I Called Him Morgan
A look at the life—and death—of famed bebop jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan.
It was snowing heavily in New York City on the night that jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot in the chest by his common-law wife Helen, and the street outside Slug's Saloon in the East Village was covered in a foot or so of snow. Because of all the snow the ambulance was delayed en route, and by the time that it arrived Morgan was dead. He was only 33.
Morgan started young: he was just 18 when he started playing with Dizzy Gillespie's band; he joined that great incubator of young jazz talent, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, in 1958, where he played with tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter and many others. Rumor and legend have it that it was Art Blakey himself who introduced Morgan to heroin, an addiction which eventually led to Morgan's being fired from the band, sending his career and his life into steep decline.
It was during this dark stage of Morgan's life that he met Helen More, an older woman and a sharp dresser, a kind of "den mother" to those who were part of the New York jazz scene. More took Morgan under her wing, got him off heroin, and gave his life some much-needed stability.
I Called Him Morgan is a sad but clear-eyed look into the short life and tragic death of Lee Morgan. At the heart of the documentary is an audio interview with Helen More, recorded just a month before her death in 1996. According to many of those interviewed for the film, Helen and Lee truly loved each other. And yet: there was another woman (who is also interiewed in the film).
The director does an excellent job of fitting the pieces of this jazz tragedy together, and as the snow starts falling during the night and into the early hours of February 19, 1972, we sense events proceeding slowly but inexorably towards an inevitable end.
You can watch a trailer of the fim here.