Music students have their own Morse code

At the center of Mike Morris’s senior recital Wednesday night, he’ll play his own Morse code. Called “Morris Code,” the new work has been written for jazz trio with Morris on drums, Spencer Church on bass, and pianist Mark Shriver.

“It’s an experiment in composition,” Morris writes in his program notes, “electric-sounding in nature, a little bit dark – with dissonance.” At some point, the piece “yields itself to spelling my last name in Morse code.”

How creative is that for a senior recital at Fort Lewis College?

The Pueblo native will cap his musical studies at Fort Lewis by playing his own “Code” with jazz trio, plus solos on timpani and marimba, and two works with the Jazz Hawks, a septet originally formed by Jonathan Latta, director of percussion studies.

At 7 p.m., in Roshong Recital Hall, Morris and company will present a challenging and entertaining program, free to anyone who loves new music and especially jazz. Morris will begin with a solo on multiple percussion instruments: “Canned Heat,” by Eckhart Kopetski. Bongos, toms, splash cymbals and even a metal coffee can may well support the composer’s exploration of factory sounds.

“I’ve grown to not only being strictly drum-set based,” Morris writes, “but an all encompassing percussionist.”

To demonstrate his versatility, Morris will follow “Canned Heat” with “Black Sphynx,” a work for solo marimba.

“The piece tells the story of the awakening of the Sphynx,” Morris writes, “as if from a dream.”

An unusual composition for solo timpani, Elliot Carter’s “VIII: Canaries,” continues to showcase Morris’s musical stretch. Contrasting dynamics, multi-meter measures and extended techniques may well demonstrate the creative capabilities of the instrument usually seen at the back of an orchestra. Recently, Morris filled in for Latta as timpanist for the San Juan Symphony in two big performances of Handel’s “Messiah.”

“Morris Code” opens the recital’s jazz section followed by “Obsesión,” by Pedro Flores. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” will close the one-hour concert.

The FLC Jazz Hawk Septet has been around since Latta came to town and organized the combo. They play in a variety of venues, including area schools, and in the summer FLC in the Park series. Latta and Morris play drums and vibes and are joined by Church, Shriver, saxophonist Sam Kelly and percussionist Cooper Travis.

“Manteca” is Morris’s favorite Latin jazz song – “of all time,” he writes. Many people in the audience will recognize Dizzy Gillespie’s signature: “It has a mambo feel, the tune is catchy and it’s considered one of the most popular jazz standards ever.”

In addition to his percussion studies at FLC, Morris is a member of the 101st Army National Guard Military Band of Colorado.

Student recitals are free, and more will follow as the semester comes to a close. Saxophonist Sam Kelly will perform his senior recital at 7 p.m. Friday; Nathan Depetris, tuba, follows at 3 p.m. Sunday. All are in Roshong Recital Hall. See you there. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.

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