Guitarist and composer Justin Morell received his BA from UCLA, an MA from California State University East Bay, and his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon where he studied under Robert Kyr and David Crumb. While his main interests are composition and jazz performance, he is an experienced guitarist of all styles. Justin comes from a family of musicians: His father, John, is a jazz guitarist who has worked with noted artists from Shelly Manne to Miles Davis, and his grandfather, Carl Fischer, composed such standards as “You’ve Changed” and “We’ll Be Together Again.”
Justin grew up in Los Angeles and got his start as a professional musician there where he worked with a number of notable jazz and studio musicians. During that time, he performed as a freelance guitarist on a variety of jazz projects as well as on television and movie soundtracks. In 2001, Justin moved to Oakland, CA, where he continued to perform and compose music. During his four years there, he performed at jazz venues, premiered new classical works, played in pit orchestras, and studied composition with Frank LaRocca. He later moved to Eugene and Portland, OR, where he freelanced as a guitarist, composer, and teacher. Justin is Assistant Professor of Music in composition and theory at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.
Justin’s newest recording project is a collection of new works for ten-piece jazz ensemble scheduled for release in late 2013. The recording features world-renowned jazz and classical performers Bob Sheppard, Ben Wendel, Matt Otto, Phil O’Connor, John Daversa, Alan Ferber, George Thatcher, Leonard Thompson, Damian Erskine, and Mark Ferber (more). Other recent recordings include “Wanted: Dead and Alive at Rocco’s“, featuring Mark Ferber, Todd Sickafoose, and Joe Bagg, and “duOrange,” a piano/guitar duo featuring Leonard Thompson which includes originals by both Thompson and Morell. Justin’s next-most recent CD release, “triOrange,” has been met with critical acclaim since its release in the Fall of 2003. “the music of steely_dan,” his fourth project as a leader, was chosen as one of the best CDs of 2002 by NPR’s third largest radio station, WBEZ Chicago. In 2005, Justin had the privilege of traveling to Denmark where his piece, “Jazz Ensemble,” won third place in the Danish Radio Big Band International Thad Jones Competition. It was one of five finalists chosen among more than one hundred submissions, and was performed in a live broadcast from Copenhagen.
Recent commissions include a song cycle for baritone and string quartet for the Pacific Serenades concert series in Los Angeles, a work for large jazz ensemble for the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble, and new music for saxophone, bass and guitar premiered at the North American Saxophone Alliance convention in Arizona. Justin has had works performed by Fireworks Ensemble, the Oregon Jazz Ensemble, SO Percussion, the Onyx String Quartet, ECCE (Eugene Contemporary Chamber Orchestra), the University of Oregon Saxophone Quartet, and has had pieces premiered at the Composers’, Inc., concert series, the Oregon Composers Forum, and Bargemusic in New York. Justin can also be heard on CDs, television, and film as a guitarist and as a drummer, as well as recording engineer and producer. Some projects he’s worked on include Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can, Lifetime Original Movies, TV sitcom The Naked Truth, the Lion King-San Francisco, and various TV and radio jingles.
Justin’s list of concert works includes: a symphony, a string quartet, a saxophone quartet, a chamber sinfonia, a percussion ensemble (for two pianos and four percussionists), a large chamber winds piece, compositions for large jazz ensemble, and a number of smaller chamber works.
Some of Justin’s career highlights have been performing with Russell Ferrante, Brandon Fields, Dizzy Gillespie, James Ingram, Johnny Mandel, Noe Venable, Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine, Bob Florence, Kim Richmond, John Williams, Todd Sickafoose, James Carney, John Daversa, Scott Amendola, Laurie Lewis, and the Supremes.
Justin plays a Gibson ES335, Carruthers custom long neck, Rivera amps, D’Addario strings, and Jim Dunlop picks.