Written by Dan Miller
(1938-1972) Lee Morgan's tone crackled with electricity. He was soulful, funky, confident, daring and his improvisations seethed with intensity. At 18, Lee emerged on the scene as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band, featured on A Night In Tunisia (Dizzy at Newport).
In 1956, Lee began a long and fruitful relationship with Blue Note and the results were burning (Candy, City Lights and The Cooker). Teaming Lee with the likes of Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Curtis Fuller and Pepper Adams inspired the young prodigy to new heights.
Assuming the trumpet chair in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from Bill Hardman was the next step in Lee's evolution. Sharing frontline duties with Benny Golson (Moanin'), Lee produced some of his most memorable solos (Listen: Moanin', Along Came Betty and I Remember Clifford). It was the edition of the Jazz Messengers with Wayne Shorter and Bobby Timmons, that produced Lee's most adventurous work to date. This unit is among one of the best in jazz history. Not only did it feature three of jazz's individual new voices, but it gave platform to their incredible compositional skills. In 1960-1961, Blakey's Messengers recorded numerous dates for Blue Note including: The Big Beat (Listen: Dat Dere and Lester Left Town), A Night In Tunisia (Listen: A Night In Tunisia), Roots and Herbs (Listen: Ping Pong) and The Freedom Rider (Listen: El Toro). The work of this band is also documented by a vast collection of live recordings from Europe and Asia.
1960 also found Lee in a brief relationship with Vee Jay Records (Expoobident and Here's Lee Morgan), featuring Clifford Jordan (Lee also appeared on Vee Jay dates for Wayne Shorter).
Morgan returned to the Jazz Messengers in 1964-1965, making Indestructible with Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter and 'Smake It with the brilliant tenor man John Gilmore.
Lee continued maturing as a soloist and composer, creating excellent albums: The Sidewinder (Listen: The Sidewinder), Cornbread (Listen: Ceora and Our Man Higgins), The Sixth Sense (Listen: Anti-Climax) and Live at the Lighthouse (Listen: Beehive and Nommo).
Morgan was also a highly sought after sideman who appeared on great records by John Coltrane (Blue Train), Joe Henderson (Mode for Joe), Jackie McLean (Jackknife), Hank Mobley (Dippin'), Johnny Griffin (A Blowin' Session) and Jimmy Smith (The Sermon and House Party).
Morgan was only 33 when he was shot to death in 1972.
© 2002 Dan Miller
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