Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

An honest, decent man

IEUAN GOCH AB EINION remembers Keith Morris, the outstanding Cardiff jazz musican and composer.

The eminent jazz musician and composer Keith Morris was killed late last Wednesday night along with fellow musician and socialist Joe Scurfield when they were tragically mown down by a
speeding car in a hit and run incident in Newcastle's West End.
My compatriot and comrade will be sorely missed. Keith was a shy and retiring man in many ways and was not one to boast about his talents.

He did not suffer fools gladly and often turned his back on safe opportunities to make money in favour of taking risks and maintaining innovation in his musical life.

He came to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1971 to study music at Newcastle University. In a rich and fulfilling career thereafter, he worked first as a musician and community artist and later became
widely known as an innovative jazz composer whose style defied categorisation.

During the 1980s, Keith was a stalwart member of the Tyneside radical performers' collective Red Umbrella. He played on picket lines and at demonstrations in The Stumbling Band and at benefits for strikers, solidarity movements and other progressive causes as a founder member of the band Red Music.

He performed with Red Music at the Rote Lieder Festival in the GDR in 1987 and, later that year, at the Red Poppy Festival in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria from where his seminal song Walking in the
Street was broadcast to a television audience in the socialist countries of 44 million people.

In 1984, he joined Tony Haynes's Grand Union Orchestra and met and worked with a rich variety of musicians from all kinds of world music traditions.

A widening network of collaborators thereafter included Andy Shepherd, Annie Whitehead, Katherine Tickell, Karen Tweed, John Warren, Paul Jayasinha, Lewis Watson, John Harle, Steve
Lodder and Carol Grimes.

In 2000-2001, he was resident composer at Kulturhuset USF in Bergen, Norway, where he wrote the jazz musical Down River - settings of texts by poet Sean O'Brien.

At the turn of the millennium, he established the influential Newcastle jazz club Schmazz, bringing radical performers like Gilad Atzmon and Reem Kelani to the town.

Saxophonist Lewis Watson put it in a nutshell when he said of Keith: "He was one of the nicest guys, honest, decent and without any musical prejudices."

I shall remember him as much for his dry Cardiff wit and his healthy scepticism about the high and mighty as for his outstanding musical talents.

Keith leaves behind his partner, the poet Ellen Phethean and two sons Fred and John.


original source:
19 June 2005


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