Film about jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan sparks memories for Odean Pope

The film I called him Morgan chronicles the rise and tragic fall of trumpeter Lee Morgan, who grew up in Philadelphia. WRTI’s Susan Lewis spoke with sax master Odean Pope about her memories of Morgan, who in his short life made a lasting contribution.


Sax master Odean Pope talks with WRTI’s Susan Lewis about growing up playing jazz with Lee Morgan and his reaction to the movie, I Called Him Morgan.


Suzanne Lewis: Born in 1938, Lee Morgan grew up playing jazz, mingling with an extraordinary group of musicians, including Benny Golson, John Coltrane and Odean Pope, who dueted with Morgan in Pope’s basement.

Odean Pope: He was the kind of wit, if something was played maybe once he could go to his trumpet and play it all back. This trumpet, I think it was an extension of his body.

SL: At 18, Morgan was playing with Dizzy Gillespie; at 19, he recorded Blue Train with Coltrane, and at 20, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Three years later, drug addiction forced him to leave the band. The film I called him Morgan tells his story with a focus on Helen Moore, who helped him recover from heroin and became his common-law wife.

PO: She welcomed him and started to mind his business.

SL: His 1964 album Sidewinder was a huge success. Morgan was composing, playing, recording again, but also starting to see another woman. On the snowy night of February 19, 1972, Helen walked into the club where he was playing and shot him. The pope received a call at 2 a.m.

PO: I could not believe it. I got up and walked on the floor all night. It was a great loss; he was only 33 and he had so much to contribute. He made 25 albums as a leader. In the short time he lived, he gave so much. He had a huge impact on the lives of many people.

SL: Lee Morgan – a divine talent with a tragic downfall that was all too human.