As a rule I don’t really go in for statistics, numbers, points etc. I imagine that Lee Morgan didn’t either. Lee Morgan died aged thirty three in 1972. He was shot whilst on stage at a club, Slugs’ Saloon, in New York. Between 1956 and 1972, Lee played on one hundred and fourteen albums. Thirty one as a band leader. Most of which were committed to tape during Blue Note Records’s halcyon era.
During a radio interview shortly after Lee’s death, Miles Davis no less, had this to say:
“Lee Morgan was the baddest trumpet player out there. Badder than Diz, badder than me.”
The sound of Lee Morgan blowing horn, first became important to me when I heard his break on the track ‘Locomotion’ from John Coltrane’s album ‘Blue Train’. I’d just started digging into jazz after watching Spike
Lee’s film ‘Mo Better Blues’. At that point, I was still trying to get my head around what Jimmy Page and Robert Johnson were playing... Lee Morgan was the first time I encountered real virtuosity. His playing seemed to soar over the entire band, shimmering with bold invention and total command as a player; whilst simultaneously reaching for something beyond himself. It was like hearing the essence of his being. He was nineteen years old when Coltrane cut that album
Looking back at the nineteen year old version of myself, I was, I suppose like many in their late teens, on hedonistic autopilot. Living and charging ahead without reflection on anything outside my immediate experience. I often think that perhaps this is why, for many, reaching thirty and beyond can be a time of personal doubt. Our triumphs and travails tend to have become a back catalogue; causing us to be more cautious in the way we navigate the world.
I’m sure Lee had moments of doubt too. His personal life, like that of so many musicians, has been claimed by our culture as another mythical tale of the tragic artist. Lee Morgan’s power as an artist however, never diminished. Even now, it remains pristine. Pulsing effortlessly with that rare balance of talent, technical mastery, sheer determination and above all else soul. For me, the mythical lies in those elements. Hearing Lee Morgan play leaves me awestruck with every listen, and inspired to keep on with my own search.