To be honest, I can't say I ever fully "got" Lawrence "Butch" Morris, the sui generis jazz maestro who passed away yesterday at the age of 65. Morris was the inventor of "conduction"—a complex series of gestures that purported to indicate not only tempi and dynamics, but also elements of phrasing, key, and pitch, so that no actual score is needed. Aspiring to something between free jazz and contemporary classical, the experiment failed as often as it succeeded, such as the first time I saw him at Barbes in 2008:
"The whole thing sounded like Ellington on acid: full of bleats and squawks, rising and falling like some kind of sickly accordion. I haven't yet decided if Morris is a charlatan or a mad genius."
Regardless of how well his improvsations worked, Butch was absolutely fearless and unapologetic: qualities to be celebrated in the realm of art, where taking chances always trumps playing it safe. Not to mention, Morris was madly influential to an entire generation of jazz innovators, with everyone from Darcy Argue to Vijay Iyer sending in heartfelt tributes. One thing's for certain, though—that furnace of invention known as the NYC underground burns a bit less brightly tonight.