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Lee Morgan

A cornerstone of the Blue Note label roster prior to his tragic demise, Lee Morgan was one of hard bop's greatest trumpeters, and indeed one of the finest of the '60s. An all-around master of his instrument modeled after Clifford Brown, Morgan boasted an effortless, virtuosic technique and a full, supple, muscular tone that was just as powerful in the high register. His playing was always emotionally charged, regardless of the specific mood: cocky and exuberant on up-tempo groovers, blistering on bop-oriented technical showcases, sweet and sensitive on ballads. In his early days as a teen prodigy, Morgan was a busy soloist with a taste for long, graceful lines, and honed his personal style while serving an apprenticeship in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. As his original compositions began to take in elements of blues and R&B, he made greater use of space and developed an infectiously funky rhythmic sense. He also found ways to mimic human vocal inflections by stuttering, slurring his articulations, and employing half-valved sound effects. Toward the end of his career, Morgan was increasingly moving into modal music and free bop, hinting at the avant-garde but remaining grounded in tradition. He had already overcome a severe drug addiction, but sadly, he would not live to continue his musical growth; he was shot to death by his common-law wife in 1972.

Edward Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1938. He grew up a jazz lover, and his sister apparently gave him his first trumpet at age 14. He took private lessons, developing rapidly, and continued his studies at Mastbaum High School. By the time he was 15, he was already performing professionally on the weekends, co-leading a group with bassist Spanky DeBrest. Morgan also participated in weekly workshops that gave him the chance to meet the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and his idol Clifford Brown. After graduating from high school in 1956, Morgan -- along with DeBrest -- got the chance to perform with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers when they swung through Philadelphia. Not long after, Dizzy Gillespie hired Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band, and afforded the talented youngster plenty of opportunities to solo, often spotlighting him on the Gillespie signature piece "A Night in Tunisia." Clifford Brown's death in a car crash in June 1956 sparked a search for his heir apparent, and the precocious Morgan seemed a likely candidate to many; accordingly, he soon found himself in great demand as a recording artist. His first session as a leader was cut for Blue Note in November 1956, and over the next few months he recorded for Savoy and Specialty as well, often working closely with Hank Mobley or Benny Golson. Later in 1957, he performed as a sideman on John Coltrane's classic Blue Train, as well as with Jimmy Smith.

Morgan's early sessions showed him to be a gifted technician who had his influences down pat, but subsequent dates found him coming into his own as a distinctive, original stylist. That was most apparent on the Blue Note classic Candy, a warm standards album completed in 1958 and released to great acclaim. Still only 19, Morgan's playing was still imbued with youthful enthusiasm, but he was also synthesizing his influences into an original sound of his own. Also in 1958, Gillespie's big band broke up, and Morgan soon joined the third version of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, which debuted on the classic Moanin' album later that year. As a leader, Morgan recorded a pair of albums for Vee Jay in 1960, Here's Lee Morgan and Expoobident, and cut another for Blue Note that year, Leeway, with backing by many of the Jazz Messengers. None managed to measure up to Candy, and Morgan, grappling with heroin addiction, wound up leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1961. He returned to his hometown of Philadelphia to kick the habit, and spent most of the next two years away from music, working occasionally with saxophonist Jimmy Heath on a local basis. His replacement in the Jazz Messengers was Freddie Hubbard, who would also become one of the top hard bop trumpeters of the '60s.

Morgan returned to New York in late 1963, and recorded with Blue Note avant-gardist Grachan Moncur on the trombonist's debut Evolution. He then recorded a comeback LP for Blue Note called The Sidewinder, prominently featuring the up-and-coming Joe Henderson. The Morgan-composed title track was a funky, danceable groover that drew from soul-jazz, Latin boogaloo, blues, and R&B in addition to Morgan's trademark hard bop. It was rather unlike anything else he'd cut, and it became a left-field hit in 1964; edited down to a 45 rpm single, it inched onto the lower reaches of the pop charts, and was licensed for use in a high-profile automobile ad campaign. Its success helped push The Sidewinder into the Top 25 of the pop LP charts, and the Top Ten on the R&B listing. Sales were brisk enough to revive the financially struggling Blue Note label, and likely kept it from bankruptcy; it also led to numerous "Sidewinder"-style grooves popping up on other Blue Note artists' albums. By the time "The Sidewinder" became a phenomenon, Morgan had rejoined the Jazz Messengers, where he would remain until 1965; there he solidified a long-standing partnership with saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

Morgan followed the most crucial recording of his career with the excellent, more abstract Search for the New Land, which was cut in early 1964, before "The Sidewinder" hit. An advanced modal bop session called Tom Cat was also recorded shortly thereafter, but both were shelved in hopes of scoring another "Sidewinder." Accordingly, Morgan re-entered the studio in early 1965 to cut The Rumproller, whose Andrew Hill-penned title cut worked territory that was highly similar to Morgan's breakout hit. Commercial lightning didn't strike twice, but Morgan continued to record prolifically through 1965, cutting excellent sessions like The Gigolo, Cornbread, and the unissued Infinity. The Gigolo introduced one of Morgan's best-known originals, the bluesy "Speedball," while the classic Cornbread featured his ballad masterpiece "Ceora." Search for the New Land was finally issued in 1966, and it achieved highly respectable sales, reaching the Top 20 of the R&B album charts; both Cornbread and The Gigolo would sell well among jazz audiences when they were released in 1967 and 1968, respectively.

By the time Morgan completed those albums, he had left the Jazz Messengers to begin leading his own groups outside the studio. He was also appearing frequently as a sideman on other Blue Note releases, working most often with tenorman Hank Mobley. Morgan was extraordinarily prolific over 1966-1968, cutting around eight albums' worth of material (though not all of it was released at the time). Highlights included Delightfulee, The Procrastinator, and the decent-selling Caramba!, which nearly made the Top 40 of the R&B album chart. His compositions were increasingly modal and free-form, stretching the boundaries of hard bop; however, his funkier instincts were still evident as well, shifting gradually from boogaloo to early electrified fusion. Morgan's recording pace tailed off at the end of the '60s, but he continued to tour with a regular working group that prominently featured saxophonist Bennie Maupin. This band's lengthy modal explorations were documented on the double LP Live at the Lighthouse, recorded in Los Angeles in July 1970; it was later reissued as a three-CD set with a generous amount of extra material.

Morgan led what turned out to be the last session of his life in September 1971. On February 19, 1972, Morgan was performing at the New York club Slug's when he was shot and killed by his common-law wife, Helen More. Accounts of exactly what happened vary; whether they argued over drugs or Morgan's fidelity, whether she shot him outside the club or up on the bandstand in front of the audience, jazz lost a major talent. Despite his extensive recorded legacy, Morgan was only 33 years old. Many of his unreleased Blue Note sessions began to appear in the early '80s, and his critical standing has hardly diminished a whit. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

I always recommend to new jazz lovers Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land album. Its perfect in every possible way. No way after hearing that album could someone say they don't like jazz.

Yes, this dude cooks; SERIOUSLY!
this cat cooks
divangela
Thank you all for loving my late uncle's music, as mentioned in the article my mother (Ernestine Morgan Cox) gave Lee his first horn. My name id R Darryl Cox Take Care ( I am holding the flugelhorn from Live at the Lighthouse right now, still plays great)
linksgayaren a
From the Fleetwood Lee put it down hard that hard jazz we love. Peace
Mellow kool cats
Stellar
rogerblocke
Brilliant!
Smooth Jazz
Oh man only 33 and gone. Boy could he play that horn!
That was a Friday, the next night we decided to see them again and, outside of the club, there was such commotion over the fact that his wife Khadija had just shot him at point blank range while he was playing and killed him. I'll never forget it. It was either over sniffin' drugs, playing around with another woman or something to do with he and his wife's transaction with the Islamic faith. Allah knows best.
My Lee Morgan moment was both sweet and somber. Back in 1971 I played trumpet and modeled my work after Lee Morgan who, by that time, had settled down on the west coast, Hermosa Beach. At Syracuse Univ, I kept up with 'The Village Voice' and would often look and see who was playing in da Apple. He made a rare east coast appearance and my wife and the other band members drove down to NYC to Slug's on Avenue A in da village. Harold Mabern on piano and Alphonze Mouzon on drums, get da picture?
Great ,wonderful,I love this track.
wonderful smoky grooves
What makes great Jazz Players great is no matter what direction cats take in their explorations to the great 1's it's still about the blues. Lee Morgan is one of the most soulful bluesy Jazz icons of all time! Keep on Swingin!
Like the direction he took in his playing, not overly modal, inventive, yet well-grounde d in harmonic tradition. Nice track. Makes me wonder about the unreleased material.
This is the first time I've really heard this cat, and I'm lovin' it. Good stuff.
troulblec
My mom and dad loved this song! I have fond memories of them dancing their hearts out to this beat...it was fun to watch! This is a joy to listen and tap your feet to the swinging rhythm!
Yeah ~
aldersonw
As trumpet soloists, listening to the tradition and legacy left to us is a great gift. We can`t ignore this excursion into beauty and wisdom...... . t h e artists who carved this out of solid stone should be forever honored!
Has to one of the greatest trumpeters that ever lived.
Smooth, Rich, Sophisticate d . . . L u v !
info41351
According to the article, The Woman Who Shot Lee Morgan, he was back into intravenous drug use at the time of his death. Great player nonetheless.
jonnwittwonn s
Lee Morgan, pure excitement!! !
info41351
Isn't that a picture of Clifford Brown/
lee morgan can never be replaced enjoy his music
mooyoo.77
IF YOU LOOK, most of the time the sidemen are listed on the jacket cover. GREAT GROUP!
The Sidewinder has that refined jazz base with some funkiness... t h a t piano solo is the spot for me. Definitely would have cut the rug if I ever heard that piece live.
@smabrams7 - Most heartily agree.
I think Pandora should list the sidemen on all jazz albums.
lbanks354
Love Pandora radio! Again, this from lbanks354's son.
lbanks354
I'm lbanks354's son with the The Sidewinder comment.
lbanks354
My parents had The Sidewinder lp in the late sixties. At this very minute it's probably in their console stereo's album storage bin. This album is on of many musical experience that molded my current musucal tastes.
My Favorite album of his is the The Cooker track 4 Lover MAn on of the best versions of that song Hands Down
LEE MORGAN is the definition of great JAZZ! I cried like a baby when he passed away in '72, because I knew that I would never have the chance to see/hear him live in person. He was the BEST, and I hear that he was a wonderful person as well, (despite the demons). "You go to my head" LEE! I love you...Rest in PEACE.
Lee is the Koolest!
frankabun361
It's great to have a lot of wonderful trumpet players to listen to. Lee Morgan is one of those.I knew this guy that had Lee's sound and it was great to listen to him also.
I GNERALLY LIKE ALL MUSIC, IN MY EARLY TWEENTIES I NOTICE MY ALBUM COLLECTON HAS GROWN AND I HAD MORE JAZZ LP'S, MOSTLY MILES AND COLTRAIN. I LATER GOT TURNED ON TO LEE MORGAN AND IT WAS A WRAP, I STILL LIKE ALL MUSIS BUT I LISTEN TO JAZZ.
People ask me why I listen to jazz, and I tell them...becau s e I don't like people telling me what to do through my music. Especially if it aint what I want to hear...So you "throw ya hands up" "get down" and whatever they tell you to do...cause I aint doin it
the most underrated trumpet player in jazz history.like so many of our pioneers in jazz he just blended in never wanting or needing anything but to be heard.well i'm listening.i hope if you are reading this and you are not very familar with lee morgan treat yourself to anything with him as a leader you want be disappointed .
AND SPEAKING OF "CAPRA BLACK", THAT WHOLE "LAST SESSIONS" ALBUM IS SICK!!! MY FAVORITE SONG IS "CROQUET BALLET" THOUGH.
I GOTTA CUT WITH CHARLES EARLAND "HAPPY CAUSE I'M GOING HOME" WHERE LEE MORGAN CUT UP. STILL TRYING TO FIND THE WHOLE ALBUM "BLACK TALK", REAL TALK!!!
normanier
one of the best trumpet players that ever blew a horn ( he was a bad dude)
the leemaster general
GREAT
one great player !!!!!
My favorite player, on any instrument, period. A damn shame he left us too early.
mooyoo.77
so many great tunes by lee you wind up playing his music all week long and still ask for more, he had a way of holding you spellbound.
coleminc
Lee Morgan was amazing!! One of the few greats, seemed comfortable playing various styles of jazz.
A few great trumpeters.. . L o u i s , Miles, Clifford, Fats, Miles, Chet...and Lee Morgan...thi s is from t
cd30318
their was miles davis clifford brown and the horn man himself lee morgan.smoot h as silk and very elegant.
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