Morrison’s inheritance | James, Harry and Will at Stonnington

At a very special gig this year at Stonnington Jazz (Thursday 22 May, Malvern Town Hall 8:00 pm), James Morrison will be playing with his sons Harry and William, in an ensemble that also features drummer David Jones and the vocals of Hetty Kate.

We were able to catch up by email with James, Harry and Will, intrigued by what it must be like for the young musicians to have a famous musician father and for James how it must feel to be playing with young people from his own family.

Questions with James  |  Questions with Harry and Will How did you, Harry and William come to be playing in a band together. whose idea was it? What were the challenges (if any)

l-r Harry Morrison (bass), Will Morrison (guitar) and James Morrison (various) | appearing as 'Inheritance' at Stonnington Jazz this year with master drummer David Jones and the wonderful Hetty Kate | image supplied by Stonnington Jazz
l-r Harry Morrison (bass), Will Morrison (guitar) and James Morrison (various) | appearing as ‘Inheritance’ at Stonnington Jazz this year with master drummer David Jones and the wonderful Hetty Kate | image supplied by Stonnington Jazz

James Morrison: We just started jamming together at home; this was a natural thing once the boys started to play jazz. As they became more proficient, it was also a natural progression to start doing some gigs together. At first they were included in bands I already had. Then when they were preparing at the beginning of this year to leave home for study in South Australia, at the Generations in Jazz Academy, I decided it would be good to record together before they went. We had so much fun doing this (with the addition of master drummer David Jones) that I decided to form ‘Inheritance’. The idea behind this band is that the playing of jazz is passed on from generation to generation and my boys have obviously inherited a love of this music. This is inheritance, not only in the usual biological sense but also in the broader sense of passing on a tradition.

Challenges?  If this was any other endeavour we might have had all sorts of father/son issues but because it’s music, we all just revel in the joy of creating sounds that make people happy.

AJN: You’re a very motivated (some would say ‘driven’) person. Has that passed down to Harry and William and how does that make you feel as a Dad?

James: I’ve been very careful not to expect anything of the boys as far as music goes. I never asked them to practice or pushed them towards being musicians at all. I figured if they were going to really be musicians, they would find the passion themselves. On the other hand, if I pushed or even hinted that they should follow this path, I may have put a stumbling block in their way.

Having said that, they both have a huge drive to absorb this music and be the best they can be – that could be genetic 🙂

AJN: How do you choose which instrument/s to play in a given piece. Is it all decided before hand or do you sometimes make different choices depending on how the room feels and other factors?

James: I just play what I feel at the time. This will often be similar each time we do a piece but anything can happen. What I feel will be influenced by everything from who I’m playing with, to the audience reaction.

AJN: You’ve done so much work with young musicians, but family collaborations are on a different level. They can be wonderfully close – and terribly fraught. How has the experience been for you, compared to working with other young people? 

James: The boys and I seem to have a great relationship – we respect each other and I always make room for them to be themselves. I think it helps that I acknowledge – no matter how accomplished I may seem – that I am still learning and we can learn from each other. Problems always arise (not just in music) when people start to believe that their way is THE way to do something. Fortunately I’ve seen enough to know that there are as many ways to play jazz as there are people playing it!

AJN: What can you tell us about the repertoire your band will be playing at Stonnington? Does it include originals? Standards?

James: A bit of both, probably leaning towards standards – the boys are quite traditional in their taste at this stage. It should be mentioned here that not only is David Jones the 4th member of the group (we just love playing with David) but that we will also be joined by wonderful vocalist Hetty Kate.

AJN: Are there any tunes that you’ll be playing on the night that have particular significance for you?

James: We never set what we will play until we get there – but I think we’ll include the title track from our recording Chai Party which allows for a lot of improvisational freedom.

Questions with Harry and Will  |  Questions with James

AJN: How did you choose your instruments (I’m asking because neither of you are playing trumpet, trombone…)?

Harry: I originally had a guitar at home that I would muck around on occasionally, but I never really learnt it… My brother William decided he wanted to play guitar so I gave him mine and I decided to play electric bass. The switch to double bass was interesting, dad came into me one day and said, ‘Harry, would you like to play double bass and learn it?’ I said ‘Yes’ He then said ‘Great, you have 2 months to learn it and then we are doing a three week show in Perth’. I also have chosen to play trumpet and trombone and have played alongside dad in a soul band on trombone.

Will:Originally I chose to play guitar after being told in year 7 music class to pick between piano and guitar as it was a requirement. I ended up falling in love and play every day. My main inspirations are Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, Charlie Christian and George Golla.

AJN: I imagine having James as a dad would be wonderful for a young musician – and potentially daunting as well. How does it feel when you’re playing with him in this band?

Harry: Playing with dad is an amazing experience and I feel as if I am constantly learning the more I do it. They say you are only as good as the company you keep and I don’t think I could be in any better company than dad.

Will: It is nothing short of amazing. I find it extremely easy to lose myself in the music when I’m playing with my Dad, which in turn, makes it easier for the audience to lose themselves in the performance.

AJN: Are there any tunes that have particular meaning to you in the set list you play in this band?

Harry: Honeysuckle Rose – The first time I heard my idol Ray Brown ever play the double bass and every time I hear that song it reminds me of that day.

Will:First of all, this question suggests that we have a ‘set list’ of songs… which we do not… but if I had to pick one song we regularly play, it would have to be ‘Moten Swing’ as it was one of the first jazz standards I learnt.

AJN: What advice you would give to a young musician with a world famous musician parent?

Harry: Listen to everything they have to say and soak it up like a sponge, every last bit of knowledge will help one way or another.

Will: I believe that, as lucky as I am, there is no different way to treat a family member due to their position in society. That being said, reap the opportunity of all the benefits it provides.


Book tickets to Inheritance and other concerts at Stonnington Jazz >

James Morrison’s website >