Morgan Powell, born in West Texas in 1938, is a composer and jazz trombonist whose works are performed internationally. Powell’s primary compositional interests are in the areas of instrumental and vocal music; he explores the rich and complex components of improvisation and the spirit and elements of jazz, together with “New Music” compositional concepts, techniques and notation.
I try to instill in my students, the notion that they must have passion for the Earth and all living things while having their feet on the ground and their minds contemplating the mysteries of the universe. We have no idea why we are here nor what to do about it, so those who have something to say about this must speak—must take a stand for all life and its evolution against hate, oppression, and destruction. My concern is with those things on Earth which have little or no defense against the greed of mankind, and one of those things is man himself. This concept is the concern which fuels much of my compositional thought. Composing is the hardest work I’ve ever done. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes it’s drudgery. But in any case, music is what I want to do and when I do it, I am totally lost within the process.
To me, music is no answer, it’s simply another question. But as human activities go, creating original art is perhaps more worthwhile than most pursuits. At its best it denies the separation of the parts of man which we, in the university (the lab), dissect and analyze because of our curiosity. So in art we put the parts back together, replacing some old parts with new ones.
Artists are doubters. “The believer is happy, the doubter is wise.” A Greek proverb for which I have little doubt. Human life may or may not have a purpose, but it supplies no answers, only questions. Sometimes I think that life is something of a joke, to be laughed at and enjoyed while trying to encourage humanity not to destroy everything it encounters (including itself). Couldn’t humanity nourish life’s natural evolution, as Mother Earth does so well with nature. All the while, we work.
I compose music in various ways depending on who-knows-what? Passion, intellect, desire, nobility, no ability, etc. Sometimes I compose while finding sounds at the piano; sometimes through pre-compositional study of idea(s) and structure(s) which take(s) me to numbers, statistics, and/or drawings and analysis of them and/or anything else which may provide more thought and action. Sometimes I improvise with music-friends and analyze (from recordings) what happened and occasionally get ideas for composing.
I refuse commissions for pieces which require conditions which infringe upon my creativity, unless I can adopt them to raise my own questions. My efforts to do otherwise have failed. There have been and are many talented arrangers of tunes. I am not one of them.
My compositions combine jazz, free and structured improvisations and current classical musical traditions as well as those of the past. I avoid the traditional divisions between “high” and “low” performing, making music continues to be a wonderful life of work and play.
When I was six years old, I was attracted to the trombone because of the beautiful sound my cousin Dub produced on his silver 1941 Buescher. Performing served me well. Playing jazz, shows, recordings and dance gigs provided more than enough $ to put me through college and support a family. At the age of 24 my chops went south and I was unable to play. It took years to reconstruct my embouchure such that I could perform adequately,but in doing so, my playing changed from that of a “studio” player to a jazz player anddiscovered the trombone could be more than “studio” smooth. It can be rough, ugly, sexy and so much more. Yes, I eventually found my voice.