Just as Lee Morgan seemed poised to break the cycle of drug addiction that had plagued him for years, the 33-year-old jazz trumpeter died in 1972, the victim not of an overdose, as so many similar stories have completed, but with a bullet. The documentary “I Called Him Morgan”, which chronicles his brief life and career, offers classic tunes and a vivid history of the New York jazz scene, but never manages to sell the drama inherent in its history.
Morgan’s musical career, which included a stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, is chronicled by colleagues such as saxophonist Wayne Shorter. But it’s Lee’s personal life that takes center stage, as most of the film is built around an audio recording of a 1996 interview with Helen Morgan, his common-law wife and the woman who left him. shot it.
Helen came into the musician’s life at a time when he was struggling with heroin and a stalled career. Thirteen years her senior, she nurtured him and put him back on the right track. But the relationship was difficult.
The most striking images in the film are the black and white photographs of Francis Wolff, who documented recording sessions for Blue Note Records. “I Called Him Morgan” itself has a jazzistic approach to storytelling, offering variations on its theme of lost promise in interviews, archival performance footage, and hazy recreations of the snowy Manhattan night where Morgan is dead.
Filmmaker Kasper Collin – who made ‘My Name is Albert Ayler,’ another documentary about a jazz figure who died young – didn’t quite find the middle ground between true crime and musical biography here, but the he story that unfolds in “Morgan” is always intriguing.