Sound of Re­demp­tion: The Frank Mor­gan Story

SOUND OF RE­DEMP­TION: THE FRANK MOR­GAN STORY, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Bill Kohlhaase

Char­lie “Bird” Parker, the alto sax­o­phon­ist who un­leashed the be­bop jazz rev­o­lu­tion, in­flu­enced a gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians, and not only with his mu­sic. Parker’s dis­ci­ples, much to the sax­o­phon­ist’s dis­may, also took cues from his life­style, which in­cluded heroin ad­dic­tion. Alto sax­o­phon­ist Frank Mor­gan first heard Parker when his fa­ther, Stan­ley Mor­gan, a later mem­ber of the Ink Spots, took him to a con­cert at Detroit’s Par­adise The­atre in 1940. Mor­gan, who was seven, was hooked. Parker’s mu­sic that day “went to the very core of my soul,” Mor­gan says in N.C. Heikin’s en­gag­ing doc­u­men­tary on the trou­bled heir to Parker’s mu­sic. He met Parker back­stage and ex­pressed an in­ter­est in play­ing the horn, but Parker sug­gested he start with the clar­inet. The young Mor­gan did just that be­fore mov­ing to the alto sax two years later. By the time he was four­teen, Mor­gan was so pro­fi­cient with his in­stru­ment and so closely iden­ti­fied with Parker that he was nick­named “Lit­tle Bird.” By the time he was seven­teen, Mor­gan, too, was ad­dicted to heroin.

At his prime, Mor­gan was dubbed the great­est liv­ing alto sax­o­phone player in the world by fel­low mu­si­cians, even if the only place he could be heard was be­hind the walls of Cal­i­for­nia’s San Quentin State Prison. Ad­dic­tion, and the crimes he com­mit­ted to pay for his habit (some of them re­quir­ing dis­guises and im­prob­a­ble ruses of the sort one might ex­pect from char­ac­ters right out of Ocean’s Eleven), kept Mor­gan be­hind bars — his first ar­rest was in 1953 — for the good part of three decades. Yet he emerged in 1985, with help from methadone and close friends, to a sec­ond act that saw him rec­og­nized not only as a vir­tu­oso but also as a player of beauty, warmth, and char­ac­ter.

Heiken’s film re­volves around a trib­ute to Mor­gan, who died in 2007, pre­sented at San Quentin by the pi­anist George Ca­bles, alto sax­o­phon­ists Grace Kelly and Mark Gross, bassist Ron Carter, and trom­bon­ist Delfeayo Marsalis. Marsalis’ re­marks to the crowd tie the larger as­pects of Mor­gan’s life and mu­sic to­gether, free­ing the film­maker to delve into de­tails drawn from as­so­ciates, jazz crit­ics, and fam­ily (among them, Mor­gan’s mother, who was fif­teen — some sources say four­teen — when he was born). The best mo­ments here re­con­struct LA’s Cen­tral Av­enue jazz scene as well as the city’s racism and its war on mu­si­cians who were drug users (Dexter Gor­don, Art Pep­per, and many other mu­si­cians also passed through San Quentin’s gates). Heiken is clear-eyed about the no­tion of re­demp­tion as he fol­lows Mor­gan though his later years. One may now be sober enough to make the gig, but that doesn’t mean the demons stop pulling at you. They can be heard tug­ging in­side ev­ery beau­ti­ful note Mor­gan recorded.

Sax man: Frank Mor­gan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.