“There are no natural barriers. It’s all music. It’s either hip or it ain’t.” – Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan is one of the most recorded and celebrated trumpeters in jazz, and one of my personal favorites. His playing is brash, assured, big-toned and has a swagger not matched by many other trumpeters of his day or since.
He was a disciple of Clifford Brown, who gave him a few lessons in his teens, and was able to take Brown’s clean articulations and “grease” them up a bit. This made him the perfect hard-bop trumpet player, and was a big reason he was so in demand as a leader and a sideman. He recorded dozens of CD’s as a leader and dozens more as a sideman for the likes of Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner and many others.
Morgan joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band when he was 17 years old, and his first recognition came because of the fiery solos he play with that band. While still in his native Philadelphia, Morgan sat in with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and when Dizzy’s band broke up Blakey asked Lee to join The Messengers in earnest, where Morgan and The Messengers did some of their finest work. The band with Morgan and Shorter out front is one of the classic line-ups, and Morgan teamed with Benny Golson on the front line for “Moanin’,” which we featured earlier in the month.
Morgan’s most famous composition is “The Sidewinder,” which I’m sure you’ve heard on KPLU and Jazz24. Today, in honor of last night’s lunar eclipse, I give you a composition called “Desert Moonlight.” This comes from the album “The Rumproller,” which was the follow-up to “The Sidewinder,” and features Morgan with Joe Henderson on tenor, Ronnie Matthews on piano, Victor Sproles on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.
As a bonus, here’s another version of the song by flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny. I love this version for its laid-back vibe and the amazing solos by Matheny, Dave Ellis on tenor and John Heller on guitar.
Morgan did a few stints with the Messengers and recorded 25 albums for Blue Note Records alone in the ’50s and ’60s. Sadly, his life was cut short at just 33 years old when his wife shot him while he was on a gig. The saddest part of the story is that the gunshot wounds themselves might not have killed him, but the club was in a sketchy (read: black) part of town, and the ambulance didn’t want to come pick him up. It took so long for the help to arrive that he bled to death.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about Morgan’s frequent collaborator, the great Joe Henderson.
Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as “the next generation of Seattle jazz.” Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com.