Before I get into this week’s review, I want to remind you that next weekend is the last weekend of the month, which means Saturday is a down day for JFASN. I may pull out a previous review, dust it off, and re-post the link, but there will be no new review published here on the 27th.
The timing couldn’t be better since A) I am on vacation until the 29th and it will be nice to have the final weekend free of other obligations, and B) the extended forecast for the Portland area is calling for temperatures in the high 90’s or even 100 on both the 27th and the 28th.
When it’s that hot, the last place I want to be, frankly, is sitting in a second-floor writing room that faces west, and thus receives the full blast of the late afternoon/early evening sun.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on to this week’s album!
Trumpeter Lee Morgan was born on July 10, 1938 in Philadelphia, PA, and died on February 19, 1972. When he was 14 years old he was given a trumpet, and by the time he was 15 he was performing professionally on the weekends. While still a young teenager he sat in on jam sessions and workshops with Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Sonny Stitt, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Following Morgan’s graduation from high school, Art Blakey invited him to join the Jazz Messengers. For whatever reason, Morgan did not stay with the Messengers for long, and he soon joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band.
1956 was a pivotal year for Morgan. He released no fewer than five albums under his own name that year, and all did well if not spectacularly. Then, on June 26 of that year, the then reigning king of the jazz trumpet, Clifford Brown, was killed in a car accident at the age of 25. Morgan, although only 18 at the time, was considered by many to be Brown’s most likely successor.
Over the following years, Morgan’s reputation continued to grow and he worked with a long list of jazz luminaries. His career and his life both ended on the evening of February 19, 1972, when he was shot dead by his common law wife, Helen, for reasons which today are unclear. (See Morgan’s biographical links at the end of this article for more on this and other aspects of Morgan’s life.)
Morgan appeared on a number of albums, both his own and those of other artists. The legendary Rudy Van Gelder was the recording engineer for the album I want to tell you about this week. It was released on the Blue Note label and is called “City Lights.”
The musical personnel for this one are:
Lee Morgan, trumpet
Curtis Fuller, trombone
George Coleman, tenor and alto sax
Ray Bryant, piano
Paul Chambers, bass
Art Taylor, drums
“City Lights” is a short album, with at total running time of barely over 37 minutes. Like so many things, the important thing isn’t how much you have, but what you do with it. When you look at it that way, this is a very big album indeed.
In fact, “City Lights” could just as easily be considered an homage to Benny Golson. Three of the five songs on it were written by Golson, including the title track, which opens the disk. “City Lights” has a different sort of head, almost a sing-song kind of thing. It is quickly left behind, and the guys jump headfirst into the rest of the song. The first solo (Coleman) comes only forty-five seconds in. Coleman is soon followed by Fuller, who is followed by Morgan himself. All the while, Chambers and Taylor are giving them a fast-moving rhythm. It’s almost four minutes in when Bryant takes his solo, moving things forward relentlessly. Then Chambers takes a short solo, followed by Morgan, then Taylor, then Morgan again, back and forth until shortly before the end. A superb piece of music!
Here are Morgan and the guys doing “City Lights”:
Next we have another Golson tune, “Tempo De Waltz”. This one opens sounding for all the world just like what the title would suggest: A good, old-fashioned waltz. (Imagine that!) About a minute in that changes as Fuller takes the lead and the song that sounded like it might have been from the 18th century becomes a modern bop classic. Almost two minutes in, Morgan, Chambers and Taylor take charge and continue the forward motion. Taylor’s ride cymbal adds a sparkle that makes this one come alive as Bryant takes over for his solo, joined by Chambers. Toward the end they revisit the waltz theme before taking it out.
Here is “Tempo De Waltz”:
“You’re Mine You,” from Johnny Green and Edward Heyman, is a quiet little song, and the guys do a predictably wonderful job with it.
“Just By Myself” is the last of Benny Golson’s triad of songs, and the final one I’m going to write about here this time. Morgan and Taylor open this one in fine style. They are soon joined by most of the others, although the focus remains on Morgan throughout. This one is a hard driven piece, a fine example of the classic bop of the time.
Here are the guys performing “Just By Myself”:
I’m feeling a little generous today for some reason, so before I go let me give you a little gift. From 1958-ish, here is a complete recorded concert of Lee Morgan during his days with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, including Benny Golson and Bobby Timmons. Note that although this is in Hi-Def, it is NOT a concert video. The image is a still photo.
Here is “Complete Concert At Club Germain”:
I’m sure it is obvious by now that I consider “City Lights” by Lee Morgan to be an outstanding album for you to add to your own personal play list, for a Saturday or any other night!
For more information about Lee Morgan and his music, here are a few places to check out:
Jazz.com has a good bio of him here.
His record label, Blue Note, also has a nice write-up about him.
Steve Huey wrote a nice bio of Morgan for the allmusic.com web site.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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