The film I Called Him Morgan tells of the rise and tragic fall of trumpeter Lee Morgan, who grew up in Philadelphia. WRTI’s Susan Lewis talked with sax master Odean Pope about his memories of Morgan, who in his short life made a long-lasting contribution.
Susan Lewis: Born in 1938, Lee Morgan grew up playing jazz ,mingling with an extraordinary group of musicians, including Benny Golson, John Coltrane, and Odean Pope, who used to play duets with Morgan in Pope’s basement.
Odean Pope: He was the kind of mind, if something was played maybe once, he could go to his horn and play it all over again. That trumpet, I think it was an extension of his body.
SL: At 18, Morgan was playing with Dizzy Gillespie; at 19, he recorded Blue Train with Coltrane, and at 20, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Three years later, drug addiction forced him out of the band. The film I called Him Morgan tells his story with a focus on Helen Moore, who helped him recover from heroin, and became his common law wife.
OP: She took him in, and started taking care of his business.
SL: His 1964 album Sidewinder was a giant hit. Morgan was again composing, playing, recording, but also began seeing another woman. On the snowy night of February 19, 1972, Helen walked into the club he was playing, and shot him. Pope got a call at 2 a.m.
OP: I couldn’t believe it. I got up and walked the floor all night. It was a great loss; he was only 33 and he had so many things to bring. He made 25 albums as a leader. In the short time that he lived, he gave so much. He made a tremendous impact on a lot of people’s lives.
SL: Lee Morgan -- a divine talent with a tragic downfall that was all too human.