December 18, 2007
YOU SHOULD HAVE HEARD THEM SWING:
Frank Morgan, 73, a Bebop Progenitor (WILL FRIEDWALD, December 18, 2007, NY Sun)
Morgan emulated Parker in more ways than one. In addition to being the exemplar of bebop's purest and most expressively baroque form, he also acquired Parker's infamous drug habit. This stunted what could have been one of the all-time great careers in jazz, as Morgan wound up spending most of what should have been his most productive years in prison. Yet he blossomed in the mid-1980s, and spent the last two decades touring and recording to make up for lost time. [...]
Parker not only inspired the young Morgan to play alto sax, but recommended that he begin his training on clarinet. Parker even picked out Morgan's first horn. "I am a bebopper stone through, I was a be-bop criminal. I'm a bebop actor. I want to do that throughout my life," Morgan told allaboutjazz.com.
Morgan remained close with Parker until his death in 1955. He once told critic Gary Giddins, "Bird once said to me that he believed in playing the blues on everything. You could say he was playing the blues all the time, whether it was 'Parker's Mood' or 'April in Paris.'"
When he was 14, Morgan's family moved to Los Angeles, where he was taught by the famous classical reed instructor Merle Johnston and encouraged by jazz great Benny Carter. He also continued to learn from Parker, and saw him play whenever he came to Hollywood. [...]
Though his drug habit landed him in the California penal system for most of the next two decades, Morgan was surprisingly not bitter about it in later interviews. He played in prison bands, occasionally sharing the stage with fellow bebop alto great (and addict) Art Pepper. "The greatest big band I ever played with was in San Quentin," he told Mr. Giddins. "We played every Saturday night for what they called a Warden's Tour … People would take that tour just to hear the band."
Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2007 4:57 PM