Composer and Conductor Butch Morris, 1947-2013

Lawrence “Butch” Morris, the acclaimed, pioneering jazz composer and conductor who served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War, died January 29 at the Fort Hamilton, N.Y., VA Medical Center. He was 65 and had lung cancer.

“Mr. Morris referred to his method as ‘ conduction, ‘ short for ‘conducted improvisation, ‘” his New York Times obituary said. “He defined the word, which he trademarked, as ‘an improvised duet for ensemble and conductor.'”

“I wanted to hear 25 people play like a jazz trio, ” Morris said in a 2008 interview with Farai Chideya  of NPR’s News and Notes . “I wanted it to have that kind of combustion and spontaneity and momentum and ignition, and I started thinking about conducting.”

Morris was born in Long Beach, California, and grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. He began playing trumpet in high school.  He served as an Army medic in German, Vietnam, and Japan, beginning in 1966.  He began his musical career in earnest back home in Los Angeles, paying cornet in Horace Tapscott’s jazz band.  Morris studied music at Grove Street College in Oakland, California, and later played and taught music in France and Holland. He moved to New York in 1981.

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