Remembering Butch Morris, The Man Who Conducted Improvisation The jazz musician was beloved by his fellow artists and acclaimed by critics and fans for his ability to spontaneously coerce music from an ensemble. Working with musicians of all stripes, he pioneered a system of real-time arranging he called Conduction. He was 65.

Remembering Butch Morris, The Man Who Conducted Improvisation

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Butch Morris was beloved by fellow jazz musicians and fans for his ability to conduct improvisation. That might sound like a contradiction, but Morris pulled it off with jazz ensembles and symphony orchestras around the world. Butch Morris died yesterday of cancer. He was 65. Howard Mandel has this appreciation.


HOWARD MANDEL, BYLINE: Lawrence Douglas "Butch" Morris was a Vietnam War veteran and an experimental cornetist when he arrived in New York City from California in the early 1980s with his friend, saxophonist David Murray. Together they came up with a style dubbed avant-gutbucket.


MANDEL: But in 1985, Morris introduced a new approach to music with far-reaching implications. Conduction, he called it, a method of composing by conducting, using well-defined hand gestures to summon sounds from musicians, singers and sometimes poets, too, as he told NPR's NEWS & NOTES in 2008.


MANDEL: Seldom using scores or preconceived motifs, Morris constructed spontaneous compositions from what the artists he gathered came up with in response to his cues. Here's Morris in rehearsal, captured in the documentary film about him, "Black February: Music Is An Open Door."



MANDEL: Morris made music happen with ensembles of every type, all over the world: from classical musicians for whom any sort of improvisation was a foreign language, to free jazz musicians who balked at following any rules, to groups that used instruments of their native lands. He didn't care about boundaries or labels.

: I'm a jazz musician. I know what I am. Whether the music you think I'm playing or professing is jazz or not is not - kind of not my problem, you know what I mean? I'm a jazz musician, and this is what I do. I do conduction. And it doesn't matter whether I do it with classical musicians or jazz musicians or traditional Japanese instruments, Korean instruments, Turkish instruments. It doesn't matter. This is what I do.

MANDEL: When he conducted, musicians poured forth their personal sounds, became expansive upon command, provided counterpoint, recapitulated and unfolded works that were always fresh, new and unrepeatable. Even when he wrote beautiful melodies, he treated them as raw materials, useful for orchestration in the moment.


MANDEL: His influence has spread widely. Today, many musicians try to do what Butch Morris started, though seldom with equal results. For NPR News, I'm Howard Mandel in New York.


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