Morris Nelms

I was born in 1956 into a Church of Christ family in a small town in Oklahoma. I was baptized while in High School (1973 maybe). I had been taught either directly or by inference that our way was the only correct one. This meant, for example, that God did not approve of my devout Freewill Baptist grandmother. This created a lot of tension in my young head. I had been taught that I was doing the right thing, and that God approved of me, but I was miserable. Still miserable, I entered College. I discovered Robert Ingersoll, a great skeptic of the late 1800s. Since I thought I had only two choices, either be a Church of Christ preacher or be a full blown heathen I opted for the latter. The idea of a middle ground never even became a blip on the radar. I discovered Jazz. Jesse Duplantis says, 'God is not enough'He's too much!' I wanted to be a 'sho'nuff' jazz musician and He let me accomplish that. I'm stunned to this day that a hillbilly from Frederick, OK has played with the sidemen of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, etc. I got involved with a extreme jazz musician (jazz was the only music that mattered at all)'his extremism, while not Christian, was so much like what I grew up with that it felt comfortable. He became my musical mentor in the 1980s. I met a woman who told me her favorite musicians were Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dexter Gordon and Thelonious Monk. 'Marry me,' I said, and she did in 1994. I have played great music with my musical idols and I have a perfect musician's wife. But at this point in my life I'm still not happy. What now? I got away from my mentor. Dean Martin once said that the two best things that happened to him in his career were meeting Jerry Lewis and getting away from Jerry Lewis. Ditto for me and my mentor. I came to school at Texas State University in San Marcos and got a Master's Degree in Music Composition (1997-2000). I learned to sing and began singing professionally with Small World, a secular jazz band whose members are Christians. Was this coincidence or providence? I worked with them every Sunday for 10 years at the Landing in San Antonio (1997-2007). This is the longest playing gig in one location I've ever had. Learning to sing and play piano simultaneously took some time, by the way. Russ Riepe took me to a Sacred Harp singing in 1998. Here was something spiritual and non threatening that I could willingly participate in and the music felt like home. It became obvious to me that I was a powder keg, and that my marriage wouldn't survive if I didn't get rid of the fuse and the gunpowder. My wife kept saying, "Why are you angry?" I finally realized I didn't know. I read a book by Leo Booth about religious abuse called "When God Becomes a Drug." It described my family life perfectly. It was after reading this book, written by a man who had gone through alcoholism, religious abuse and treatment for it, that I had 'a spiritual awakening.' I remember sitting in a chair and saying, "I give up." I had prefaced this statement with another: "I don't know if you are, or who you are, or what you want." What I felt immediately after giving up was so unlike anything else I've ever experienced that I find describing it difficult. It was as if a beam of light entered my forehead and opened a window. I know at that moment I lost most, if not all, of any fear of death. I started going to Al Anon meetings'they taught me to pray. I moved from a pretty nebulous idea about a higher power, to God, and then to the God of Abraham. I didn't plan it that way. I've heard that if you take one step toward God He takes two toward you. I don't know if that's strictly accurate, but it describes my experience of Him. I came close to joining a Sufi order. Something inside said no. Coincidence or providence? It became clear to me that I could find what I was looking for in Jesus Christ. I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, including the apocryphal books, and things began to change. My brother had a stroke in 2001. I transported him from Iowa to our residence in San Marcos. Immediately after that my wife suggested we start going to the First United Methodist Church in San Marcos. I had been thinking the same thing all the way home. It was another coincidence or providence moment. We joined in 2002. I had any number of spooky experiences dealing with anger. Praying the Rosary helped a lot'I'm not exactly sure why. I had never prayed the Rosary before. It's a powerful way to pray. Catholics know something, of that I'm certain. Our pastor suggested during a counseling session that I get some help. I finally did. It worked. While I still struggle with a somewhat unstable emotional state, I haven't had a bout with the dark anger of my past in years. I attended Walk to Emmaus 1132 (2/19/04). My wife gave me a Bible to take with me that I treasure. Right before I went I attended the First Baptist Church on Mitchell Street in San Marcos. The sermon was on 1 Kings 19:10 which tells a story of Elijah feeling alone in the world. I realized after my walk that I'm not alone at all. I started attending an Emmaus reunion group at 7AM on Fridays. I have new friends. If you haven't been on a Walk to Emmaus, consider it. It was a wonderful, life changing experience for me. These days I lead the praise band at Buda United Methodist Church and host a Sacred Harp singing once a month in San Marcos. Through all this, I'm a better jazz musician than I was before and my singing is starting to catch up to my piano playing. God didn't want me to give that up either. My wife went on an Emmaus walk in 2008. It has made us much closer. Like Jesse Duplantis said, 'God's not enough; He's too much!' Amen and amen.

My Life

Favorite Quote

Psalm 145:18 The Lord is nigh unto all who call on him.

Friends describe me

Off the wall

My hobbies

Watercolor painting (the profile photo is my work), Sacred Harp singing, reading, movies, theatre

Fantasy dinner guests

J. S. Bach & Duke Ellington

Best advice I ever received

If you listen the music will tell you what to do.

My undergrad alma mater


My worst subject in school

High School--typing; college--algebra

In college I drove

Plymouth Fury

If I weren't a professor, I would

be a full time free lance musician, a visual artist, or a minister

Favorite books

KJV Bible (favorite books: Job, Luke & Acts). I like John Wesley's commentaries best (I am a Methodist after all). Favorite authors are: Cervantes, Shakespeare, Moliere, Tennessee Williams, C. S. Lewis, P. G. Wodehouse, Mark Twain, Voltaire, Robert Parker (loved the Westerns he wrote), Jim Butcher (

Favorite movies

City Lights, Godfather I, Once Upon a Time in the West, Bringing Up Baby, Fellini's Amarcord, Much Ado About Nothing, Ushpizin, Wall-e.

Favorite city


Favorite coffee


Nobody knows I

Nobody knows because I don't want them to know.

My latest accomplishment

Getting out of debt and refinancing my house.