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The Great Lee Morgan

Updated on January 16, 2015

The Great Lee Morgan!

Born July 10, 1938 in Philadelphia, Lee Morgan was arguably the greatest trumpet player ever recorded. Turning some of the greatest heads in jazz by the age of 15, Lee went on to write his own ticket after the success of his crossover hit "The Sidewinder" in 1964.

Tragically, he was shot to death by his common law wife on February 19, 1972, but he left behind a catalogue of amazing music.

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Lee Morgan was a "natural"!

Was he "born with it"?

The story goes that when Edward Lee Morgan turned 14, his sister Ernestine, who had been acquainting him with the culture of his community, presented him with a trumpet and arranged for lessons after he heard Clifford Brown and declared that he wanted to be a trumpet player.

Apparently he simply understood how to play for within a year he was not only playing dates with his own band, but had sat in with the likes of such greats of the jazz world as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Art Blakey (with whom he would form a lifelong friendship).

After a year of study at Mastbaum Tech in Philly, he went on tour as a member of Blakey's Jazz Messengers, ironically replacing his inspiration, Clifford Brown, who had been killed in a car accident, and many of the giants of jazz were impressed by what they heard. At Summer's end, Blakey asked him to stay and, though tempted, Lee felt he was still not ready, so he returned to school at Mastbaum.

Three months later he gave in to the desire for fame when Dizzy Gillespie invited him to go on the road as a member of his band.

In 1958 he decided he needed more schooling and was welcomed at Juilliard Music School, where he spent the following year. Unfortunately, he spent the year after that in trouble with the law as a result of involvement with drugs.

After two years away from the scene, he became a regular with the Jazz Messengers and played on the recordings of numerous jazz artists, who in turn sat in on Lee's solo albums: men like Cedar Walton, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Billy Higgins, Paul Cambers, Herbie Hancock, Clifford Jordan, Jackie McLean, Bob Cranshaw and, of course, Art Blakey.

And then it happened: his third solo album after returning to the scene,"The Sidewinder" became a huge hit, soaring to the top of both the jazz and pop charts in 1964!

For the next nine years he toured and recored with great success and critical acclaim and came to be called "The Great Lee Morgan" for his stunning virtuosity and the appeal of his tunes, which are creatively complex in composition and at the same time so "catchy" as to be immediately memorable.

On February 19,1972, his common law wife, Helen, shot him to death following a heated argument during a nightclub engagement at Slug's in New York City.

He was 33 years old.

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The Great Lee Morgan

The Great Lee Morgan
The Great Lee Morgan

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    • profile image

      elijazz 6 years ago

      One of the best all-time!

    • Bob Druwing profile image

      Bob Druwing 8 years ago from Van Nuys, CA

      Thanks jjaysmoker!

      Recorded on July 10, 11 & 12, 1970, the Live At The Lighthouse album is legendary. Bennie did indeed play tenor sax on the gig, as well as flute and bass clarinet.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Great lens, my favorite album is the 3cd set live at the lighthouse. some of the best modal jazz I've heard. i believe Benny Maupin plays sax on that date. he is very underrated.