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The story of Lee Morgan, the jazz trumpeter murdered for infidelity

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The story of Lee Morgan, the jazz trumpeter murdered for infidelity

The phrase “I’m not with this bitch anymore” (I’m Not With This Bitch Anymore) it cost him a bullet in the chest trumpeter Lee Morgan. His companion until then, Helen More, snubbed and in a fit of jealousy shot him with the revolver that Morgan himself had given him for his protection, a .32 silver short.

Lee Morgan he was 33 years old and bled to death at the Slug’s Saloon jazz club, in the East Village, New York, on the cold and stormy night of Saturday, February 19, 1972, almost 50 years ago, as a result of snow that prevented the ambulance from arriving on time.

The bullet did not kill him immediately and they even had time to say goodbye according to the version of someone who was present. Helen screamed seconds after the shot, “Oh, what have I done to you?” and Lee replied “I know you really didn’t want to do this. I’m sorry too”.

The relationship between Helen and Lee came from a long time ago, the coexistence would have begun in 1967, when Morgan was broke and living on the streets due to his heroin addiction.. Not only did Helen help him in his recovery, as she got him into the “detox program” through methadone treatment, she also became his manager and Lee started making money.

Lee Morgan And Helen More, His Lover, His Confidante And His Manager And The One Who Murdered Him.

Lee Morgan and Helen More, his lover, his confidante and his manager and the one who murdered him.

Who was Lee Morgan

Surely Morgan was a musician with strength, soul and emotion; one of the most soulful trumpeters in modern jazz and a passionate improviser full of emotion and energy; his style represents the quintessence of the hard bop trumpet.

Edward Lee Morgan born in Philadelphia, July 10, 1938. He began with the piano and the alto sax to switch to the trumpet at the age of 13, an instrument that seduced him from the first moment. His main influence was the great Clifford Brown, with whom he even took classes.

When Morgan began his life, he was as far removed from the style of a drug addict as could be imagined. I enjoy a strong family background with strong church connections and who supported him steadily in his desire to be a musician.

He was the youngest of four children and his sister Ernestina was the one who gave him his first trumpet. Its development was vertical, its precocity, striking. He became a professional at the age of 15 and 17, that is, four years after starting on the trumpet, I was already playing in the Big Band of Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1957, he participated in the legendary John Coltrane album, BlueTrain and, in 1958, when he had just turned 20, he joined the Jazz Messengers, with drummer Art Blakey, where in addition to showing his talent as a soloist he also excelled as a composer, with songs like The Midget, Haina, Celine, yama, pisces Y Blue Lace, among others.

Morgan’s music has an urban sound that he combined with the cleanliness of Clifford Brown to produce something unique. Over time he came to develop a personal style in which he mixed short and penetrating phrases with long and oscillating ones, masterfully using the resource of reiteration.

In Action, Trumpeter Lee Morgan.

In action, trumpeter Lee Morgan.

The fall

Lee Morgan started using heroin during his time with the Messengers until a moment came in 1961 when the situation became untenable both for him and for the pianist Bobby Timmons, composer of the song that became the band’s anthem, Moanin’; both left the quintet.

Morgan returned to his native Philadelphia to “clean up.” He gave up jazz for two years and with his trumpet sold and his lip damaged he entered the Narcotic Farm in Lexington, a halfway house that had housed William Burroughs and Chet Baker, among others. They were months in which rumors spread about his death or that he had joined the army.

For his part, the trumpeter’s biographer, Tom Perchard, stated that it was Art Blakey who introduced him to heroin, which ended up ruining his career. The drummer used the drug with a behavior rarely seen to the point that it allowed him to maintain a worthy constancy in his work, something absolutely unusual and that the trumpeter, like thousands of other artists, did not achieve.

The return

Two years later, in November 1963, Morgan returned to New York much better and decided to start his solo career, although he had been recording albums under his name on the Blue Note label since 1956.

Lee Morgan Was Assassinated In 1971, Outside A Jazz Club.

Lee Morgan was assassinated in 1971, outside a jazz club.

In 1964, he launched The Sidewinder, which achieves unexpected success and reaches number 35 on the sales charts. The theme that ended up giving the album its title was written in the recording studio because a composition was missing; specifically, The Sidewinder it was the stuffing.

The artist with great skill developed a style of jazz funk, which was called “boogaloo” in the clubs and which gained space on the radio and it was even used by the automaker Chrysler as the theme song for the 1964 baseball world series.

Morgan was a prolific artist, with 25 albums to his name and countless jobs as a sideman with Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Jackie McLean, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, among others.

It’s hard to put it into a category. “I don’t like labels; if you can play, you can play with everyone. Look at Coleman Hawkins, look at Joe Henderson. We shouldn’t limit our minds.”

“I’m one of those who prefer swing, but I experimented with freeforms like Evolution, by Grachan Moncur and Grass Roots, by Andrew Hill. I did an album with Larry Young (Mother Ship, recorded in 1969) and a week, one with Lonnie Smith (turning point, 1969), something completely different”, said the trumpeter in an interview in 1970.

The beginning of the end

It was 1967 and of the 15,000 dollars that he had won with The Sidewinder there was nothing left. Morgan was on his last legs and I’d rather do drugs than make music.

Lee Morgan Leading A Drum And Double Bass Trio.

Lee Morgan leading a drum and double bass trio.

Jeff McMillan would describe in his biography of the trumpeter Delightfulee (it coincides with the name of one of the artist’s albums): “Sleeping on the sidewalk in front of Birdland with no shoes, sleeping on pool tables in bars, wearing a dirty suit over your pajamas, stealing a television from a hotel lobby to get some money.” That was Morgan for that year.

At this point in its decline, a miracle happened. One freezing night in 1967, Helen More held an open house at her home in Hell’s Kitchen, a poor neighborhood in Manhattan, where there would be jazz and food and Morgan appeared, without a coat and without a trumpet.

More described it as “shabby and pitiful, but for some reason my heart went out to him.” The first thing Helen did was retrieve the trumpet and thus, with that gesture, sealed a close relationship of affection and dependence.

Morgan either moved in with her (moved in is a word that implies he brought her stuff, which he didn’t) or just stayed at her place.

“She clung to me” and Helen, 13 years older than Lee, took complete control of her life. He fed him, took care of him, dressed him, put him on the methadone program, took him to the dentist to fix his loose teeth that made his embouchure difficult, and Morgan started playing and composing.

More put Lee Morgan’s career back together and Although they never married, they presented themselves as husband and wife.; even Helen took the Morgan name. She was his manager, he booked dates, he handled the money and he behaved like a punctual and responsible professional and he succeeded.

Journalist Stuart Nicholson of jazz-wise, pointed out that saxophonist Bennie Maupin defined Helen More as her confidante, friend and lover.

“She had a really quiet strength and he trusted her.” Encouraged by More, he put together a circuit with three clubs, Left Bank Jazz Society, in Baltimore, Slug’s Saloon, in the East Village, in Manhattan, which ended up closing months after the murder de Morgan, and the Baron Club, in Harlem.

In July 1970, Morgan, established as a musician and enjoying a comfortable financial life, recorded with a solid group made up of Maupin, Harold Mabern on piano, Jimmie Merritt on double bass and Mickey Roker on drums (Jack DeJohnette also appeared on one of the songs). ) Live at the Lighthouse, famous jazz club in Hermosa Beach, California.

Morgan’s life traveled with the wind in the sails until, in mid-1971, More begins to notice changes in Lee’s behavior. He was seeing another woman, Judith Johnson; moreover, some nights he did not come back to stay at her house in New Jersey and I was using cocaine.

The night of the tragedy he went with Johnson to his presentation at Slug’s and between one set and another, More appeared, who violently confronted him.

After verbally assaulting her, he pushed her out of the premises and at that moment, Helen drops the gun from her bag on the street, takes it, returns to the club and shoots him in the chest, killing the trumpeter.

Some 1,000 people attended Morgan’s funeral at The Advocate in Philadelphia, while Helen More pleaded guilty to manslaughter in second degree and spent two years in prison. Upon leaving, he returned to his hometown, North Carolina. Shortly before he died, in February 1996, he gave the only interview to jazz writer Larry Reni Thomas, who wrote The woman who killed Lee Morgan.

Indeed, the documentary I Called Him Morgan, by Kaspar Collins, on the Netflix platform, in addition to being the best source of information on the last five years in the trumpeter’s life, used much of the material from that interview. Helen More died of a heart attack in March 1996.

In Morgan it is clearly perceived that peculiar fascination that exists between art and excess, like the case of Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix, for example, where a romantic figure like that of this trumpeter who was mortally wounded says to his victimizer: “I know you really didn’t want to do this.”

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Reference from clarin