Joe Morris biography
Joe Morris was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 13, 1955.
At the age of 12, he took lessons on the trumpet for one year. In 1969 at the age of 14, after many years of being an habitual truant, he was sent to live at a school for troubled children operated by the State of Connecticut. He began playing guitar later that year when on a visit home a friend showed him some chords on his new guitar. With the help of some money borrowed from his brother and money saved doing required work at the State school, he bought his first guitar and amp. He played his first professional gig later that year.
With the exception of a few lessons, Morris is self-taught. The influence of Jimi Hendrix and other guitarists of that period led him to concentrate on learning to play the blues. Soon thereafter his sister gave him a copy of John Coltrane's Om which inspired him to learn about jazz and new music. From age 15 to 17, he attended a student run alternative high school called The Unschool in downtown New Haven next to the campus of Yale University. Taking advantage of the open learning style of the school he spent most of his time day and night playing music with other students, listening to ethnic folk, blues, jazz, and classical music on records at the public library and attending the various concerts and recitals on the Yale campus. He worked to establish his own voice on guitar in a free jazz context from the age of 17, drawing on the influence of Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman as well as the AACM, BAG, and the many European improvisers of the '70s.
Later Morris would draw influence from traditional West African string music, Messien, Ives, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Lyons, Steve McCall and Fred Hopkins. After high school he performed in rock bands, rehearsed in jazz bands and played totally improvised music with friends until 1975 when he moved to Boston.
Between 1975 and 1978, Morris was active on the Boston creative music scene as a soloist as well as in various groups from duos to large ensembles. He composed music for his first trio in 1977. In 1980, he traveled to Europe where he performed in Belgium and Holland. When he returned to Boston, Morris helped organize the Boston Improvisers Group (BIG) with other musicians. Over the next few years through various configurations BIG produced two festivals and many concerts.
In 1981, Morris formed his own record company, Riti, and recorded his first LP Wraparound with a trio featuring Sebastian Steinberg on bass and Laurence Cook on drums. Riti records released four more LPs and CDs before 1991. Also in 1981 he began what would be a six year collaboration with the multi-instrumentalist Lowell Davidson, performing with him in a trio and a duo. During the next few years in Boston, he performed in groups which featured among others: Billy Bang, Andrew Cyrille, Peter Kowald, Joe McPhee, Malcolm Goldstein, Samm Bennett, Lawrence "Butch" Morris and Thurman Barker. Between 1987 and 1989, Morris lived in New York City where he performed at the Shuttle Theater, Club Chandelier, Visiones, Inroads, Greenwich House, etc, as well as performing with his trio at the first festival Tea and Comprovisation held at the Knitting Factory.
In 1989, Morris returned to Boston. Between 1989 and 1993, he performed and recorded with his electric trio Sweatshop and electric quartet Racket Club. In 1994 he became the first guitarist to lead his own session in the twenty year history of Black Saint/Soul Note Records with the trio recording Symbolic Gesture. Since 1994, he has recorded for the labels ECM, Hat Hut, Leo, Incus, Okka Disc, Homestead, About Time, Knitting Factory Works, No More Records, AUM Fidelity and OmniTone. He has toured throughout the US, Canada and Europe as a solo and as a leader of a trio and a quartet. Since 1993 he has recorded and/or performed with among others: Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Joe and Mat Maneri, Rob Brown, Ivo Pearlman, Borah Bergman, Andrea Parkins, Whit Dickey, Ken Vandermark, DKV Trio and Hession/Wilkinson/Fell. He has lectured and conducted workshops at Harvard University, New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, Philadelphia Institute for the Arts and North Down Institute, Bangor, Northern Ireland. In 1995 he taught a class on improvisation in the Spring semester at Tufts University Extension College. Morris was nominated as Best Guitarist of the year 1998 at the New York Jazz Awards.