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Lee Morgan

Edward Lee Morgan, better known simply as Lee Morgan, was a Philadelphia-born jazz trumpeter who rose to prominence at a young age. In 1956, when he was just 18 years old, Morgan joined the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and that same year signed with Blue Note Records and recorded his debut album Lee Morgan Indeed! Morgan would remain deeply associated with Blue Note for the rest of his too-short career, recording 25 albums for the label as a leader and appearing on enduring classics of the catalog including John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Hank Mobley’s No Room For Squares, Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer, and Joe Henderson’s Mode for Joe.


Morgan’s prodigious talent was apparent from the start with his brilliant tone, astounding technique, and bravado style fully on display on his early efforts for Blue Note including The Cooker, which was recorded in September 1957 just two weeks after the trumpeter’s ear-catching sideman appearance on Coltrane’s masterpiece Blue Train. Morgan joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in 1958, first appearing on the timeless hard bop classic Moanin’, and remaining with the great drummer’s flagship unit through 1961 as they toured the world and recorded albums including The Big Beat, A Night In Tunisia, The Freedom Rider, and Indestructible, as well as the recent discoveries Just Coolin’ and First Flight To Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings.


In the early 1960s personal problems forced Morgan off the scene temporarily, but his comeback album The Sidewinder—recorded in 1963 and released in 1964—would become the most popular of his career with the runaway success of the irrepressible title track which was a jukebox hit that even appeared in a Chrysler commercial (without permission) during the 1965 World Series. The Sidewinder sparked a boogaloo craze and even Morgan himself would cook up funky follow-ups using a similar recipe including The Rumproller and Cornbread.


From the mid-to-late 1960s, Morgan continued to push his sound into new realms on standout sessions like Search for the New Land and The Gigolo, as well as lesser-known albums in his discography which are deserving of greater recognition like The Rajah and Caramba! He also continued to be a ubiquitous presence as a sideman on Blue Note albums by a broad range of artists including Stanley Turrentine, Jackie McLean, Larry Young, Grachan Moncur, Andrew Hill, Jack Wilson, Lonnie Smith, and Reuben Wilson.


In July 1970, Blue Note rolled tape for three nights as Morgan performed at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California with his new quintet featuring saxophonist Bennie Maupin, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Jymie Merritt, and drummer Mickey Roker. The music was heading in expansive new directions and the resulting record was the only official live album of Morgan’s career. First released in 1971 as a 2-LP set it’s now been expanded into a definitive edition as The Complete Live at the Lighthouse encompassing 33 performances including more than 4 hours of previously unreleased music that lets the listener relive the experience of being in the club for every exhilarating moment.


In September 1971, Morgan entered Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey studio for the last time and recorded what would be his final album, an adventurous session that suggested new horizons for his music. It would be released posthumously as Lee Morgan, as five months later his life was cut tragically short in February 1972 when his common-law wife Helen Morgan shot him dead at Slugs’ Saloon in New York City’s East Village. He was only 33 years old. Morgan’s life and death is the subject of the acclaimed, award-winning 2016 documentary I Called Him Morgan which was directed by Kasper Collin.


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