Dan Morris Tribute

On Sunday, November 2, at 7:00 p.m., the third in the fall series of Sunday evening concerts was presented by Open Gate Theatre, a cavalcade of performers in the official Dan Morris Memorial Concert.

Morris, born in Memphis, TN, and raised in the Los Angeles area, was a highly gifted multi-percussionist/composer/bandleader. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, where he took up drumming at an early age and played in rock bands before becoming interested in more adventurous musical endeavors after hearing people like Bill Bruford, Dan eventually became actively interested in jazz; progressive pop; modern classical, Carnatic, African, and other world musics–and ultimately got involved in playing them all, often incorporating hand drums, mallet percussion, and electronics into his extended drum set vocabulary at various times.

Eventually studying at CalArts, Dan immediately became more active than ever before on the Los Angeles creative music scene, leading various versions of his own group, Top Skin Floor, and contributing memorably to the music of Steuart Liebig’s Quartetto Stig, James Carney, Noe Venable, Larry Karush, Brad Dutz’s Obliteration Quartet, Greg Ellis, Michael Jon Fink, Julie Spencer’s group Colored Fish, Matt Piper, Monc, and many others. He may be best known for being included on a world tour as one of two adjunct percussionists (along with Steve Hodges) with the Smashing Pumpkins.

A student of such notables as Peter Erskine, Poovalur Srinivasan, Alfred Ladzekpo, and Julie Spencer, Dan was also a sought-after drum teacher for many years. His interest in computers, computer games, and animation eventually took him to a corporate position where he was last employed, at Activision. Despite a lifetime of often very difficult and debilitating health challenges, Dan Morris unexpectedly and tragically died on December 21 of 2007 at the age of thirty-seven after lapsing into a coma five days prior.

Dan is survived by his wife Marie Morris, who together with Dan’s close friend of many years, Daniel Pinder, organized this memorial concert featuring only a few of Dan’s many musical friends and colleagues, as time and space could not allow for the countless artists touched by Dan’s friendship to contribute. But what a memorable evening of music: rock band The Cheat (fronted by Morris’ students) opened the show with a punchy, Interpol/Radiohead-tinged set that included “Don’t Waste My Time,” a song that Morris advised them not to abandon, and “Shut Your F–kin Face, Uncler F–ker” from the South Park movie. Silver Lake chanteuse Eleni Mandell stepped up next to deliver her lovely “Dreamboat,” with Jeremy Drake providing impressionistic burbles of guitar. Takako Uemura sang three Japanese lullabies, backed by an all-percussion ensemble that included Zen Master of Ceremonies Alex Cline. Dan’s widow Marie sang a self-penned a cappella song written especially for the occasion. Matt Piper sat in for a brief bewitching snatch of avant-banjo. James Carney, in from New York and sporting a snappy porkpie hat, chose not to play at all, instead proffering his personal memories to the audience. Brad Dutz’s Obliteration Trio bashed out a percussive ode to Mr. Morris’ love of birds by mimicking the sounds of fowl throughout their improv segment. Pianist Larry Karush played a three-part suite of drastically different stripes, including a “classical blues” and a “a sort of Zen drone.” The show was rounded out by Alex Cline’s Band of the Moment, which was pretty much a Murderers’ Row of Crypto’s heavy hitters: Alex and Erin Barnes on percussion, G.E. Stinson on guitar, Dan Clucas on cornet, Steuart Liebig on bass, and a rare live appearance by keyboardist Wayne Peet. The BOTM performed “He Hears the Cry,” the 15-minute hymnal epic from Alex’s 1992 album Montsalvat that Morris loved and performed with his own ensembles. Norton Wisdom, he of the janitorial rings of keys, provided a furious live-painting accompaniment.

(For some archived memories of Mr. Morris, check out Greg Burk’s MetalJazz site.)