The improvisational guitarist breaks down the influence of non-European music on his playing.
Jazz guitarist Joe Morris has shared a new track and essay as part of the REMAIIN (Radical European Music and its Intercultural Nature) initiative. In line with REMAIIN’s exploration of non-European cultural traditions and their influence on music in Europe, Morris’ essay questions the legacy of western classical music, particularly in relation to the guitar, and breaks down how non-western styles has influenced his playing. The essay was produced in association with The Attic.
“I questioned the importance of western European Classical Music as a necessity as soon as I started thinking seriously about music in the early 1970s” he writes. “My instrument, the steel string guitar, be it the flat top acoustic, archtop acoustic or the electric has no connection to that discipline. It’s a new world instrument. Neither Bach, Mozart or Beethoven ever wrote a note for it, no royal sponsor commissioned a concerto for steel-string guitar.”
He goes on to highlight that the dominance of western classical music has laid the foundation for a “right way” to play certain instruments and created an unjust hierarchy within music across the world. “Before imperialism and colonialism tore apart the lives and cultures of people all over the world, music had no center, and Western Music was just that, music of the west, of Europe,” Morris writes. “There wasn’t a correct way to play music then and there isn’t one now.”
Later in the essay he explains how “being a guitar player means immediate disengagement from the official or institutional world of music, and that is a huge part of its appeal for me… There wasn’t a hierarchy overseeing guitar, it was do-it-yourself. Or, as I tell all of my students, the entire history, repertoire and technique for steel-string guitar was invented by the people who play it.”
Morris goes on to detail his journey through jazz into improvisational guitar playing, citing explaining that “over the years I have drawn on non-western, non-European music to solve the objectives of composition and improvisation.” He continues, “West African string music is fundamental to everything I play. Of course there is no blues guitar without it. To build my technique I’ve drawn influence from the African instruments kora, n’goni, halam, zintir, guimbre, riti, indingiti, gonje, and burundi bass zither. I’ve also drawn from Tibetan Buddist Chant, Javanese and Balanese Gamelan, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean traditional music.”
Read the essay in full on the REMAIIN website and listen to Morris’ new track Circuit #3 below.