Article on the life and music of Lee Morgan @ All About Jazz

DelightfuLee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan
Jeffrey McMillan
Cloth/Paper; 272 pages
ISBN: 978-0-472-11502-0/978-0-472-03281-5
University of Michigan Press

This is an excellent, well-written, well-researched, scholarly book about the life and music of one of jazz’s great unsung heroes – trumpeter Lee Morgan – who was shot and killed at Slug’s Jazz Club in Manhattan. in 1972, at the tender age of 33, by his 47-year-old companion, Helen Morgan (although not legally married to Morgan, she adopted his surname).

Author Jeffrey McMillan, who is also a trumpeter, is obviously enamored with Morgan’s music and resilient spirit. His short time on earth was troubled and drug-ridden, but musically fruitful, as McMillan documents. The author, who was aided by Morgan’s brother Jimmy, uncovered information that previous researchers failed to find, such as Morgan’s specific route, quotes from Helen Morgan, and the fact that Helen’s court records are missing. We also learn that Morgan was once legally married to Kiko Morgan (and now we probably know who gets royalty checks).

McMillan’s only flaw is his tendency to give long, detailed analyzes of Morgan’s recording sessions. These tend to be musician-oriented, take up a large chunk of the book, perhaps a third, and read like reviews that would be great for a periodical, but are a little tedious for a book. Yet the biography, despite this, remains interesting and worthy of any jazz-lover’s library, especially, perhaps, those who could learn not to make the same mistakes Morgan did.

Clearly Morgan was a rebel with a cause, but one with a serious flaw that deserves special attention from other promising young jazz musicians who may be drawn to living too fast so close to the edge. Morgan’s intention, as stated many times in the biography, was to use his music to try and appease the wild beast, particularly society’s disrespect for jazz music and jazz musicians, and racial discrimination. DelightfuLee suggests that while Morgan did this very well, his use of drugs to escape reality may have diminished his effectiveness. Of course, this is not new in the history of jazz; McMillan writes about a lifestyle that has been repeated by many other creative people, regardless of color (another example being white cornetist Bix Beiderbecke).

What is difficult to understand in Morgan’s life is his habit of biting the hand that fed him. By most accounts, he was what some on the streets call “a greasy junkie”, someone who would do almost anything to get his hands on a bag of heroin. McMillan cites an example of this when he mentions the time Morgan and trumpeter Chet Baker bought heroin together. When Baker turned his back before they were about to inject, Morgan replaced Baker’s shot with water.

Morgan, according to McMillan, made his final mistake when he crossed paths with Helen and boldly began to be seen with another woman, sometimes in Helen’s presence. It would probably freak anyone out and lose their minds. In the end, Helen, whose exclusive interview is included in the book, was, according to McMillan, likely committed to a mental institution, where she was given time to reflect on what she had done not only to Morgan and to herself, but also to the world of jazz at large.

Helen had silenced the man with the horn who had brought so much joy, innovation and determination to the musical world. McMillan’s book convincingly shows that it was a tragedy that Lee Morgan could not have lived any longer and that there is every reason to believe that his future musical endeavors would have been bright and enlightening and uplifting. culture of its listeners. What a waste, what a sad loss for humanity.