Lee Morgan - Biography



Lee Morgan was an American hard bop trumpeter who recorded prolifically from 1956 until a day before his girlfriend murdered him in February 1972. He began recording for Blue Note Records in 1956, eventually recording 25 albums as a leader for the company, with more than 250 musicians. career moved from hard and post-bop to soul-jazz. was soon His investigating modal-oriented tunes often didn't the light of day until after his untimely death.

 

Edward Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1938, the youngest of Otto Ricardo and Nettie Beatrice Morgan's four children. Originally interested in the vibraphone, he soon showed a growing enthusiasm for the trumpet. On his thirteenth birthday, his sister Ernestine gave him his first trumpet. His primary stylistic influence was Clifford Brown, who gave the teenager a few lessons. He took private lessons, developing rapidly, and continued his studies at Mastbaum High School. By the time he was fifteen, he was already performing professionally on the weekends, co-leading a group with bassist Spanky DeBrest.

 

Morgan finished high school in 1956. That year he released his first albums, Lee Morgan Indeed! (1956 Blue Note), Introducing Lee Morgan (1956 Savoy) [later reissued as A-1 - The Savoy Sessions] and Lee Morgan Sextet (1956 Blue Note). Clifford Brown's death in a car crash that June coincided with Morgan increasingly finding himself in demand as a performing and recording artist. He filled Joe Gordon's role with Dizzy Gillespie's band and played a trumpet given him by Gillespie on John Coltrane's Blue Train. His subsequent releases, A Dizzy Atmosphere (1957 Specialty), Lee Morgan Vol. 3 (1957 Blue Note), City Lights (1957 Blue Note), The Cooker (1957 Blue Note) and Candy (1957 Blue Note) found Morgan beginning to find his own style.

 

Morgan joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1958 and toured with them for a couple years. Under Blakey, Morgan further honed his talent as a soloist and composer. It was also there that Morgan was introduced to shooting dope, which quickly developed into addiction. When Morgan returned to his solo career with Here's Lee Morgan (1960 Vee-Jay), The Young Lions (1960 Vee-Jay), Expoobident (1960 Vee-Jay) and Lee-Way (1960 Blue Note), there was an increased dose of soul evident in his signature hard bop. Morgan's worsening addiction led to his leaving the Jazz Messengers and he returned to Philadelphia to dry out. Over the next two years, Morgan occasionally played locally with saxophonist Jimmy Heath and released only one album, a set of Morgan originals, Take Twelve (1962 Jazzland).

 

A cleaned up Morgan returned to New York in 1963 and released The Sidewinder (1963 Blue Note), which became his biggest commercial hit. The proto-boogaloo title track broke into the pop charts in 1964 and was featured in a Chrysler ad. Some felt it saved Blue Note from bankruptcy and the label responded by encouraging its artists to record similar releases in the hope that lightning would strike twice. Ironically, Morgan had dismissed the song as filler and was increasingly interested in a more avant-garde direction. Search for the New Land (1964 Blue Note) was another success and was followed by the modal jazz Tom Cat (1964 Blue Note). Morgan rejoined the Jazz Messengers and remained with them until 1965, when he returned with The Rumproller (1965 Blue Note), The Gigolo (1965 Blue Note), Cornbread (1965 Blue Note) and Infinity (1965 Blue Note) -- each of which featured "Sidewinder"-esque efforts, if not commercial successes. Delightfulee (1966 Blue Note), Charisma (1966 Blue Note), The Rajah (1966 Blue Note), Standards (1967 Blue Note), Sonic Boom (1967 Blue Note), The Procrastinator (1967 Blue Note), The Sixth Sense (1967 Blue Note) followed in quick succession. With Taru (1968 Blue Note) and and Caramba! (1968 Blue Note), Morgan again began exploring modal jazz territory he'd begun with Grachan Moncur in 1963.

 

In 1970, Morgan became active in the Jazz and People's Movement, who protested the lack of jazz performers on talk shows. That year he also released Live at the Lighthouse (1970 Blue Note), recorded during a two-week engagement at the Hermosa Beach club, California, in July. Morgan's final album, The Last Session (1971 Blue Note), saw Morgan following Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw into more electrified territory. Morgan's prolific career was cut short in the early hours of February 19th, 1972, at Slugs' in New York City's East Village, where his band had just performed. He got into an argument with with his girlfriend, Helen More, and she shot him dead. Morgan had recorded a good deal of material for Blue Note that began to see the light of day over the following decades, including Sonic Boom (1979 Blue Note), Infinity (1980 Blue Bote) and Rajah (1984 Blue Note). Several live recordings surfaced later, Baltimore '68 (2004 Fresh Sound) and Quintet at the Lighthouse 1970 (2004 Fresh Sound).

 

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