Anna Webber and Angela Morris speak

Hi all,

Angela Morris and Anna Webber here, co-leaders of the Webber/Morris Big Band. Dave asked us to say a few words about what we’ve been up to since our album, Both Are True, came out in April on Greenleaf.

Angela: When the Covid shutdown first hit, I wondered when we’d be able to play music together again, what the first concert back would be like. Then a white Canadian woman called the police on a Black birder in Central Park, while across the country, the consequences of the police’s arrival played out in the murder of George Floyd. For me, protest felt like the only option. Music has felt powerful and necessary during the spring’s Black Lives Matter protests. As a white musician in a Black art form, participating in the protests has led me to reflect on the fact that my formal education was in white (male) institutions with white teachers, and thinking about the significant impact this structure had on my engagement with the music. Until a few weeks ago, if someone asked me to play a tune like Ellington/Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” I would feel a wave of stress and shame, as though I was standing again in front of a “jury” grading my performance at school. Now I find myself marching through New York, playing Caravan, overcome by gratitude, surrounded by humans united in a deep hunger for justice.

Anna: In our public lives, as white artists, it’s crucial for us to make more space for Black voices and other voices that are often marginalized. In June, we gave a talk at the Vancouver Jazz Festival (virtually of course!) about integrating improvisation and composition in a big band context. We wanted to address the fight for racial justice, and acknowledge our deep debt to Black American music. Both of us are originally from Canada, where it’s common practice for an event to begin with an acknowledgment that the land we inhabit is the traditional territory of Indigenous people. Words don’t replace action, but they do have power. We began our talk with a cultural acknowledgement, and would like to do so here.

We acknowledge that big bands and jazz music are rooted in Black culture, and our art form would not exist without its originators: Black Americans. We honor the legacy of Black musicians like big band composers Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, and Anthony Braxton.

We’d also like to encourage everyone to support Black artists at this time (and later too!). Here are some of our friends, and also people we don’t know that well but who we think are incredible. Maybe you know some of them, maybe you don’t – but they are all wonderful.

Reginald Chapman (WMBB’s amazing bass trombonist)
Dave Adewumi (Dave often plays with WMBB and is a total monster)
David Byrd-Marrow
Sarah Elizabeth Charles
Luke Stewart
Nick Dunston
Matana Roberts
Tomeka Reid
Chris Williams

We also invite you to join us, if you have the means, in supporting organizations that are fighting for racial justice.

In other WMBB news, we’re trying to imagine our way into composing for the big band when just imagining breathing the same air is hard! As far as everything else is concerned, we feel lucky to be healthy and to have stable living situations. There are a couple things online that we’re proud of and would love it if you checked them out.The talk that we gave at the Vancouver Jazz Festival is archived here:

We talk about integrating improvisation and composition in a big band context – both in our music, and in the music of composers we love!

Our big band show at the Jazz Gallery in NYC in March 2019 was archived by them and can now be streamed on their website here:

If you’ve already checked out Both Are True, thanks! If not, it’s still available on Bandcamp. We’ve also newly posted our scores online for sale – both as individual study scores/performance scores, and a score pack of the whole album. Check it out here.

Thanks, and be well,

Anna + Angela

[Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Anna and Angela’s Webber/Morris Big Band for being named #6 Rising Star Big Band in the 2020 DownBeat Critics Poll. And to Anna for winning the Rising Star Flute category!]