Lee Morgan: His Life, Music and Culture
Hardcover; 256 pages
This is the first biography of Lee Morgan (1938-1972), an influential trumpeter who made a major impact on the jazz scene during his rather brief life. Author Tom Perchard not only details his career and analyzes his performances, but also examines Morgan's youth in Philadelphia, his personal life (heroin addiction, his difficulties with women, overconfidence) and the trumpeter's social activism late in his career. A prodigy on his instrument, Morgan was hired by Dizzy Gillespie and ended up recording as a leader for Blue Note at the age of 18 after Gillespie tried to interest Alfred Lion in recording his own big band. Gaining international exposure while touring with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the trumpeter had a surprise hit with the album The Sidewinder, though his descent into heroin use nearly ended his career for good by the mid '60s. Slowly rebuilding his life and changing his approach to playing, he was in the midst of a comeback when he was shot to death by a former lady friend in the night club Slugs' between sets.
Perchard's greatest strength is his ability to blend together elements of Morgan's life, incorporating numerous interview excerpts (many of which he conducted himself) and perceptive analysis of Morgan's recordings. When he discusses the cultural background of the times, Perchard occasionally gets a bit bogged down, but never enough to lose the reader's interest. Readers will learn a lot about Morgan's distrust of the record label owners and music publishers, his odd relationship with Art Blakey, the troubled relationships with the women in his life, his wasted years as an addict and eventual rebound. Morgan's efforts to get more work for Black musicians in television through organized protests and his contributions as a jazz educator late in his life are also explored in depth. Recommended.