Lawrence "Butch" Morris first became known as a lyrical, round-toned (if roughly hewn) free jazz cornetist. As his career progressed, his cornet playing took a back seat to his bandleading; Morris invented a style of organized group improvisation that was dubbed "comprovisation," an elision of composition and improvisation. Morris' organization relied on a conducting technique that he called "conduction." Conduction is basically a manner of shaping an improvised performance by using hand signals (an idea that was expanded upon by the lesser-known New York saxophonist/composer Walter Thompson).
Morris was originally a free jazz player. In California in the early '70s, Morris played with such notables as his brother, the bassist Wilber Morris, pianist/composer Horace Tapscott, trumpeter Bobby Bradford, and tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe. In the mid-'70s, Morris worked around New York City with the likes of baritone saxophonists Charles Tyler and Hamiet Bluiett and tenor saxophonist David Murray. Morris lived in Paris from 1976-1977, where he began recording under the leadership of others. He made his debut on disc on a record by Lowe; he also recorded with French musicians, as well as the American expatriate soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. A 1977 performance in Amsterdam with Murray's Low Class Conspiracy band (which included an overmatched Stanley Crouch on drums) was recorded and released in two volumes on LP by Circle Records (a CD version that combined both volumes was reissued in 1990 by West Wind). The relationship with Murray would bear further fruit; Morris continued to play and record with the saxophonist for several years. Morris began directing Murray's large ensembles, which led to the development of his conduction technique. Murray's big band music in the '80s was marked by Morris' presence as conductor.
In the '80s, Morris continued to perform and record on cornet, sometimes under his own leadership, but mostly with Murray, Lowe, and the violinist Billy Bang. Gradually, however, his manner of spontaneous composition became his primary creative outlet. In the '90s, Morris became quite well known in certain circles for his conductions; his work began receiving attention outside the realm of jazz. He worked with artists from other disciplines — theater, dance, and film — and began receiving monetary support from arts organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mary Flagler Cary Trust. By the end of the '90s, Morris had established himself as a major figure in new music, performing his conductions and lecturing all over the world. After a diagnosis of lung cancer in August 2012, Morris was admitted to a Brooklyn hospital and succumbed to the disease on January 29, 2013 at age 65.