December 18, 2007


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

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

I was privileged to see him play in my local jazz club right about when he got out, mid 80's ... Memorable. May God bless and hold him close.

Posted by: Qiao at December 18, 2007 6:35 PM

I was planning to do a tribute to him on my radio show last Sunday, but foul weather made me cancel. This Sunday would have been Frank Morgan's 74th birthday, so I'll mark it by playing a track from his first album in '55, then some of his comeback material. The 23rd is also the birthday of Chet Baker; we'll also cover Ray Bryant and Woody Shaw (24th) and Cab Calloway, Bob James, Nat Cole's guitarist Oscar Moore, Pete Rugolo, Jerome Richardson, and maybe Kid Ory (all on the 25th) if I have the time. Jazz' heritage is so rich that I wonder if its future can ever live up to the promise of its past.

P. S. Plus I gotta get some Christmas jazz on the program! I got my (unpaid) work cut out for me...

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at December 18, 2007 7:28 PM