JOE MORRIS was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 13, 1955. At the age of 12 he took lessons on the trumpet for one year. He started on guitar in 1969 at the age of 14. He played his first professional gig later that year. With the exception of a few lessons he is self-taught. The influence of Jimi Hendrix and other guitarists of that period led him to concentrate on learning to play the blues. Soon thereafter his sister gave him a copy of John Coltrane’s OM, which inspired him to learn about Jazz and New Music. From age 15 to 17 he attended The Unschool, a student-run alternative high school near the campus of Yale University in downtown New Haven. Taking advantage of the open learning style of the school he spent most of his time day and night playing music with other students, listening to ethnic folk, blues, jazz, and classical music on record at the public library and attending the various concerts and recitals on the Yale campus. He worked to establish his own voice on guitar in a free jazz context from the age of 17. Drawing on the influence of Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman as well as the AACM, BAG, and the many European improvisers of the ’70s. Later he would draw influence from traditional West African string music, Messian, Ives, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Lyons, Steve McCall and Fred Hopkins. After high school he performed in rock bands, rehearsed in jazz bands and played totally improvised music with friends until 1975 when he moved to Boston.
Between 1975 and 1978 he was active on the Boston creative music scene as a soloist as well as in various groups from duos to large ensembles. He composed music for his first trio in 1977. In 1980 he traveled to Europe where he performed in Belgium and Holland. When he returned to Boston he helped to organize the Boston Improvisers Group (BIG) with other musicians. Over the next few years through various configurations BIG produced two festivals and many concerts. In 1981 he formed his own record company, Riti, and recorded his first LpWraparound with a trio featuring Sebastian Steinberg on bass and Laurence Cook on drums. Riti records released four more LPs and CDs before 1991. Also in 1981 he began what would be a six year collaboration with the multi-instrumentalist Lowell Davidson, performing with him in a trio and a duo. During the next few years in Boston he performed in groups which featured among others; Billy Bang, Andrew Cyrille, Peter Kowald, Joe McPhee, Malcolm Goldstein, Samm Bennett, Lawrence „Butch” Morris and Thurman Barker. Between 1987 and 1989 he lived in New York City where he performed at the Shuttle Theater, Club Chandelier, Visiones, Inroads, Greenwich House, etc. as well as performing with his trio at the first festival Tea and Comprovisation held at the Knitting Factory.
In 1989 he returned to Boston. Between 1989 and 1993 he performed and recorded with his electric trio Sweatshop and electric quartet Racket Club. In 1994 he became the first guitarist to lead his own session in the twenty year history of Black Saint/Soulnote Records with the trio recording Symbolic Gesture. Since 1994 he has recorded for the labels ECM, Hat Hut, Leo, Incus, Okka Disc, Homestead, About Time, Knitting Factory Works, No More Records, AUM Fidelity and OmniTone and Avant. He has toured throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe as a solo and as a leader of a trio and a quartet. Since 1993 he has recorded and/or performed with among others; Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Joe and Mat Maneri, Rob Brown, Raphe Malik, Ivo Pearlman, Borah Bergman, Andrea Parkins, Whit Dickey, Ken Vandermark, DKV Trio, Karen Borca, Eugene Chadborne, Susie Ibarra, Hession/Wilkinson/Fell, Roy Campbell Jr., John Butcher, Aaly Trio, Hamid Drake, Fully Celebrated Orchestra and others.
He began playing acoustic bass in 2000 and has since performed with cellist Daniel Levin, Whit Dickey and recorded with pianist Steve Lantner.
He has lectured and conducted workshops trroughout the US and Europe. He is a former member of the faculty of Tufts University Extension College and is currently on the faculty at New England Conservatory in the jazz and improvisation department. He was nominated as Best Guitarist of the year 1998 and 2002 at the New York Jazz Awards