Many up-and-coming artists (and even some already-there ones, like singer Dee Dee Bridgewater) will be performing at the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time this year. But only one of them can rightly claim to be the winner of the 2019 ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. That would be composer and pianist Ben Morris, who received the award earlier in 2019 after being selected by a jury of composers and ASCAP members including Fabian Almazan, Erica Lindsay, and Nate Smith. Morris will perform with his quintet—featuring violinist/singer Zosha Warpeha, multi-winds instrumentalist Juan Gabriel Olivares, bassist Dan Montgomery, and jazz drummer Sam Gautier—on Friday, August 2 at 1 p.m. on the festival’s Storyville Stage.
In an interview on the ASCAP Foundation’s website, Morris recounted his first visit to the festival as a fan in 2012. “Being at Newport was a magical experience,” he said, “and I never imagined I would be performing at the same festival only a few years later. It’s an absolute honor to be invited and to be playing the same day as some of my musical idols.”
Morris lives equally in the worlds of jazz and contemporary classical music, and his various projects—including music for chamber and large ensembles, theater music, electroacoustic and intermedia works, and film scores—frequently blur the lines between those two worlds. He most recently spent time in Oslo, Norway studying jazz on a Fulbright Scholarship, composing a work for extended big band and video inspired by his Norwegian heritage. He has been a composer fellow at music festivals and workshops, including the Aspen Music Festival and the International Gugak Workshop in South Korea. Morris has also received an ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award, a DownBeat Award, and a commission from the American Composers Orchestra Jazz Composers Institute. He completed his studies at Rice University and the University of Miami and will continue on to a doctoral degree at the University of Colorado Boulder this fall.
This will be the fourth year that the ASCAP Foundation has teamed with Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc. to promote emerging jazz talent during the fabled three-day festival in Newport, R.I.
Go here for more JazzTimes coverage of the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival.