James or Jim Morrison (3 May 1891 – 1947), known as “The Professor”, was a notable South Sligo-style Irish fiddler.
Morrison was born in 1891 in Drumfin near Riverstown in south County Sligo and he grew up in a community steeped in traditional Irish culture especially music and at the age of 17 he was employed by the Gaelic League to tutor the Connacht style of step dancing at the Gaelic League school in County Mayo.
In 1915, at the age of 21, he emigrated to America where he settled in New York. Three years later Morrison won the fiddle competition at the New York Feis, and become associated with other leading Irish musicians such as Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran who were also from County Sligo.
Morrison was one of the leading Irish music teachers in New York in the 1930s and ’40s. In addition to the fiddle, he could play the flute and button accordion (and wrote a tutor on the latter) and taught hundreds of young Irish-American students to play music on various instruments.
The Sligo style of fiddle playing used by Morrison was typically highly ornamented and fast with a fluid bowing style. Recordings of Morrison‘s playing were among those which were imported to Ireland in great numbers and had an extraordinary impact.
In many areas local styles of playing fell into disuse such was the popularity of the style and repertoire of Morrison and of Michael Coleman. This repertoire included predominantly reels rather than jigs and hornpipes and they were often played by Irish musicians in the same order as on the original recordings. According to Seamus MacMathuna “more than thirty years after Coleman’s death … one seldom hears “Bonny Kate” without “Jenny’s Chickens”. “Tarbolton” is inevitably followed by “The Longford Collector” and the “Sailor’s Bonnet”.
The great Canadian fiddler Jean Carignan was much influenced by Morrison, who is well regarded by Frankie Gavin “the approach he had to fiddle playing and the approach he had to any tune he touched just … can’t be beaten … nobody can play like that today.”