is the word jazz musician James Morrison chooses to use to
describe Gospel music, the subject of his latest album.
“There’s a great energy to it and it’s uplifting
and inspirational and I think we could use a bit more of that
no matter who we are or where we are...” says the 42-year-old
“I can think of some examples of even musicians I have
worked with that have been drawn in unsuspecting to playing
some Gospel music when we’re doing some secular music
- doing another sort of concert or project - and I’ll
pull out one of these songs and they’ll end up playing
“And (I can’t count) the number of times we’ve
had the comment that said ‘Wow, that’s just feels
really different to play, that’s great, it’s really
inspiring’. Even without having made a conscious decision,
they’re being moved along by and I think it’s
the same for the audience. Without even stating a belief or
even agreeing with you, they just can’t resist, they
just can’t deny the feeling that is there.”
Morrison playing the trumpet. PICTURES: Courtesy of
can do a great version of a heart-breaking love song
then yes, you reach everyone with that feeling and
you can reach them just as well as you can with a
Gospel song but when you’ve reached them, the
message you’re delivering is the heart-break
love story. I guess that’s the difference here
- when you reach them with the message (in Gospel
music), it’s a little more important.”
It’s been a long time coming but Morrison has finally
put together an album of Gospel music - Gospel Collection
- in a project that was clearly a labour of love.
“Over the years I’ve recorded a track or two of
gospel on all sorts of albums that I’ve done and each
time I do, people say ‘Oh, I love that you should do
a Gospel album’.” he explains.
“And of course I always say, ‘I will, I want to,
I’ll get around to it’...and then you look back
about five years later and its still on the list. But fortunately
- with a bit of pushing from a couple of people - I’ve
finally got this one done. I should have done it years ago
because we had an absolute ball.”
Morrison says selecting songs for the album was easy - “I
said ‘What do I feel like hearing on a Gospel collection?’”
- and he included many of his own personal favorites, including
two songs by Andre Crouch.
“I grew up listening to Andre Crouch...(I)t’s
Gospel music that draws heavily on soul and on the blues.
It’s right up my alley being a jazz musician. I’ve
always loved listening to that sort of music.”
Morrison says that while he loves any kind of music (and in
particular, jazz), Gospel, for him, has a special significance.
“You can do a great version of a heart-breaking love
song then yes, you reach everyone with that feeling and you
can reach them just as well as you can with a Gospel song
but when you’ve reached them, the message you’re
delivering is the heart-break love story. I guess that’s
the difference here - when you reach them with the message
(in Gospel music), it’s a little more important.”
Born in the town of Boorowa in western New South Wales in
1962, Morrison grew up in a Christian home as the son of a
preacher (in fact his father is still a preacher, now at Wesley
church in Pittswater). His family lived in several small country
towns before finally settling in Sydney when he was about
seven-years-old. It was then that he first discovered his
love for jazz.
“I’d heard plenty of music up to then but it was
all sitting on the organ stool next to mum...” he recalls.
“The church we came to Sydney (Mona Vale Methodist),
the minister there (Neil Gough) played the trombone and they
had a Gospel band. This was all new to me, all of a sudden
it wasn’t just the organ, there was drums and bass.
I was immediately hooked and wanted to be part of the whole
Morrison started his first band - a traditional Dixieland
jazz band - at about the age of nine.
“Each week was full of music,” he says. “Church
wasn’t just a Sunday morning or Sunday evening thing.
There were several bands and they had rehearsals through the
week and choir rehearsals and the young people’s group
had a band. It was just a week of making music and it pretty
much centred around the church.”
Morrison describes his training as being “pretty much
on the job” (although he did graduate from the NSW Conservatorium
of Music with an associate diploma in jazz in 1980). Not bad
when you consider that as well as the trumpet he can also
play the trombone, euphonium, flugel horm, tube, saxophones
“That came from I guess, being in that environment too.
They’d be putting together a number and they’d
say ‘We need someone to play the bass or we need someone
to play some organ here or do that’ and I’d be
there. So I very quickly gathered whatever skills will necessary
to do the job.”
COLLECTION: Morrison's first Gospel album includes
renditions of 'Down By The Riverside', 'Amazing Grace'
and 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee'.
says his Christian walk didn’t have any “epiphany”
moments such as that of Paul on the Damascus road. Rather,
he says, Christianity was for him a gradual awakening.
“It was part of life and yet it wasn’t unquestioned.
It wasn’t like you don’t question it because you
are part of a Christian family. In fact, quite the opposite.
There was great encouragement to question it all the time
and to validate it all the time and perhaps because of that,
it wasn’t the case of getting to on great moment - there
was a constant series of them.”
Asked what God means to him, Morrison says his thoughts are
probably best summed up in the song ‘His Eye Is On The
Sparrow’ (which, along with the likes of 'Amazing Grace',
'Just A Closer Walk With Thee' and 'Down By The Riverside'
one of the songs on his new album).
“Just that awareness - which is something that we seem
to need very much as humans - that you’re not alone
and it isn’t meaningingly. That you’re not just
here for 70 or 80 years and that’s it, but that this
is all part of something much bigger. That’s got to
be the best realisation.”
Morrison was playing professionally in nightclubs by the age
of 13 and his first big international break came shortly after
he turned 16 when he debuted in the United States with a concert
at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Twenty-five years of touring
These days Morrison is careful to balance his touring commitments
with family life at home on Sydney’s northern beaches
where he lives with wife Judi and their three sons - Sam,
12, William, 9, and Harry, 7.
Where he would once go on tour for four months at a time,
now he’ll come home every week or so no matter where
he is to spend some time with the family.
“Sometimes it gets quite ridiculous. A couple of weeks
ago I flew in early in the morning - at about nine and then
went out on the boat for a few hours with the boys and then
flew out overseas again at midday. So I had three hours at
home but it was better than not coming home for a few hours.”
Morrison says while he doesn’t know many musicians who
enjoy the lining up at airports to catch the next plane to
where-ever, he does still love the feeling of playing in front
of people. Despite having played with the who’s who
of today’s jazz musicians - Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles,
Ray Brown, B.B. King and Wynton Marsalis to name a few (“most
of my record collection” is how he puts it) - Morrison
says he still feels like it’s just the beginning.
“I always feel like this is just the warm-up, wait till
we get to the real stuff. And it’s always been like
that and then, sure enough, you do get the next stage, it
keeps going to something bigger.”
He says he is looking forward to watching some of today’s
younger jazz musicians reaching their potential and being
part of that. To that end, he funds a jazz scholarship each
year and is part of an organisation called Generation Jazz
which holds a national stage band competition each year.
“We had 25, 60 piece bands all competing this year and
to get that many young people - all high school kids, all
together - making music is an amazing feeling. Just to sort
of have contact with them all and to inspire them hopefully
and watch the ones that are really obviously headed somewhere
and to see them develop each year is very exciting.”