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

Melanie Faye plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Melanie Faye (Home) Concert

Melanie Faye stole the show during Masego's Tiny Desk concert, so we invited her to perform her own quarantine concert.

Kate Davis plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Kate Davis (Home) Concert

One of our favorite indie rock lyricists performs a four-song concert for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

John Legend plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

John Legend (Home) Concert

This four-song set for Tiny Desk's quarantine series is utter joy.

Lyric Jones plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Lyric Jones (Home) Concert

The Boston-born, Los Angeles-based rapper does it all in this performance for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

Thao Nguyen plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Thao Nguyen (Home) Concert

Thao is joined by two cellists in this remarkable set for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

Lucinda Williams plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Watch Lucinda Williams Play A Tiny Desk From Home

Lucinda Williams and her guitar mate, Stuart Mathis, set up shop for a Tiny Desk home concert at Thirty Tigers' headquarters in Nashville.

Nilüfer Yanya plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Nilüfer Yanya (Home) Concert

After performing for us last year, Nilüfer Yanya rejoins the Tiny Desk team from afar, performing three works from her last album and debuting a new song.

Tom Adams plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tom Adams (Home) Concert

The singer and songwriter plays four new songs from his home in Cornwall, accompanied by a modular synthesizer and fronted by Adams' gifted falsetto.

Lenny Kravitz plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Lenny Kravitz (Home) Concert

The bohemian rock icon performs a Tiny Desk quarantine concert from his home in the Bahamas.

Diana Gordon plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Diana Gordon (Home) Concert

The singer-songwriter channels Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan in her Tiny Desk quarantine concert.

Back To Top