Lee Morgan performing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in a 1959 concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (photograph by Herbert Behrens, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license)
Jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, one of the leading figures in the hard bop movement of the Sixties, was born on July 10, 1938. He received his first trumpet as a gift from his sister Ernestine on his thirteenth birthday; and, while still a teenager, he was fortunate enough to take some lessons from Clifford Brown. His first major paying gig was with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, which he joined at the age of eighteen.
Around that time (fall of 1956) he recorded his first sessions with Blue Note Records, which became the primary source of his studio performances. That included his participation in the only Blue Note album led by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, Blue Train, sessions in September of 1957 that also included trombonist Curtis Fuller and a rhythm section consisting of Kenny Drew on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. He would then go on to be one of Art Blakey’s “Jazz Messengers” between 1959 and 1961.
For all of his prolific efforts as both leader and sideman, his life ended tragically at the age of 33 on February 19, 1972. He died at Slugs’ Saloon, one of the most adventurous jazz clubs in Manhattan. On that particular night he had an angry confrontation with his common-law wife Helen, which resulted in her shooting and killing him.
The Balboa Theatre will celebrate Morgan’s birthday with a screening of the film I Called Him Morgan. Swedish director Kasper Collin made this documentary, which was first seen at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, where it was first screened in the “Out of Competition” category. It received its first theatrical screening in both the United States and Europe in 2017. As might be expected, the documentary features many leading jazz figures, including Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, and Albert Heath.
The Balboa Theatre is located in the Outer Richmond District at 3630 Balboa Street, which is between 37th Avenue and 38th Avenue. It can be reached easily by the Muni 38 line. The screening will begin at 8 p.m. in Wednesday, July 10. However, it will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a set of live jazz performed by The Noise All Stars. The entire program is expected to run for 150 minutes. Admission will be $15, and the Balboa Theatre has created an event page for advance purchase of tickets online.