Apr 13, 2015
1965 was in many ways just another busy year in the life of Lee Morgan. He had established himself as a major talent in the late Fifties, lending his trumpet talents to classic albums like John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s Moanin’, and Johnny Griffin’s A Blowing Session. He began the Sixties appearing on Wayne Shorter’s initial release, backed by the Miles Davis rhythm section; and with a number of top Hank Mobley sessions. He continued to contribute as a vibrant member of the Jazz Messengers, most notably on The Freedom Rider.
1963 was the turning point in the Philadelphia born trumpeter’s career, when he recorded the Blue Note release The Sidewinder. The memorable title track became that rarest of jazz things, a hit single, and Chrysler used it as the background for television commercials during prime World Series coverage. Lee Morgan had become a star.
But he never forgot his work ethic. He appeared on seven albums released in 1964, notably Stanley Turrentine’s Mr. Natural. And that was just the warmup for 1965, when he recorded four albums under his own name (three were released; Infinity was held back until 1972); released two more as a Jazz Messenger, and sat in, in the great Blue Note tradition, for multiple sessions with Hank Mobley and Jackie McLean.
He also participated in what is now a legendary concert, memorialized forever by the album title of the night’s recording, The Night of the Cookers. Playing at a small Brooklyn club fifty years ago today, Morgan squared off with Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding for an outrageous blowing session. Originally released in two volumes, it stands as one of the high points of the Hard Bop sound.
Perhaps Morgan played so hard and so often because he knew his time was not long. Morgan was killed in the early hours of February 19, 1972, at Slug's Saloon, a jazz club in New York City's East Village where his band was performing. The victim of a gunshot from his common-law wife Helen, he bled to death when bad weather delayed him from arriving at a hospital. He was just 33.
Podcast 478 celebrates the body of work that the great trumpet player left behind from his performances in 1965, with a selection from some of the year’s work in chronologic order, featuring:
Freddie Hubbard Septet – “Walkin’” from The Night of the Cookers – Volume One. Lee Morgan (trumpet) Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute) Harold Mabern (piano) Larry Ridley (bass) Pete La Roca (drums) Big Black (congas). Recorded at "Club La Marchal", Brooklyn, NY, April 10, 1965.
Lee Morgan Quintet – “Speedball” from The Gigolo. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 1, 1965.
Lee Morgan Sextet – “Most Like Lee” from Cornbread. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 18, 1965.
Jackie McLean Sextet – “Soft Blue” from Jacknife. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Larry Willis (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 24, 1965.
Hank Mobley Sextet – “Third Time Around” from A Caddy for Daddy. Lee Morgan (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) McCoy Tyner (piano) Bob Cranshaw (bass) Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 18, 1965.