Artist Biography by Steve Huey
A cornerstone of the Blue Note label roster prior to his tragic demise, Lee Morgan was one of hard bop’s greatest trumpeters, and indeed one of the finest of the ’60s. An all-around master of his instrument modeled after Clifford Brown, Morgan boasted an effortless, virtuosic technique and a full, supple, muscular tone that was just as powerful in the high register. His playing was always emotionally charged, regardless of the specific mood: cocky and exuberant on up-tempo groovers, blistering on bop-oriented technical showcases, sweet and sensitive on ballads. In his early days as a teen prodigy, Morgan was a busy soloist with a taste for long, graceful lines, and honed his personal style while serving an apprenticeship in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. As his original compositions began to take in elements of blues and R&B, he made greater use of space and developed an infectiously funky rhythmic sense. He also found ways to mimic human vocal inflections by stuttering, slurring his articulations, and employing half-valved sound effects. Toward the end of his career, Morgan was increasingly moving into modal music and free bop, hinting at the avant-garde but remaining grounded in tradition. He had already overcome a severe drug addiction, but sadly, he would not live to continue his musical growth; he was shot to death by his common-law wife in 1972.
Edward Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1938. He grew up a jazz lover, and his sister apparently gave him his first trumpet at age 14. He took private lessons, developing rapidly, and continued his studies at Mastbaum High School. By the time he was 15, he was already performing professionally on the weekends, co-leading a group with bassist Spanky DeBrest. Morgan also participated in weekly workshops that gave him the chance to meet the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and his idol Clifford Brown. After graduating from high school in 1956, Morgan — along with DeBrest — got the chance to perform with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers when they swung through Philadelphia. Not long after, Dizzy Gillespie hired Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band, and afforded the talented youngster plenty of opportunities to solo, often spotlighting him on the Gillespie signature piece “A Night in Tunisia.” Clifford Brown’s death in a car crash in June 1956 sparked a search for his heir apparent, and the precocious Morgan seemed a likely candidate to many; accordingly, he soon found himself in great demand as a recording artist. His first session as a leader was cut for Blue Note in November 1956, and over the next few months he recorded for Savoy and Specialty as well, often working closely with Hank Mobley or Benny Golson. Later in 1957, he performed as a sideman on John Coltrane’s classic Blue Train, as well as with Jimmy Smith.
more at allmusic.com