When looking to hear music that is full of creative spontaneity and daring improvisation, the person to see is Butch Morris, a meticulous and innovative conductor, composer and arranger.
Morris doesn’t just push the envelope-he pushes it directly over the cliff, rejuvenating it with his own brilliant “conduction” concept. This process, which he initiated, is his distinctive way of creating orchestral and ensemble music.
You can catch Morris’ conduction explorations with the Lucky Cheng Orchestra every Monday evening during October and November at Lucky Cheng’s Chinese Restaurant, where waitresses dress in drag and walls are covered with busty pinups, located at 24 First Ave. in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Sets take place at 8 and 9:30 p.m. Admission is $10.
The Cheng Orchestra doesn’t include your usual jazz instruments, but strikes a classical note with violas, cellos, bassoon, vibraphone, harp, bass and clarinet. Regardless of the configuration of instruments or musicians, Morris always takes his audience on an unbelievable journey.
His Orchestra Slang, where he conducted a chorus of voices not in song but reciting poetry, was phenomenal. The voices, all reciting different poems while being conducted like any regular ensemble, was a stroke of Morris’ conduction genius. The vibrant voices made your body tingle. Wow.
Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris doesn’t categorize jazz, avant-garde, blues or classical music-he uses it all to revolutionize his musicians as audiences fall under his unique spell of conduction.
On Oct. 14 and 15, Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) will feature special guests Andy and Jerry Gonzalez at 8 p.m. at Symphony Space, located on the corner of 95th Street and Broadway.
The ALJO will kick off its 10th anniversary season with “Andy & Jerry’s: A Tribute to the Gonzalez Brothers.” The brothers were founders of the pioneering, Bronx-born Fort Apache Band. O’Farrill will premiere his “Ft. Apache Concerto,” a personal tribute to the brothers.
“Our music is a reflection of our experience here in New York City and of our consciousness of the cultural roots from the Motherland, Africa, which we keep alive,” stated Jerry Gonzalez. “We are all second-generation [Afro-Hispanic-Indian] musicians living in New York City. We are bilingual, we play the blues and we play rumba. The seed planted by Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Mario Bauza and Machito y sus Afro-Cubanos, Chano Pozo, Cachao, Coltrane, Miles and Duke re-emerged and evolved further.”
Jerry Gonzalez is a conguero and trumpeter, while Andy Gonzalez plays the upright bass and violin. Drawn to music as early as the age of 8, they began playing professionally while still in junior high school.
During these years, the brothers and their family lived in the Edenwald Projects in the East Bronx. Jerry Gonzalez played his congas on Sunday afternoons in the big park (where all the teenagers hung out styling and talking stuff); one of the main kids playing with him was Nanny Grant. Andy Gonzalez described him as one of the best players around. Unfortunately, Grant didn’t follow his dream to become a musician. And although Grant passed away years ago, I’m sure he would be overjoyed to know his childhood friends, now great musicians, are still giving him big props.
In 1968, during his senior year at the New York College of Music, Andy Gonzalez joined Ray Barretto’s powerhouse salsa band and later toured with Dizzy Gillespie. Meanwhile, Jerry Gonzalez was off pursuing his own career, playing with the likes of Charlie Palmieri, Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Hilton Ruiz, Celia Cruz, Graciela, Chico O’Farrill, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Daniel Ponce and Max Roach.
In 1971, Andy Gonzalez joined his brother and signed aboard Eddie Palmieri’s renowned salsa band La Perfecta. In 1980, Jerry Gonzalez formed his own band and released a successful album, “Ya Yo Me Cure.” Later, in the early ’80s, he reunited with his younger brother and together they created Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band (with drummer Steve Berrios)-a conjunto band combining Latin, jazz, rhythm and blues.
The ensemble’s first two albums were recorded live at European jazz festivals, “The River is Deep” (1982) in Berlin and “Obatala” (1988) in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fort Apache Band, named for an area in the South Bronx, is a flexible ensemble, numbering as many as 15 members at a time. The band has hosted a number of masters: John Stubblefield, Nicky Marrero, Papo Vazquez, Kenny Kirkland, Sonny Fortune, Steve Turre, the late Jorge Dalto and Milton Cardona, among others. Today, the band remains intact and brothers Andy and Jerry are still pushing the music.
When pianist Randy Weston plays, listeners can hear the music of the Motherland, Africa, the whispers of the ancestors and a rhythmic flow that connects the rustling trees of Africa to the shores of America. His music and words reflect the Black Diaspora.
Weston, the 2011 Guggenheim Fellow for the Creative Arts, will be honored by TRANSART Inc. at the annual Jazz Treasures program on Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Rotunda in Brooklyn Borough Hall, located at 209 Joralemon St.
Other awardees are Dr. Robert O’Meally, founder and former director of the Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies, and Charenee Wade, the second-place winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition.
Sharif Abdus Salaam, host of “Jazz Alternatives” on WKCR-FM, is the master of ceremonies. Performances will feature saxophonist Salim Washington, Wade and others.
Tickets are only available online at www.transartinc.org. Admission ranges from $20 to $50. For more information, please call (845) 384-6350.