State, Joseph “Butch” Rovan was hired on the Composition faculty. He’s a specialist in technology-based performance, especially using a custom-built glove controller at the time. “You must see the man with the glove!” one professor told his students. Besides a feel for using electronics organically in music, Butch Rovan taught me to find the music potential in anything. Related to WITH STRINGS, it was Butch who first brought Ulrich Maiß to perform with me and classmates for the first time.