Lee Morgan

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Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan c. 1956, in the photo used for his album Lee Morgan Sextet
Lee Morgan c. 1956, in the photo used for his album Lee Morgan Sextet
Background information
Birth nameEdward Lee Morgan
Born(1938-07-10)July 10, 1938
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedFebruary 19, 1972(1972-02-19) (aged 33)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, bebop, hard bop
Instrument(s)Trumpet, flugelhorn
Years active1956-1972
LabelsBlue Note, Vee-Jay

Edward Lee Morgan (July 10, 1938 – February 19, 1972) was an American jazz trumpeter and composer.[1][2]

One of the key hard bop musicians of the 1960s, Morgan came to prominence in his late teens, recording on John Coltrane's Blue Train (1957) and with the band of drummer Art Blakey before launching a solo career. Morgan stayed with Blakey until 1961 and started to record as leader in the late '50s. His song "The Sidewinder", on the album of the same name, became a surprise crossover hit on the pop and R&B charts in 1964, while Morgan's subsequent recordings found him touching on other styles of music such as post-bop and avant-garde jazz as his artistry matured. Soon after The Sidewinder was released, Morgan rejoined Blakey for a short period. After leaving Blakey for the final time, Morgan continued to work prolifically as both a leader and a sideman with the likes of Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter, becoming a cornerstone of the Blue Note label.[1]

Morgan died at the age of 33 when his common-law wife Helen Morgan shot and killed him following a confrontation at Slugs' Saloon, in New York City.[3]


Edward Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, on July 10, 1938, the youngest of Otto Ricardo and Nettie Beatrice Morgan's four children.[4]

Originally interested in the vibraphone, he soon showed a growing enthusiasm for the trumpet. Morgan also knew how to play the alto saxophone. On his thirteenth birthday, his sister Ernestine gave him his first trumpet. His primary stylistic influence was Clifford Brown, with whom he took a few lessons as a teenager.

Morgan recorded prolifically from 1956 until a day before his death in February 1972. He joined Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band at 18 and remained as a member for a year and a half until economic circumstances forced Gillespie to disband the unit in 1958.[5] Morgan began recording for Blue Note in 1956, eventually recording 25 albums as a leader for the label. He also recorded on the Vee-Jay label and one album for Riverside Records on its short-lived Jazzland subsidiary. He was a featured sideman on several early Hank Mobley records, and intermittently thereafter. On John Coltrane's Blue Train (1957), Morgan played a trumpet with an angled bell given to him by Gillespie.

Joining Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1958, Morgan further developed his talent as a soloist and composer.[5] He toured with Blakey for a few years,[5] and was featured on numerous albums by the Messengers, including Moanin', which is one of the band's best-known recordings. When Benny Golson left the Jazz Messengers, Morgan persuaded Blakey to hire Wayne Shorter, a young tenor saxophonist, to fill the chair. This version of the Jazz Messengers, including pianist Bobby Timmons and bassist Jymie Merritt, recorded many albums during 1959–61, including for Blue Note Africaine, The Big Beat, A Night in Tunisia and The Freedom Rider. During his time with The Jazz Messengers, Morgan also wrote several tunes including "The Midget", "Haina", "Celine", "Yama," "Kozo's Waltz", "Pisces", and "Blue Lace." The drug problems of Morgan and Timmons forced them to leave the band in 1961, and the trumpeter returned to Philadelphia, his hometown.[5] According to Tom Perchard, a Morgan biographer, it was Blakey who introduced the trumpeter to heroin, which impeded progression in his career.

Lee Morgan (1959)

On returning to New York in 1963, he recorded The Sidewinder. The title track cracked the pop chart in 1964[6] and served as the background theme for Chrysler television commercials during the World Series.[7] The tune was used without Morgan's consent; after he threatened to sue, Chrysler agreed not to show the advertisement again and settled the case.[7] Due to the crossover success of "The Sidewinder" in a rapidly changing pop music market, Blue Note encouraged its other artists to emulate the tune's "boogaloo" beat. Morgan himself repeated the formula several times with compositions such as "Cornbread" (from the eponymous album Cornbread) and "Yes I Can, No You Can't" on The Gigolo. According to drummer Billy Hart, Morgan said he had recorded "The Sidewinder" as filler for the album, and was bemused that it had turned into his biggest hit. He felt that his playing was much more advanced on Grachan Moncur III's essentially avant-garde Evolution album, recorded a month earlier, on November 21, 1963.

After this commercial success, Morgan continued to record prolifically, producing such works as Search for the New Land (1964), which reached the top 20 of the R&B charts. He also briefly rejoined the Jazz Messengers after his successor, Freddie Hubbard, joined another group. Together with tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, pianist John Hicks, and bassist Victor Sproles, this lineup was filmed by the BBC for seminal jazz television program Jazz 625.

As the 1960s progressed, he recorded some twenty additional albums as a leader, and continued to record as a sideman on the albums of other artists, including Wayne Shorter's Night Dreamer; Stanley Turrentine's Mr. Natural; Freddie Hubbard's The Night of the Cookers; Hank Mobley's Dippin', A Caddy for Daddy, A Slice of the Top, Straight No Filter; Jackie McLean's Jackknife and Consequence; Joe Henderson's Mode for Joe; McCoy Tyner's Tender Moments; Lonnie Smith's Think and Turning Point; Elvin Jones' The Prime Element; Jack Wilson's Easterly Winds; Reuben Wilson's Love Bug; Larry Young's Mother Ship; Lee Morgan and Clifford Jordan Live in Baltimore 1968; Andrew Hill's Grass Roots; as well as on several albums with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

He became more politically involved in the last two years of his life, becoming one of the leaders of the Jazz and People's Movement. The group demonstrated during the taping of talk and variety shows during 1970-71 to protest the lack of jazz artists as guest performers and members of the programs' bands. His working band during those last years featured reed players Billy Harper or Bennie Maupin, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Jymie Merritt and drummers Mickey Roker or Freddie Waits. Maupin, Mabern, Merritt, and Roker are featured on the well-regarded three-disc, Live at the Lighthouse, recorded during a two-week engagement at the Hermosa Beach club, California, in July 1970.

Death and legacy[edit]

Morgan was killed in the early hours of February 19, 1972, at Slugs' Saloon, a jazz club in New York City's East Village where his band was performing.[8] Following an altercation between sets, Morgan's common-law wife Helen Moore (a.k.a. Helen Morgan) shot him. The injuries were not immediately fatal, but the ambulance was slow in arriving on the scene as the city had experienced heavy snowfall that resulted in extremely difficult driving conditions. They took so long to get there that Morgan bled to death.[9] He was 33 years old.[8] Helen Morgan was arrested and spent a short time in prison before being released on parole.[10] After her release, she returned to her native North Carolina and died there from a heart condition in March 1996.

Lee and Helen Morgan are the subjects of a 2016 documentary I Called Him Morgan by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin.[11] The film premiered on September 1, 2016, at the 73rd Venice Film Festival[12] and was theatrically released in the U.S. on March 24, 2017.[13] In his New York Times review A. O. Scott called the film "a delicate human drama about love, ambition and the glories of music".[14]


Title Year Recorded Label
Lee Morgan Indeed! 1956 Blue Note
Introducing Lee Morgan 1956 Savoy
Lee Morgan Sextet 1956 Blue Note
Dizzy Atmosphere 1957 Specialty
Lee Morgan Vol. 3 1957 Blue Note
City Lights 1957 Blue Note
The Cooker 1957 Blue Note
Candy 1958 Blue Note
Peckin' Time 1958 Blue Note
Here's Lee Morgan 1960 Vee-Jay
The Young Lions 1960 Vee-Jay
Lee-Way 1960 Blue Note
Expoobident 1960 Vee-Jay
Take Twelve 1962 Jazzland
The Sidewinder 1963 Blue Note
Search for the New Land 1964 Blue Note
Tom Cat 1964 (Released 1980) Blue Note
The Rumproller 1965 Blue Note
The Gigolo 1965 Blue Note
Cornbread 1965 Blue Note
Infinity 1965 (Released 1981) Blue Note
Delightfulee 1966 Blue Note
Charisma 1966 Blue Note
The Rajah 1966 (Released 1985) Blue Note
Standards 1967 (Released 1998) Blue Note
Sonic Boom 1967 (Released 1979) Blue Note
The Procrastinator 1967/1969 (Released 1978) Blue Note
The Sixth Sense 1967 Blue Note
Taru 1968 (Released 1980) Blue Note
Caramba! 1968 Blue Note
Live at the Lighthouse 1970 Blue Note
The Last Session 1971 Blue Note

Further reading[edit]

  • Jeff McMillan DelightfuLee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan (2008) University of Michigan Press
  • Tom Perchard Lee Morgan: His Life, Music and Culture (2006) Equinox


  1. ^ a b Steve Huey. "Lee Morgan | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  2. ^ McMillan, J.S., (2008). DelightfuLee: the life and music of Lee Morgan, University of Michigan Press, p.1
  3. ^ Collin, Kasper. "I Called Him Morgan". I Called Him Morgan. Archived from the original on 2017-02-28. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Lee Morgan". Nndb.com. 1972-02-19. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  5. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 293. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  6. ^ McMillan, Jeffery S. (2008) DelightfuLee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan. University of Michigan Press. p. 135
  7. ^ a b Perchard, Tom (2006) Lee Morgan: His Life, Music and Culture, Equinox, p. 159
  8. ^ a b Tobler, John (1990). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 235. CN 5585.
  9. ^ Chinen, Nate (February 16, 2022). "How a jazz legend's resting place was lost and found, 50 years after his tragic death". NPR News. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  10. ^ "R.S. MURTHI - The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan by Larry Reni Thomas". Archived from the original on 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2017-05-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  11. ^ Mudede, Charles. "I Called Him Morgan Is a Great Documentary About an Underknown Jazz Genius - Film". The Stranger. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  12. ^ Lodge, Guy (2016-09-04). "Film Review: 'I Called Him Morgan'". Variety. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  13. ^ "I Called Him Morgan | In February 1972, celebrated jazz musician Lee Morgan was shot dead by his common-law wife Helen during a gig at a club in New York City. This feature documentary by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin is a love letter to two unique personalities and the music that brought them together. A film about love, jazz and America, with cinematography by Bradford Young". www.icalledhimmorgan.com. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  14. ^ Scott, A. O. (2017-03-23). "Review: 'I Called Him Morgan,' a Jazz Tale of Talent and Tragedy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-30.

External links[edit]