American jazz musicians compose winning song for Olympics

August 5, 2008

BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA, United States — Two U.S. jazz musicians combined their knowledge of Chinese music, Brazilian samba, and American jazz to write one of the songs being featured at the Beijing Olympic Games.

“Beijing Olympics Hao Yuing (Good Luck),” composed by Phil Morrison and Keith Williams, was one of only about 30 works selected in the final phase of a competition sponsored by the Beijing Olympic Committee.

The contest began four years ago, with the final segment alone drawing more than 3,000 entries, organizers said. The Olympic Games begin on 8 August.

Although songs were solicited from everywhere, rules said that compositions should reflect “the unique cultural background and humanism of Beijing and China.”

Mr. Morrison and Mr. Williams – long-time Baha’is who have recorded in China and performed there numerous times over the past decade – were told that they were the only American-born artists with a winning song in the competition. Only a handful of songs from outside China were selected as winners, according to the notification letter they received.

The lyrics of their song convey some of the principles of the Baha'i Faith: “Just one human family – the earth will celebrate – for world unity” and “Promoting peace and friendship for all – the world will come together – we’ll open up the gate.”

The two, along with a drummer or other musician, perform as the Phil Morrison Trio featuring Keith Williams.

Mr. Morrison, a bassist and composer, has worked as a musician virtually his whole life, first in his native Boston and later touring internationally. He played for about five years with the group of Freddy Cole (younger brother of Nat King Cole), during which time he frequently performed in Brazil. He now lives in Brunswick, Georgia, in the United States.

Mr. Williams, originally from San Francisco, is a singer, pianist, composer, and arranger who graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, and for five years had his own trio in Atlanta. He also lives in Brunswick.

As leaders of the World Unity Jazz Ensemble – a name they still use for certain performances – Mr. Morrison and Mr. Williams released the albums “China Sky” and “Hollow Reed.”

In the Olympic song competition, many of the winning compositions are anthems, but Mr. Williams said “Beijing Olympics Hao Yuing” has more the flavor of a party celebration.

“The lyrics say, ‘Come join us in the human family,’” he said, noting that they had been told that their song would be on the official Olympics CD put out by Sony Music.

Their composition for the Olympics can be heard on the Web site