‘The best reason’
Interview with James Morrison
One day while walking home from school, 7–year–old James Morrison, then a trumpet player in his school band, heard jazz for the first time. It came from a man playing a banjo. “Can you teach me that song?” asked James. “Sure,” the man said. With trumpet in hand, James learned to play “The Mason Street Blues.”
On April 27, 2014, during the New York Staff Band’s 127th Annual Festival with the renowned Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers at Centennial Memorial Temple in Manhattan, Morrison revealed his deep musical and spiritual roots. He also granted an exclusive interview to Good News!
Good News! Tonight, you played a trumpet with your right hand and a piano with your left hand. When did you first perform this feat?
JM: When I was about 15 years old. The piano player had gone off somewhere during the break and had failed to get back in time. So I played myself, because I can play piano. I thought, Hey, I could try playing the horn too!
GN! Did you get your start in The Salvation Army?
JM: As a child, I was a Methodist. There, the music was all about the organ and singing, which I love. However, in my late teens, I thought it was so amazing that the Army had such an affiliation with brass music. Since then, I’ve done many things with the Army, such as play with the staff band in Melbourne, Australia.
GN! You also play in secular venues. Does your Christian witness spill over there too?
JM: It matters more why you are playing, rather than what you’re playing. I play because God has gifted me. When you recognize that God has gifted you for a reason, and you play with that reason in your heart, even when playing jazz in a secular venue, people will say, “Wow! This feels special. What’s going on?” And they invite you to talk to them about life and about why you are the way you are. So, it’s great!
GN! In what other venues has your music opened spiritual doors?
JM: I’ve been the guest of many bands. After this event, I’m going to France to be the guest of a big band. One thing is the audience, and performing on stage with bands, but the other thing is the rehearsal time, getting ready, and becoming familiar with a band that doesn’t know you. They may have heard your music, but during rehearsal, they want to know you. And it’s always joyous. I’m playing because of the gift. And they can feel that. They have other guests who perform for different reasons, and they feel the difference—as they should!
GN! What words of encouragement would you give to young musicians in today’s Army?
JM: I would tell them that, “of all the reasons in the world to play music, you have the best reason. And it’s why you play that matters—not how you play or what you play.” We like to get good at handling our instruments and we want to play with excellence. But anybody can do that. We can play all sorts of music. That’s fine. But it’s why you play that lifts you above the ordinary. Many people play because they “like” music. Well, people also “like” pizza. You’ve got to have a bigger reason than that if you want your music to inspire people. So while you’re practicing hard, be inspired by keeping your eye on why you are doing it. And as long as you are inspired, you will inspire other people too.
by Warren L. Maye