As with most bass players around town, there's a good chance that even if you don't recognize Chris Morrissey by name, you've seen him play in some capacity. After years backing Mason Jennings, playing in rock trio the Bill Mike Band, singing harmonies behind Haley Bonar, and, most recently, joining Ben Kweller on tour, Morrissey is no stranger to the indie-rock scene. And now, after years as a sideman, Morrissey is taking an opportunity to step into the spotlight with his excellent jazz debut, The Morning World.
Billed as the Chris Morrissey Quartet, the group also features recognizable local jazz aficionados Dave King on drums, Michael Lewis on saxophone, and Peter Schimke and Bryan Nichols splitting piano duties (with Nichols performing at this weekend's pair of CD-release shows). As one could expect from this combination of powerhouse players, the entire album is executed with a breathless precision, and Morrissey's songwriting abilities are on display in his lighthearted hooks and melodies. Throughout the disc, Morrissey's spry sense of humor (song titles include "The Sub-Prime Sword Claims Another" and "Mountain Don't") is contrasted with the seriousness of these players' technical abilities.
In preparation for his CD release, Morrissey recently sat down with City Pages to discuss his new role as a frontman, his recent move to New York, and how the Mini Apple compares to life in the big city.
City Pages: Okay, first things first: You just skipped town earlier this year! What caused the move to the Big Apple?
Chris Morrissey: I've always loved New York, and the Ben Kweller guys—a lot of them lived in New York. So I already had a social circle out there. I had just made a jazz record, and it's always been a dream of mine to be in that city in some capacity. There's a romance to the idea of making a jazz record and taking it to New York City.
CP: What are your first impressions of the city?
Morrissey: In a lot of ways, it's still the New York that artists talk about, and in a lot of ways it's really not. Like, the reasons that Bob Dylan moved to New York are no longer the reasons people move to New York. People move there because he moved there, not because it's a place where you can live inexpensively and work on your art and be weird. That doesn't exist anymore.
CP: How does it compare to Minneapolis? Are there opportunities there that don't exist back home?
Morrissey: There's a music infrastructure for any genre in New York. There's labels that have been established for years. I got my record on a really great label within the first three weeks that I moved. I couldn't have done that here. They're called Sunnyside; there's legendary musicians that have their records on this label. With help from some of the gentlemen that played on my record, I got introduced to these guys—that couldn't happen if I hadn't moved. If I hadn't moved, I wouldn't have a record out right now.... That said, I'm very partial to this place. My friends in New York start rolling their eyes when I start talking about Minnesota; I speak very affectionately about it.
CP: You've been a professional rock musician for a long time now. What led you to make a jazz record?
Morrissey: I was a jazz musician way before I was a rock musician. My career led me to rock bands. I was going to college studying jazz and classical music, and I got a call to audition for Mason [Jennings]'s band seven years ago. When I was in college, I was planning to move to New York to get out there and start on that kind of music. Rock has been sort of this detour.... I just finally found the time to make a record. I'm totally content living the rest of my life in the rock world and making jazz records when I have time.
CP: Has playing one genre influenced the other? I hear a lot of almost "pop" melodies on the new disc.
Morrissey: In classic jazz, it's a very short-form melody, and then solo sections where you just improvise over the form and play on the melody. I think that my record is sort of a cross between a jazz record and a rock record, in how it was made. A lot of jazz records were made in one day. We took three days, and then I mixed for four days, which is a lot. There were some songs where we did one take, and there were some songs where we did 25 takes. I'd like to think that what we ended up with was some cross between the two ways of making records.
THE CHRIS MORRISSEY QUARTET will play a pair of CD-release shows on FRIDAY, JULY 31, and SATURDAY, AUGUST 1, at the ARTISTS' QUARTER; 651.292.1359