On a freezing night in 1967, trumpeter Lee Morgan didn’t even own a trumpet. He had left his horn and winter coat at the pawnshop, all for the purpose of scoring heroin. He was often seen sleeping on the sidewalk outside of Birdland in New York, sometimes without shoes on his feet.
Or he slept on pool tables in bars, with a dirty suit worn over his pajamas. He was known at least once to have stolen for drug sustenance, and a television set was on one occasion stolen from a hotel lobby for quick cash. .
Three years after the release of The Sidewinder, unquestionably one of the greatest albums of the 1960s, Lee Morgan was plagued by addiction. Indeed, he had been under the influence of drugs for almost ten years. He had been a hugely promising star by the age of 20, after his late-teens apprenticeship as a soloist in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band. It was Art Blakey who introduced him to heroin, his characteristic tactic with young proteges like Lee Morgan who, after the stoppage of Gillespie’s Big Band, became a rising star with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Signed to Blue Note around this time, the child prodigy of precise and often silky bebop made six albums for the label in just one year. He recorded many more over the next few years, despite the ravages of heroin addiction. The musician spent a period at the so-called Narcotic Farm in Lexington, North Carolina, a drug rehabilitation center that was also attended by William Burroughs and Chet Baker. However, the heroine will continue to gnaw away at her short life, and her death will deprive 20th century music of one of its true great names.
As he approached his thirties, he could hardly have played the trumpet if he had owned one, as he had stopped practicing. Yet fate would have it that that night in 1967 he would meet Helen Moore – sometimes spelled “Plus” – the woman who would take him in. She effectively rescued and mothered him, helped him clean up his act and returned full time. efficient. Not being a user herself, Moore was a complex, even confrontational person, given that she used to carry bags of heroin for dealers.
Lee and Helen became a couple although they never officially married and it appears that Morgan never divorced his first wife. In a decidedly tragic twist to the story, Helen was also the woman who shot Lee at a New York club five years after they first met.
So much for the events and death of the musician under such traumatic circumstances in 1972. In the meantime, to a slice of the great legacy and this five-album anthology of the great trumpeter and composer which includes in chronological order, The Cook (1957), Margin (1960), Seek the New Earth (1964), The Rumproller (1965) and Nice to meet you (1966).
Soak up the melody and somewhat measured or restrained bebop structures. Warm up too with the presence of the great sax practitioners Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter or remain indifferent (as this writer did) to the symbolic cover of the Beatles, an unsuitable reading, by the figures of Yesterday, out of step with almost everything else on the five albums. You will be charmed by the charming swing of the Big Band version of The delicious Deggie on the Delightfullee disk.
Listen to the supple soul Sunrise, Sunset with Morgan and Henderson in top form Delightfullee album. Note also the distinct influence of John Coltrane on the prodigious opening notes of Seek the New Earth from the album of the same name. There’s also nostalgic stuff, poetic digging with trumpet Nakatini Suite 8:10 from Margin and Melancholia from Seek the New Earth. Like I said, unparalleled stuff.