Black February Screening Sunday March 17 at Nublu


Black February will be screening Sunday, March 17 at 8 pm at the East Village club Nublu, home to Butch’s conductions with the Nublu Orchestra. It’s a special way to bring his spirit back to one of his regular stomping grounds, the place of many an epic musical flight by the Maestro and his crew.

Nublu is located at 62 Ave. C between 4th St and 5th St., in the heart of New York’s Alphabet City.

See you there!

A Tribute to Butch by Wayne Horvitz


One of Butch’s early and frequent collaborators, Wayne Horvitz, has written a beautiful tribute to Butch on the NewMusicBox Blog.

It’s a moving exploration of Butch as human being and artist:

No matter how far out the music got, Butch always wanted it to feel like a song, like a singular piece of music, and his system and his presence allowed him to create that. It didn’t always work. No music always works. But the potential was phenomenal, and it created a music that simply couldn’t exist any other way.

Butch’s humanity was phenomenal. Every one of us who feels like Butch was one of our dearest friends knows we share him with hundreds of other people, if not more.

I encourage you all to read the whole piece, My Only Mentor, Butch Morris (1947-2013) here.

A Special Screening on Feb. 10, 2013. It’s Butch’s Birthday!


We’re screening Black February at Nublu on Feb. 10, 2013. It’s Butch’s birthday, and Nublu is holding the screening as part of a month-long dedication to the man. The screening starts at 8:00 pm and will be followed by music.

Nublu is located at 62 Ave. C in the East Village, between 4th and 5th Streets. It was a special place for Butch, scene of some memorable nights with the Nublu Orchestra.

It will be a special night, so if you’re in NYC, come celebrate with us!

The Death of Butch Morris and His Improvised LIfe

A piece I wrote for in honor of Butch.

Lawrence D. Butch Morris in “Black February.”

The death of avant-garde composer and musical pioneer Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris on Tuesday, Jan. 29, has unleashed a flurry of memorials to his life and technique. Butch will rightfully be remembered most for his development of “Conduction,” his trademarked technique of improvisation, which he developed as a musical sign language and used as a tool for live composition with large ensembles.  But what shouldn’t get lost in the eulogies that have begun flooding the Internet is the fact that Conduction, beyond an innovative system of music-making, was in Butch’s hands a deeply demanding and personal method of self exploration.

It wasn’t just about the music, but also about the people who were making the music.

I spent several years making Black February, a documentary about Butch. He’d asked if I was interested in recording a series of concerts he was performing in New York in February 2005. He planned on playing every night of that month, often several times a night with different ensembles at various locations throughout the city, as a sort of marathon celebration and showcase of Conduction.

“Black February,” as he called it, marked 20 years of the technique he had developed partly through his work with such jazz luminaries as Gil Evans, Alice Coltrane, and Henry Threadgill and brought to fruition with saxophonist David Murray’s big band.

By the time those 28 days were done, Butch had performed 44 shows in nine venues with almost 100 musicians in the city, playing everything from funk, big band jazz, choral theater, electronic music and beyond. It was a muscular gesture, a bold statement meant to show off the potential he’d seen in his technique when he debuted Conduction No. 1 in New York with an ensemble that featured, among others, saxophonist John Zorn, multimedia artist Christian Marclay and guitarist Brandon Ross.

During the interviews for the film, he told me, “What I’m asking for is a human feeling, and in many cases, that’s a difficult thing to ask for.” He explained that the act of asking for a sincere sound from a musician and not being satisfied with some tired vamp amounted to an act of personal confrontation. “Because I’m asking you to give me musically or sonically something that’s actually very close to you…It’s more personal than we think. And then when you get down to this encounter, then you find out how personal it is.”

That encounter, both between Butch and the musicians, and the musicians with themselves, was at the heart of his technique and moved Conduction for me into some realm beyond music into a zone somewhere between psychology, philosophy and spirituality.

In a fundamental way, that sense of going beyond music and into deeper personal realms was simply a reflection of Butch’s own personality. Despite his reputation as a demanding band leader, he was also known as a gregarious East Village presence and generous friend, much beloved by musicians and non-musicians alike.

The purity in his nature that people naturally reacted to was best epitomized for me this fall, when on a walk through the East Village he was accosted by a child from the neighborhood.

“Butch! Your majesty!” she called out.

There’s no more fitting title for the artist we lost.

Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris Feb. 10, 1947-Jan. 29, 2013

458529_10151045510947000_1124958245_oMost of you have probably heard by now that my great friend Butch Morris passed away on Tuesday.

Can any words capture this loss?

I had a dream last night in which Butch was at the center of a group of people, me included. He asked us to kiss him goodbye and then left. I only found out hours later that he had died.

It seems like a fitting farewell from a man who liked to arrive dramatically on a scene and then leave unexpectedly, like a creature of legend.

I am grateful for the time I spent with him and will forever treasure the lessons he taught me: how to be a real artist in the world, and how to love the people around you.

There won’t be another like him.

Rest in peace, my friend.


JD Allen describes what it’s like to be in a Conduction. Here, Butch composes some funk with the Nublu Orchestra, featuring Kenny Wollesen on drums.

Conduction No. 1

The first Conduction, as described by Greg Tate, Brandon Ross and Howard Mandel. That seminal performance featured John Zorn, Christian Marclay, Zena Parkins, Tom Cora and Brandon, among others.


Here’s a clip from Black February. Butch describes the purpose of Conduction: not just to make music, but to drive for something much deeper.

Butch at Nublu


Butch will be conducting the Nublu Orchestra in the East Village every Monday night this month as part of Nublu’s 10th anniversary celebration. Two sets every week. Funk like you’ve never heard it before.