Lee Morgan

Noted as one of America's greatest jazz trumpeters, Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 10, 1938. He initially played vibraphone and alto saxophone but changed course after being given a trumpet on his 13th birthday by his sister Ernestine. At the age of 18, he joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band, a huge learning curve that brought him to the attention of the famous jazz label Blue Note, with whom he signed in 1956. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership, which resulted in 25 albums and saw him rise to becoming one of the leading jazz figures of the era. He worked with many of the greats of the genre including Hank Mobley and John Coltrane, playing on Coltrane's legendary Blue Train album and further developed his reputation and his talents as a soloist and composer with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, touring and recording with them for several years, writing a number of popular tunes like “The Midget,” “Yama,” and “Blue Lace.” Beset by drug problems, he left the band in 1961, but returned to action with his greatest work The Sidewinder (1964). The album’s title track even cracked the pop charts and went on to have a life of its own being used in TV commercials. Nobody was more surprised by its success than Lee Morgan himself, who said he'd originally written it as an album filler and had no idea why it became such a success. He was prouder of his more avant-garde style pieces with Grachan Moncur III but was grateful for the new-found popularity which helped him diversify and launched his 1964 album Search for the New Land into the R&B charts, while keeping him busy recording with many other top performers, notably Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Lonnie Smith. He also involved himself in politics, becoming a leader of the Jazz & People's Movement promoting jazz and protesting about its lack of exposure in popular culture, while continuing to work with a highly rated band that included pianist Harold Mabern. And then tragedy struck on February 19, 1972, when an argument broke out between sets during an engagement at Slugs Saloon in New York and he was shot by his common-law wife, Helen Moore. Lee Morgan bled to death while awaiting an ambulance which was delayed reaching the club due to snowy conditions. He was 33 years old. Since his death, Lee Morgan’s musical legacy has continued to reach new generations of music listeners thanks to reissues, compilations, and archive collections containing previously unreleased recordings.

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