PJ Morton: Tiny Desk Concert New Orleans' native son brought his musical Gumbo — and a 10-piece orchestra — to the Tiny Desk for some well-seasoned soul and a lesson in creative freedom.

Tiny Desk

PJ Morton

Staying true to his own musical vision has always come first for PJ Morton. So when he expressed his desire to squeeze a 10-piece string section behind the Tiny Desk for his three-song performance, we were more than happy to oblige him.

Morton showed off the soulful Fender Rhodes chops that helped him earn a mentor in Stevie Wonder and membership to Maroon 5, while backed by percussion, bass and the same Matt Jones Orchestra that accompanies him on his soulful solo releases, Gumbo and Gumbo Unplugged.

He began prepping what would become his noteworthy pot of musical stew after moving back home to New Orleans from L.A. a couple of years ago. The preacher's kid with the gospel roots wound up collecting two 2018 Grammy nominations for music from Gumbo, his fourth studio LP. Ironically, those industry accolades came as a direct result of Morton choosing to go his own way.

"So many people didn't want me to be myself," he told the Tiny Desk crowd during the intro to "Claustrophobic," a song about the attempts major labels made to box him in. "But I decided I was going to be PJ no matter what people told me and tried to get me to do."

They tried some strange things, too. One record exec interested in signing him even suggested pairing Morton with popular West Coast hip-hop producer DJ Mustard. "It was so far off base," he told NPR's Michel Martin last January. Instead, he started his independent music label, Morton Records, with the vision of creating a new Motown in his hometown.

New Orleans' musical lineage seasons the entire set of his Tiny Desk performance, including the second song, "Go Thru Your Phone," on which Morton's joined by backing vocalists The Amours. All together, it made for a total of 15 musicians squeezed behind Bob Boilen's desk — not to mention Matt Jones, conducting off-camera. The industry may not have seen the vision, but from where we stood it was a perfect fit.

Set List

  • "Claustrophobic"
  • "Go Thru Your Phone"
  • "First Began"

Musicians

PJ Morton(lead vocals/rhodes), Brian Cockerham (bass), Ed Clark (percussion), Matt Jones (Matt Jones Orchestra Conductor), Clayton Penrose-Whitmore (Violin), Arianne Urban (Violin), Olya Prohorova (Violin), Alexandria Hill (Violin), Danielle Taylor (Violin), Istvan Loga (Viola), Caitlin Adamson (Viola), Seth Woods (Cello), Malik Johnson (Cello), Victor Ray Holms (Bass), Jakiya Ayanna (background vocals), Shaina Aisha (background vocals)

Credits

Producers: Rodney Carmichael, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Khun Minn Ohn, Maia Stern, Bronson Arcuri; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Alejandro Escovedo performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 16, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Alejandro Escovedo

The veteran rocker and a backup band from Italy play songs from their album The Crossing, chronicling an American Dream of rock and roll and Beat poetry.

Nao performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 11, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Nao

The U.K.-based singer-songwriter takes the Tiny Desk on a cosmic journey through her Saturn return.

John Paul White performs at the Tiny Desk Family Hour at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, during the SXSW 2019 music festival. Aaron Rogosin/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Aaron Rogosin/NPR

Tiny Desk Family Hour: John Paul White

The former Civil Wars star performed a new song that even makes his kids cry.

Cautious Clay performs at the Tiny Desk Family Hour at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, during the SXSW 2019 music festival. Adam Kissick/Courtesy of SXSW hide caption

toggle caption Adam Kissick/Courtesy of SXSW

Tiny Desk Family Hour: Cautious Clay

The Brooklyn-based artist, in addition to offering up an impeccable vocal performance, brought perhaps the only flute solo of SXSW 2019 to NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour.

Gaelynn Lea performs at the Tiny Desk Family Hour at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX during the SXSW 2019 music festival. Adam Kissick/Courtesy of the photographer hide caption

toggle caption Adam Kissick/Courtesy of the photographer

Tiny Desk Family Hour: Gaelynn Lea

The former Tiny Desk Contest winner brought the crowd to its collective feet.

Leikeli47 performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 8, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Leikeli47

The artist came to the Tiny Desk masked up, as always, the better to catch a glimpse of her soul.

Back To Top