Organic Roots

bringing chaos to form and form to chaos – there is strength in the wild

Included in this collection are compositions and improvisations from 1957 to 2014, most of which have not previously been released on CD. These works were assembled from cassette, reel to reel, DAT and other digital recordings. These works represent my compositional and improvisational interests—all of which stray from the norm. They have been performed and recorded by jazz ensemble, voice, string, wind and percussion, and soloists—all of whom who as artists, are forward looking and who execute their art at the highest level.

Since my youth I wanted to create music. I am a strong believer in education but didn’t find myself suited for it as a student or teacher. But ironically, I taught at North Texas, Denton (jazz); Berklee School, Boston (jazz); and University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign (composition and theory) and was offered tenured teaching positions at four additional universities. During my thirty-one years of teaching, I was involved in creating music with remarkable composers and performance artists, all the while making enduring friendships with them.

Morgan Powell Organic Roots CD

Some of the groups and individuals with whom I performed in these recordings are: North Texas Jazz Lab Band, Dr. Eugene Hall and Leon Breeden, directors and players Fisher “Mickey” Tull, Marvin Stamm, Billie Harper, Tom Wirtel, Archie Wheeler, Dee Barton, Claude Johnson, John Crews, John Von Ohlen, Gary Peyton and many others; University of Illinois Jazz Band, John Garvey, director with players Ron Dewar, Howie Smith, Jim McNeely, Jim Knapp, Ron Elliston, Cecile Bridgewater, Don Smith, John Monaghan, Charles Brougham, Jim Darling, Frank Harmantas, Fred Atwood and many others; UIUC Contemporary Chamber Players and Singers, William Brooks, conductor; Tone Road Ramblers with John Fonville, David Sasaki, Eric Mandat, Howie Smith, Ray Sasaki, Jim Staley, Michael Udow, Steve Butters, Ron Coulter, Dorothy Martirano, Tomeka Reid, Armand Beaudoin; Cleveland Chamber Ensemble, Edwin London, conductor. Other performers include Dan Perantoni, tuba; Zae Munn, cellist and singer; Dennis Kam, piano; Andrea Zonn, violin; David Onderdonk, guitar; Dan Anderson, bass; and Thomas Fredrickson, bass.

The following notes were written by Thomas “Shab” Wirtel in March 2017:

We were in our early 20s: Thomas “Shab” Wirtel, trumpet; Morgan Powell, trombone; Lanny Steele, piano; Toby Guynn, bass. We had been playing jazz together for about 4 years, and in the spring of 1962, we realized that graduation from North Texas State University would put an end to what we saw as a collective partnership in music-making. Not only had we performed and recorded together in the celebrated One O’clock Lab Band and Jazztet (5 horns plus rhythm section) at NTSU, we had all written music for these groups as well. Furthermore, we had all studied music composition with Professor Samuel Adler, who was a fabulous teacher and always supported us in our careers. The result of all these interactions was a fusion of jazz improvisation and contemporary music composition which included an innate sense of musical form, structure, and timing. We met once a week in Lanny’s tiny piano room and did our experimenting with free improvisation. Except for who would start, there were no rules. We were literally standing elbow-to-elbow and someone would start, and this would evolve into a group improvisation. Improvisations #1-7 document this process. Improvisation #8 was recorded in a different setting altogether. Morgan, who had been teaching at NTSC for two years, gave a composition recital in the spring of 1962 before moving to Boston to teach at the Berklee School of Music. He wanted the Improvisation Group to begin the recital and invited Samuel Adler, piano, to join the group. Adler began, and so without any further discussion, the music took on a life of its own.


The first 7 Improvisations were recorded on a Wollensak Model 1220 monophonic reel-to-reel tape recorder using a Sure-Brothers Dynamic Microphone. After the addition of several enhancements, the original recordings, now in digital format, became more in line with current standards.

Thanks to Thomas Shab Wirtel for assembling the works and to John Tubbs for dealing with the various and often poor quality sources from which these tracks originated (cassette, reel-to-reel, DAT,  present digital) and then mastering the whole of this project. Also I thank John Hubbard for the cover design and Ann Starr for helping me with cover design details. And to Patricia Hruby Powell for her encouragement and copy editing.