It is a real rarity for a jazz musician to have his career interrupted for three decades and then be able to make a complete comeback. Frank Morgan showed a great deal of promise in his early days, but it was a long time before he could fulfill his potential. The son of guitarist Stanley Morgan (who played with the Ink Spots), he took up clarinet and alto early on. Morgan moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and was approached by Duke Ellington who wanted the then 15-year-old Frank to go on the road with his band. Frank's father wanted his son to finish school so the Ellington gig never materialized, but by the time he was 17, Frank was working at LA's Club Alabam, backing the likes of Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday. Morgan worked on the bop scene of early-'50s Los Angeles, recording with Teddy Charles (1953) and Kenny Clarke (1954), and under his own name for GNP in 1955.
Unfortunately, around that same time Frank followed his idol and mentor Charlie Bird Parker into heroin addiction, and spent most of the next thirty years serving time for thefts to support his habit. Yet except for periods in the Los Angeles County jail system, he never strayed too far from music. At most penal institutions, there were bands made up of inmates, and Morgan was greeted as a celebrity. He was constantly made gifts of mouthpieces, drugs, food, cigarettes. The greatest big band I ever played with was in San Quentin. Art Pepper and I were proud of that band. We had Jimmy Bunn and Frank Butler, and some other musicians who were known and some who weren't, but they could play. We played every Saturday night for what they called a Warden's Tour, which showed paying visitors only the cleanest cell blocks and exercise yards. But people would take that tour just to hear the band.