Is This Jazz?: Chatting with Angela Morris
In December, Providence was introduced to Brooklyn-based composer/saxophonist Angela Morris and her group Rallidae. After watching their inspiring performance, I had the chance to speak with her briefly and found her thoughts on music to be as interesting as her performance. So we arranged to have a longer interview in which we could discuss her journey, process, life as a musician and much more. We sat down on the phone for a little over an hour, which I recorded and will release as a podcast so that her thoughts can be heard in full. Here I’ll present a few of her remarks in an abridged fashion to give a sense of her vision, but I certainly implore the reader to listen to our discussion to get the complete story. Here are a few bits and pieces from our conversation:
I started out playing violin and took strings from age 10, but when I was looking for a high school I decided to go to North Toronto because they have a good orchestral program. When I went to their open house, the stage band played, and I decided I wanted to go and get in that band. Of course, there was no violin in that group so I picked up the saxophone. Looking back, what I was mainly interested in was improvising and opening up to a lot of different types of music. In order to learn that at the time, you had to be on an instrument typically associated with jazz.
I liked making music with other people I found around the community. A big ingredient for me was in high school. I had a riot girl influenced band where I’d sing, play guitar and write songs. That spirit of DIY and the idea that I could make my own music were probably two big influencers, instead of just playing other people’s music.
In college I got to see Wayne Shorter play live and for the first 15 minutes I remember waiting for the song to begin because it was all so open and I didn’t realize at first what was going on. I had never heard anything like that before. That really opened my mind up and it became a direction I’d go in afterward. What I admire about Wayne’s output is how individual it is and how uncompromisingly he followed his own sound, and how he does that also within the community by bringing that out in others.
If I was fulfilled by going down a more established musical path, I think I would’ve done it by now! *laughs* In a lot of ways, being in the cracks or following a unique sound is a curse because people don’t know what to do with you and part of a career is fulfilling people’s expectations. But I’m trying to make music that is “for me,” that is my music. I’m not setting out to make music that “no one has heard before,” but that is as honest as possible. The danger in saying that, though, is the idea that it’s fixed or unintentional. We all have habits and tendencies, but the last thing I want to do is make music music that reflects that, instead of my vision and intent.
If I’m composing in a non-specific way, a melodic fragment or groove might come along in my improvising and I may follow that thread. But if, for instance, I want a new piece for Rallidae, I’ll picture the people in the band and the possibilities that we have when singing together or different sounds we can make, and it gives me constraints that help me find the path.
Thanks so much to Angela for her time. Be sure to visit angelamorrismusician.com to learn more about her music and happenings, and to hear examples of her various projects. For the entire interview, head to isthisjazz.tumblr.com or find “The 3 Year Plan” podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Happening Around Town:
The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; Mondays @ The Met (Pawtucket)
Is This Jazz?; first Friday, bimonthly @ AS220 (Providence) isthisjazz.tumblr.com
Joe Potenza; Fridays @ Rosmarin (Providence)
Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)
Wednesday Night Sessions; Wednesdays @ Arias Lounge (Providence)
Jazz Jam;Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)
Groove E Tuesday;Tuesdays @ Murphy’s Law (Pawtucket)
Parlour Jazz Jam; third Sunday each month @ The Parlour (Providence)
World Class Jazz Night; Thursdays @ Norey’s (Newport)
Matunuck Beach Hot Jazz Party; Thursdays @ The Ocean Mist (Matunuck)
To add your listing please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Shaw is a local composer, performer, writer, and podcaster. Dig into his works at ahueofshaw.tumblr.com or find him on Twitter @ahueofshaw.