Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lee Morgan: Another Hero Gone Too Soon

The very idea of Lee Morgan at age 72, which birthday he would have reached today, verges on the incongruous. For jazz lovers he will ever be the youngster who inherited the hard bop trumpet mantle that the magnificent Clifford Brown (briefly Lee's teacher) relinquished tragically at age 25 in 1956. On November 4-6 of that year Lee, a little more than four months after Brown perished in a car accident, recorded two inaugural albums, Lee Morgan Indeed! and Introducing Lee Morgan.

Lee's own voice escaped Brownie's gravitational pull during his tenure with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. (You haven't lived until you heard his solos on their 1960 A Night in Tunisia!) If Lee had done nothing more than contribute to the success of Coltrane's iconic Blue Train session for Blue Note Records, which he did in 1957 while still a teenager, his place in history would have been secure.  But as his discography reveals, he created so much more before he was gunned down at Slug's on February 19, 1972 at age 33, including his soul-jazz breakthrough The Sidewinder.

I appreciated him too late.  I saw him perform only once, at a fundraiser for Angela Davis at the City Center on West 55th Street in Manhattan, about a year before he was killed.  (I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who has the exact date.)  At the time, my grasp of the history of the music I loved was weak.  Now that is less so, I have the pleasure of bringing Lee Morgan to the attention of others.

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