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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Jul 8, 2013

Had he not met a tragic end in a domestic dispute in 1972, Lee Morgan would be celebrating his 75th birthday today.  A peer of the many great musicians who came to prominence with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late 1950’s, Morgan was a major voice on the trumpet, and wrote and recorded Hard Bop tunes as well as anyone, with several of his tunes now standards.

A Philadelphia native, Morgan came to prominence as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, taking his cues from that legendary trumpeter and perhaps the greatest trumpeter of the day who was not named Miles, Clifford Brown. After guesting on Hank Mobley sessions, he was tabbed by another Philly musician, John Coltrane, for Trane’s only Blue Note release, Blue Trane.

A year later he was holding down a trumpet chair in the Jazz Messengers, and playing on their greatest hit “Moanin’”. It was Morgan who suggested that Blakey replace Bennie Golson with the young Wayne Shorter in 1959, ushering in one of the most prolific periods of Jazz Messenger history. Regrettably, this was also the period when Morgan became addicted to heroin, and he was eventually replaced in the Jazz Messengers by Freddie Hubbard.

By the mid-Sixties Morgan was a fully functioning leader in his own right, recording some of the most exciting sessions that Blue Note ever held. The sheer amount of star power that appeared on these recordings from 1960 to 1968 boggles the mind – Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Billy Higgins, Curtis Fuller, McCoy Tyner, Hank Mobley Cedar Walton, Paul Chambers and Ron Carter are just a few of the all-time greats that played on Morgan recordings.

The most widely known of Morgan’s tunes is “The Sidewinder”, which became an unlikely jukebox hit when released in December 1963. It became ubiquitous when it scored placement in television commercials for Chrysler during the World Series of 1964. The Sidewinder is routinely included in the greatest jazz albums of all-time, and is certainly one of the top five Hard Bop albums ever recorded.

Morgan was getting into soul jazz, funk and fusion when he was tragically shot and killed by his common- law wife Helen More (a.k.a. Morgan), following a dispute between sets of a gig at Slug’s Saloon, an East Village jazz club.  The injuries may not have immediately been fatal, but the ambulance service was reportedly reluctant to go into a “bad neighborhood”, and Morgan bled to death. He was just 33 years old.

Podcast 363 honors Morgan’s legacy with a selection of his music, including classic tracks like:

John Coltrane - "Lazy Bird (alternate take)" from Blue Train Coltrane only recorded one session for Blue Note, and it was this 1957 classic that included Coltrane on sax, Morgan on trumpet, Fuller on trombone, Kenny Drew on piano, Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

Johnny Griffin - "The Way You Look Tonight" from A Blowin' Session That same year saw Morgan sitting in with three sax titans - Griffin, Hank Mobley, and Coltrane, the rhythm section was Wynton Kelly on piano, Chambers on bass, and Art Blakey on drums.

Lee Morgan Sextet - "Whisper Not" from Lee Morgan Sextet. This was  Lee's second sessions as a leader for Blue Note, and he brought some f his Jazz Messenger friends with him – Mobley on tenor sax, Kenny Rogers on Alto, Horace Silver on piano, Chambers on bass and Charlie Persip on drums.

Lee Morgan – ‘Fat Lady (alternate take)" from The Young Lions. Wayne Shorter and Morgan recorded a number of sessions for Vee-Jay Records, all of which are collected now by Mosiac Records. This track features a pride of young lions:  Shorter, Frank Strozier, Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Bob Cranshaw, Albert Heath and Louis Hayes 

Lee Morgan - "The Lion and the Wolff" from Lee-Way. Perhaps my favorite Morgan album - other than The Sidewinder - is this Blue Note release from 1960, featuring Morgan on trumpet, McLean on alto saxophone, Timmons on piano, Chambers on bass and Blakey on drums. The title to the track refers to Blue Note producer Alfred Lion and producer/photographer Frances Wolff.

Lee Morgan - title track from The Sidewinder. Perhaps the most recognizable of all hard bop tunes, the title track made the Top 100 pop charts, and was an integral part of a series of Chrysler television commercials. Morgan is on trumpet, a young Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone, Barry Harris on piano,  Bob Cranshaw on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.

Lee Morgan - "The Joker" from Searching for the New Land. Although Morgan recorded this in the aftermath of The Sidewinder, it was not deemed commercial enough to be released for two more years. Morgan is on trumpet, with two Miles Davis Quintet members, Wayne Shorter (tenor sax) and  Herbie Hancock (piano), being joined by Grant Green on guitar, Reggie Workman on bass, and Higgins on drums,]

Lee Morgan - "Hey Chico" from Charisma. Another album that took three years from recording to see the light of day. It features twin sax players in McLean and Mobley, along with Walton on piano, Chambers on bass and Higgins on drums.

Charles Earland – “Morgan“ from  Intensity.  Morgan’s last recordings came as a sideman on this soul-jazz session. Two days later, he was shot and killed.  This appropriately titled tune features, among others, Hubert Lawws on flute and Billy Cobham on drums.