(May 31, 2016) – It is with tremendous sadness that OHIU announces that the previously announced concert featuring saxophonist Marco Eneidi has been changed due to his untimely passing. Mr. Eneidi’s longtime musical colleagues who were to perform with him that evening — Joe Morris on bass and Luther Gray on drums — will commemorate the late artist’s life and music in performance with the Hudson Valley’s own Joe McPhee on saxophones and trumpets.
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. He started on guitar in 1969 at the age of 14. He played his first professional gig later that year. With the exception of a few lessons he 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 The Unschool, a student-run alternative high school near the campus of Yale University in downtown New Haven. 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 record 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, Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman as well as the AACM, BAG, and the many European improvisers of the ’70s. Later he would draw influence from traditional West African string music, Messian, 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 he 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 he helped to 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 he formed his own record company, Riti, and recorded his first LpWraparound 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 he 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 he 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/Soulnote 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 and Avant. He has toured throughout the U.S., 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, Raphe Malik, Ivo Pearlman, Borah Bergman, Andrea Parkins, Whit Dickey, Ken Vandermark, DKV Trio, Karen Borca, Eugene Chadborne, Susie Ibarra, Hession/Wilkinson/Fell, Roy Campbell Jr., John Butcher, Aaly Trio, Hamid Drake, Fully Celebrated Orchestra and others.
He began playing acoustic bass in 2000 and has since performed with cellist Daniel Levin, Whit Dickey and recorded with pianist Steve Lantner.
He has lectured and conducted workshops throughout the US and Europe. He is a former member of the faculty of Tufts University Extension College and is currently on the faculty at New England Conservatory in the jazz and improvisation department. He was nominated as Best Guitarist of the year 1998 and 2002 at the New York Jazz Awards.
From a 2014 Boston Globe profile of Luther Gray:
“It was a typical week for the drummer and composer Luther Gray. On Monday, he played his weekly gig with tenor sax giant Jerry Bergonzi. On Wednesday, it was Lawnmower — with alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, bassist Winston Braman, and violinist Kaethe Hostetter. Thursday, he convened something billed as simply “The Luther Gray Group,” with violinist Mimi Rabson, cellist Junko Fujiwara, pianist Chris McCarthy, and bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa.
The gigs alternated between the Lilypad and Outpost 186, two small gallery/performance spaces a few blocks away from each other in Cambridge’s Inman Square, and spanned a variety of styles. Bergonzi’s quintet plays evolved, hard-swinging post bop. Lawnmower tends to split the difference between free jazz and rock. The Luther Gray Group played what’s best described as structured free improvisation, working from scores with Gray offering verbal “arrangements” in instructions before each piece. Although that group is ostensibly a jazz band, when Gray suggested “a Morton Feldman kind of thing” for one piece, no further explanation was necessary.
Gray is equally comfortable with jazz swing, free jazz, and punk rock, and he likes to mix them up. So it’s not all that surprising that for Lawnmower he’d enlist Braman — best known around town as a rock bassist, but with broad musical interests. “[For Lawnmower] I want to have rock musicians who improvise like rock musicians, but listen to other kinds of music,” says Gray. “If I start playing a jazz beat, I don’t want the bass player to start to walk, as I would if I were in a different scenario.”
Gray has two new CDs, “Lawnmower II” (the first edition in 2010 featured jazz-affected indie-rock guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan
Littleton along with Hobbs), and a trio CD, “Drums and Horns, Horns and Drums,” with Hobbs and saxophonist Allan Chase. And though Chase and Hobbs are jazz players, they were both happy to tear into the Bad Brains’ “We Will Not” on Gray’s album.
It’s not unusual for jazz musicians of Gray’s generation to pull music from the rock and pop world into their universe. But Gray is especially adept at drawing from multiple influences in a single gig and making it part of a unified whole. With Bergonzi, he’s the dream post-bop drummer with his in-the-pocket groove, his beautifully articulated ride-cymbal rhythms, the variety of fills and after-beat exclamations with which he drives a tune from one chorus to the next. But on another gig, he’ll mix those elements up with free excursions in texture and time.
Chase draws comparisons with the avant-garde drummer Andrew Cyrille, who has “an amazing control of sounds on the drums, but underlying everything is a great swing feel and a great time feel.” Another point of comparison is Billy Hart, who can play in a variety of bands “and make them sound good, and make them sound right without giving up his own voice.”
The results are beguiling. On “Lawnmower II,” a piece like “Good Beat” lives up to its name, riding on an easy folkloric vamp laid down by Gray and Braman, whereas “Walk in the Park” could be some lost jazz ballad standard, marked by Hobbs and Hostetter’s dreamy interplay. The trio record has its beboppish moments, as well as pointed free interplay between Hobbs and Chase.
In Gray’s bands, context is everything. About Lawnmower, he says, “It’s not supposed to be a noisy fusion band or an amplified jazz band. It’s mixing worlds together rather than changing them to fit each other. So everything maintains its integrity, but at the same time is recontextualized. Rock bass lines, jazz rhythms, folk melodies arrive at your ears differently, and thus have a different effect.”
Gray came by his polyglot abilities honestly. He grew up in D.C., during the heyday of that city’s vibrant hardcore scene, home to bands like the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Soulside, and Fugazi. So he played punk rock.
Then he heard the jazz drummer Victor Lewis in concert. “From then on I was one of those crazy jazz guys. What do they call it — the fervor of the newly converted.”
Drummer Luther Gray with bassist Jacob William performing in William’s June Unit band recently at Outpost 186 in Cambridge.
Gray studied music at the University of Miami, where he was deeply influenced by the drummer Steve Bagby, who showed him how to mix free and jazz drumming. Another key influence was the D.C. drummer Mickey Newman. “Mickey had the greatest cymbal beat I’ve ever heard. From studying with him I learned about time — how to feel it, how to express it.” And, though Newman was a swing-jazz drummer, he made another crucial point: If the beat is strong enough, you don’t have to play it. “And that’s where the free thing comes in — the time is still going, but you can do whatever you want.”
But rock never left Gray, and, back in D.C. in the late ’90s, he played both — rock most notably with Jenny Toomey and her band Tsunami, and jazz with the veteran Blue Note-session bassist Butch Warren. Toomey’s “Fall on Me” is on “Drums and Horns, Horns and Drums.”
Gray finds that both indie-rock and jazz share an appealing, non-commercial imperative. “There’s the freedom to use whatever you want. . . . You’re not supposed to do anything other than what you think sounds good.””