Frank Morgan (musician)
Frank Morgan (December 23, 1933 - December 14, 2007) was a jazz saxophonist with a career spanning more than 50 years. He mainly played alto saxophone but also played soprano saxophone. He was known as a Charlie Parker successor who primarily played bebop and ballads.
Life and Career
Early life (1933-1947)
Frank Morgan was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1933, but spent most of his childhood living with his grandmother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while his parents were on tour. Morgan's father Stanley was a guitarist with Harlan Leonard and the Rockets and The Ink Spots, and his mother, Geraldine, was a 14-year-old student when she gave birth to him. Morgan took up his father's instrument at an early age, but lost interest the moment he saw Charlie Parker take his first solo with the Jay McShann band at the Paradise Theater in Detroit, Michigan. Stanley introduced Parker and Morgan backstage, and they met at a music store the following day. Morgan, seven years old at the time, assumed they'd be picking out an alto saxophone, but Parker suggested he start on the clarinet to develop his embouchure. Morgan practiced on the clarinet for about two years before acquiring a soprano sax, and finally, an alto. Morgan moved to live with his father (by that time divorced) in Los Angeles, California at the age of 14, after his grandmother caught him with marijuana.
Los Angeles (1947-1955)
As a teenager Morgan had opportunities to jam with the likes of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray on Sunday afternoons at the Crystal Tearoom. When he was just 15 years old, Morgan was offered Johnny Hodges's spot in Duke Ellington's Orchestra, but Stanley deemed him too young for touring. Instead he joined the house band at Club Alabam where he backed vocal luminaries such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. That same year he won a television talent-show contest, the prize of which was a recording session with the Freddy Martin Orchestra, playing "Over the Rainbow" in an arrangement by Ray Conniff, with vocals by Merv Griffin. Morgan attended Jefferson High School during the day, where he played in the school big band that also spawned jazz greats Art Farmer, Ed Thigpen, Chico Hamilton, Sonny Criss, and Dexter Gordon. Morgan stayed in contact with Parker during these years, finding himself in jam sessions at Hollywood celebrities' homes when Parker visited L.A. In 1952, Morgan earned a spot in Lionel Hampton's band, but his first arrest in 1953 prevented him from joining the Clifford Brown and Max Roach quintet (that role went instead to Harold Land, and later, Sonny Rollins). Morgan recorded an all-star date with Wild Bill Davis and Conte Candoli in 1954, and participated in a second recording session with Candoli, Wardell Gray, Leroy Vinnegar and others, which were combined and released in 1955 as Morgan's first album, Frank Morgan, by GNP Crescendo Record Co.. The album copy hailed Morgan as the new Charlie Parker, who had died the same year. In his own words, Morgan was "scared to death" by this and "self-destructed."
Addiction and incarceration (1955-1985)
Following in the footsteps of Parker, Morgan had started taking heroin at 17, subsequently became addicted, and spent much of his adult life in and out of prison. Morgan supported his drug habit through check forgery and fencing stolen property. His first drug arrest came in 1955, the same year his debut album was released, and Morgan landed in San Quentin State Prison in 1962, where he formed a small ensemble with another addict and sax player, Art Pepper. His final incarceration, for which Morgan had turned himself in on a parole violation, ended on December 7, 1986. Though he stayed off heroin for the last two decades of his life, Morgan took methadone daily.
Fresh out of prison in April, 1985, Morgan started recording again, releasing Easy Living on Contemporary Records that June. Morgan performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 21, 1986, and turned down an offer to play Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's film Bird (Forest Whitaker took his place). He made his New York debut in December 1986 at the Village Vanguard, and collaborated with George W.S. Trow on Prison-Made Tuxedos, a semi-autobiographical Off-Broadway play which included live music by the Frank Morgan Quartet (with Ronnie Mathews, Walter Booker, and Victor Lewis). His 1990 album Mood Indigo went to number four on the Billboard jazz chart. Morgan suffered a stroke in 1998, but subsequently recovered, recording and performing during the last four years of his life. HighNote Records eventually released three albums worth of material from a three-night stand at the Jazz Standard in New York City in November, 2003. After moving to Minneapolis in the fall of 2005, Morgan headlined the 2006 Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival, played duets with Ronnie Mathews at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis and George Cables at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul, and performed on the West Coast at Yoshi's and the Catalina. His last gig in Minneapolis featured Grace Kelly, Irv Williams, and Peter Schimke at the Dakota on July 1, 2007. Shortly before his death, Morgan completed his first tour of Europe.
Frank Morgan died on Friday, December 14, 2007 from complications due to colorectal cancer, two days before his 74th birthday. A memorial service featuring members of Morgan's family and a performance by Irv Williams was held at the Artists' Quarter on Sunday, December 23.
- Frank Morgan (GNP/Crescendo, 1955) with Wardell Gray, Conte Candoli, James Clay, Jack Sheldon, Howard Roberts, Carl Perkins, Wild Bill Davis, Bobby Timmons, Leroy Vinnegar, Larance Marable, Machito's rhythm section
- Easy Living (Contemporary, 1985) with Cedar Walton, Tony Dumas, Billy Higgins
- Double Image (Contemporary, 1986) duets with George Cables
- Lament (Contemporary, 1986) with Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, Billy Higgins
- Bebop Lives! (Contemporary, 1986) live at the Village Vanguard with Johnny Coles, Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, Billy Higgins
- Major Changes (Contemporary, 1987) with McCoy Tyner, Avery Sharpe, Louis Hayes
- Reflections (Contemporary, 1988) with Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter, Al Foster
- Yardbird Suite (Contemporary, 1989) with Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter, Al Foster
- Mood Indigo (Antilles, 1989) with Wynton Marsalis, Ronnie Mathews, George Cables, Buster Williams, Al Foster
- A Lovesome Thing (Antilles, 1990) with Roy Hargrove, Abbey Lincoln, George Cables, David Williams, Lewis Nash
- Quiet Fire (Contemporary, 1991) with Bud Shank, George Cables, John Heard, Jimmy Cobb
- You Must Believe In Spring (Antilles, 1992) duets with Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Roland Hanna, Hank Jones
- Listen to the Dawn (Antilles, 1993) with Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Grady Tate
- Love, Lost and Found (Telarc, 1995) with Cedar Walton, Ray Brown, Billy Higgins
- Bop! (Telarc, 1996) with Rodney Kendrick, Ray Drummond, Curtis Lundy, Leroy Williams
- City Nights: Live at the Jazz Standard (HighNote, 2004) with George Cables, Curtis Lundy, Billy Hart
- Raising the Standard: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 2 (HighNote, 2005)
- Reflections (HighNote, 2005) with Ronnie Mathews, Essiet Essiet, Billy Hart
- A Night in the Life: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 (HighNote, 2007)
- Twogether (HighNote, 2010) duets recorded in 2005 with John Hicks
With Milt Jackson
With Kenny Clarke
- Telefunken Blues (Savoy, 1955)
With Lyle Murphy
- Four Saxophones in Twelve Tones (GNP/Crescendo, 1955)
With L. Subramaniam
With Wardell Gray
- Wardell Gray Memorial, Vol. 1 (Prestige, 1983) recorded in 1953
With Mark Murphy
- Night Mood (Milestone, 1986)
With Terry Gibbs
- The Latin Connection (Contemporary, 1986)
With Art Farmer
- Central Avenue Reunion (Contemporary, 1990)
With Ben Sidran
- Mr. P's Shuffle (Go Jazz, 1996)
With Abbey Lincoln
- Who Used to Dance (Verve, 1996)
- Allmusic biography
- Voce, Steve. "Frank Morgan: Alto Saxophonist Protg of Charlie Parker Who Spent 30 Years behind Bars in San Quentin." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 17 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/frank-morgan-alto-saxophonist-protg-of-charlie-parker-who-spent-30-years-behind-bars-in-san-quentin-765502.html>.
- Davis, Francis. Jazz and Its Discontents: A Francis Davis Reader. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004. Print.
- Rubiner, Julia M. Contemporary Musicians. Profiles of the People in Music. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1993. Print.
- Reiter, Brandt. "Frank Morgan." All About Jazz. N.p., 9 Aug. 2004. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
- Anthony, Michael. "SAVED BY THE HORN - After spending half a lifetime on drugs and in prison, jazz great Frank Morgan found redemption in music - and a long-lost family in Minneapolis." Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN) 23 Jun. 2006, METRO, SCENE: 1F. NewsBank. Web. 20 Sep. 2013.
- "Frank Morgan On Piano Jazz." Interview by McPartland Marian. NPR Music. N.p., 30 May 2008. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <http://www.npr.org/2011/07/01/15126693/frank-morgan-on-piano-jazz>
- Holden, Stephen. "STAGE: MUSIC FROM PRISON." New York Times Nov 26 1987. ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2013
- Bream, Jon. "the big gigs." Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN) 29 Jun. 2007, METRO, SCENE: 6F. NewsBank. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
- Raihala, Ross. "JAZZMAN FRANK MORGAN WILL BE REMEMBERED." St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN) 21 Dec. 2007, St. Paul, Main: A13. NewsBank. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.