100 Jazz Profiles
1938 - 1972
Trumpeter. Morgan's tense, urgent, trumpet, with his searing high register, human-voiced half-valve effects, and his dancing, funky, timing, was the essence of hard-bop. His fast lane lifestyle, which ended when he was shot dead at Slug's in New York, also came to epitomise the music that he made famous through such hit albums as The Sidewinder. Morgan's career took off in his late teens, when he joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1956.
Gillespie was always a generous teacher, and allowed his young protege plenty of solo space, giving him a perfect launch pad to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1958 - a band with which he'd played occasionally before his time with Dizzy. With Blakey, Morgan formed a great partnership with tenorist Benny Golson, and their shared sense of timing and musical rapport is obvious on the album Moanin', both on the title track and on numbers such as Blues March.
Morgan stayed with Blakey until 1961, returning to his native Philadelphia for a few years until he rejoined the band in 1964 for a further year and a bit. By this time, Morgan had made a highly regarded series of albums under his own name for Blue Note, and the funky title track of the Sidewinder (1963) had become a hit. This disc was followed my several others including Cornbread, the Rajah, and the Gigolo, plus a marvellous live session from the Los Angeles Lighthouse club that captures Morgan's dynamic style in live performance.
He also recorded widely as a freelance, appearing on John Coltrane's Blue Train album as well as discs by saxophonists Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter. His style included elements drawn from Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown, but his own personality shone through, both in his wide, crackling tone, and his use of bluesy phrasing and effects.
David H. Rosenthal: Hard Bop - Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965 (New York, Oxford University Press) 1992
The Sidewinder (Blue Note 84157)
Suggested track: The Sidewinder
Lee Morgan at The Jazz Files
With biography, links and recommended recordings
on radio 3
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