Morris came to attention with saxophonist David Murray’s groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Morris’s brother, bassist Wilber Morris sometimes performed and recorded with Murray during this period.
Morris has gained more notice and acclaim directing various ensembles in what he calls Conduction (a term knowingly borrowed from science): a type of structured improvisation where Morris directs and conducts an improvising ensemble with a series of hand and baton gestures. These conductions have received generally positive reviews, and are often considered quite unique. (Critic Thom Jurek has written, “There are no records like Butch Morris’ conduction sides, nor could there be, though he wishes there were.” ) Ed Hazel writes, “At his best, Morris can shake players out of their old habits, or place a microscope on one aspect of a musician’s artistry and build an orchestral fantasia around it.”
Drummer Charles Moffett conducted improvisations of jazz musicians in the 1970s, and Morris credits Moffett as a major influence.
In his travels and many recorded conductions, Morris has worked with a wide variety of musicians. A partial list of such musicians follows, but special note should be made of frequent collaborator J.A. Deane, and his innovative use of live sampling.