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12,393 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 12 years ago. 112 of them this year alone and, so far, 112 this month (Jan. 23).

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Film review: I Called Him Morgan

Lee Morgan met an untimely death. I Called Him Morgan tells the story. Director Kasper Collin's 2016 feature length documentary juxtaposes interviews with some of the figures who were present on the night Morgan was killed, alongside an audio cassette tape interview with Helen Morgan, common-law wife of the hard bop trumpet icon.
As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that those who knew Lee and Helen were fond of both, there is little in the way of negative criticism of either principal character. The emergence on the scene of a teenage Morgan working with Dizzy and Trane is afforded due reverence by fellow musicians, one suggesting a 'cocky' Morgan knew he was good, so much so he wasn't afraid to take on Dizzy on the stand! Archive footage of Morgan with the Jazz Messengers playing his famed trumpet intro on
 Moanin' proves to be a musical highlight but it is the testimony of those who were there, those who were part of it, which makes I Called Him Morgan so compelling. 

Helen Morgan, who was some years Lee's senior, is heard on tape talking almost a quarter of a century after the fateful day Lee met his end. The man who secured the interview with Helen Morgan in February 1996 - Larry Reni Thomas - reveals that there was to be a follow-up interview but it never happened as the following month his interviewee died. So, this lone cassette tape serves as Helen Morgan's account of events in Slugs' Saloon, NYC on the evening of February 19, 1972. 

Since the release of Kasper Collin's film, which was premiered at the Venice Film Festival, more than one of the on-screen talking heads has left us, including Jymie Merritt who died last year. Thankfully some of the participants are still with us: Wayne Shorter (Morgan suggested to Art Blakey that the now octogenarian saxophonist should join the Messengers) and Billy Harper. The Cookers' tenor saxophonist was in Slugs' Saloon on the night of February 19, 1972. Listening to Harper recalling the occasion somehow made a connection, however tenuous, given that in recent years the Texas-born musician has graced the stage at Sage Gateshead. 

I Called Him Morgan is currently available on Netflix (www.netflix.com).          
Russell

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