Modelling his playing style on Clifford Brown, his death at the age of just 25 in 1956 coincided with jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan’s emergence as a genuine talent, albeit with a self-destructive streak that ultimately contributed to his own premature passing. He was born today in 1938.
Jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Schooled at Mastbaum High School for the Arts, Lee teamed up with bassist James “Spanky” DeBrest and was fronting his own band before his 16th birthday, playing trumpet after an earlier failed attempt to master the vibraphone.
Guesting with drummer Art Blakey when he played a two week residency in Philadelphia with a depleted Jazz Messengers lineup in 1956, DeBrest stayed on but Lee preferred to keep his options open and soon found employment in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, where he remained for two years and featured on the celebrated live album of the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.
Guesting on John Coltrane’s notable “Blue Trane” record, Lee then became a full-time Jazz Messenger in 1958, also entered the studio to record his first Blue Note album as a leader, “Candy” (with Sonny Clark on piano, bassist Doug Watkins and Art Taylor on drums). However a memorable stint in Blakey’s ensemble (including the landmark album “Moanin’”) ended when he quit due to drug problems in 1961.
After numerous attempts at getting clean back in Philadelphia, Lee returned in 1963 with what proved to be the most popular album of his career, “The Sidewinder” (“Take Twelve” - a quintet recording some months earlier had emerged on the Jazzland label).
With an edited version of the title track released as a single, Morgan’s stock was on the rise again (although it was hardly representative of his work) and he briefly rejoined The Jazz Messengers and continued to record both as a bandleader and backing others – notably former Jazz Messenger tenor talent Hank Mobley.
A 1970 live set recorded at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California gives a good indication of Morgan’s latter day modified be bop direction, as he doubles up on trumpet and flugelhorn, with regular collaborator Bennie Maupin supplying tenor, flute and bass clarinet.
However Lee’s life was tragically curtailed at the age of just 33 in February 1972, when he was fatally wounded in a shooting incident involving his girlfriend at the inappropriately-named Slug’s in New York – a crime of passion related to Morgan’s alleged two-timing of her.
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And here’s some footage of Lee in action: