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Byron Morris and Unity

An exciting jazz saxophonist who has spent most of his adult life in Washington, D.C., Byron Morris is the son of the late saxman/bandleader James William “Jim Billy” Morris (b. February 18, 1916, d. February 8, 1985) and has led or co-led the band Unity since the ’70s. The alto, tenor, and soprano saxophonist was born and raised in Roanoke, VA, where as a high school student, he played alongside pianist Don Pullen in a band called the Junior Aristocrats (which was named after the Aristocrats, a swing band his father led from 1947-1960). After graduating from high school in 1959, Morris attended Tuskegee University and graduated in 1964 with a degree in engineering. Since the mid-’60s, Morris has paid his bills as an engineer (he has worked for IBM as well as the federal government), while devoting evenings and weekends to jazz. Morris, who moved to Washington, DC as an adult, played in both R&B and jazz bands in the ’60s, and in 1972, he co-founded Unity with trumpeter Vincent McEwan and composer Gerald Wise. Specializing in a very spiritual style of post-bop along the lines of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, and John Coltrane, Unity often featured the expressive female vocalist Jay Clayton. Unity’s first LP, Blow Thru Your Mind, was recorded in 1973, followed by Vibrations, Themes and Serenades (recorded in 1975 and 1978), and Honey, I Love (recorded in 1981). Unity didn’t record any more studio albums after that, although different Unity lineups came together for various concerts in the ’80s and ’90s. Other bands Morris has co-founded include Three Saxes for Lester and the Swingin’ Saxes, both of which have celebrated the legacy of Lester Young. In 1994, Morris’ own By-Mor label reissued material from Blow Thru Your Mind and Vibrations, Themes and Serenades on the CD Vibrations in Time. Subsequently, By-Mor released Live! At the East Coast Jazz Festival, which documented a 1996 performance by Unity. Blow Thru Your Mind and Vibrations, Themes and Serenades were both reissued on CD in full by Japan’s Céleste Music in 2001 and Blow Thru Your Mind received yet another reissue in 2002 , this time on CD and LP from Britian’s Soul Jazz Records. Morris, meanwhile, has continued to perform and record with Unity. The group added pianist Hilton Ruiz in 1998 and issued a new CD of live performances in 2003 (Unity Y2K). His latest CD is; Unity, A Retrospective (2011).