Lee Morgan - Live At The Lighthouse

Lee Morgan Live At The Lighthouse (Blue Note 1970)

The titles of Lee Morgan’s Live At The Lighthouse, such as Nommo and Neophilia, perfectly match the woolly times. Sounds like books by Madame Blavatsky read by a wicker man under the sole tree in Greenwich Village, while runaway girls in gingham dresses rattle their gypsy earrings and recite luney banjo tunes with feverish enthusiasm… Indeed, Morgan’s notes sometimes are close to hitting a falling star but underneath his ‘pretty far out’ project shimmers the trumpeter’s trademark hard bop blowing.

Lee Morgan - Live At The Lighthouse


Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bennie Maupin (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Harold Mabern (piano), Jimmy Merritt (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)


on July 10-12, 1970 at The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California


as BST-89906 in 1971

Track listing

Side 1:
Side 2:
The Beehive
Side 3:
Side 4:

The prince of hard bop’s more adventurous side occasionally came out of hiding, less than Lee Morgan wished, I guess. Sure, as early as 1963, Morgan was featured on Grachan Monchur III’s avantgarde outing Evolution and the trumpeter’s follow-up of hit album The Sidewinder, 1964’s Search For The New Land never lost anything of its frontline charm. He appeared on Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer, Joe Henderson’s Mode For Joe and Andrew Hill’s Grass Roots and Lift Every Voice. But as far as leadership dates were concerned, Morgan’s label, Blue Note, still favored straightforward jazz releases in the late sixties over envelope-pushing affairs, some of which were released posthumously, such as The Sixth Sense and The Rajah. Then there was Live At The Lighthouse, subconscious-Lee in the limelight at last. By that time, of course, Alfred Lion was taking pictures in Mexico and Blue Note, though Francis Wolff and Duke Pearson shared production responsibilities, was swallowed by United Artists.

Scene of the spectacle: the legendary Lighthouse, hurled into prominence in 1952 by Howard Rumsey but, as Dutch journalist Jeroen de Valk revealed in his 1989 mythbusting biography of Chet Baker, in reality put on the map initially by Baker just before Rumsey came into the picture. A rather unspectacular club that hosted legends like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley and many others. Situated close by the beach, where Lee Morgan sat beneath the poles of the pier some time between July 10 and 12, 1970, a time sequence in which the wind blew a hodgepodge of moody and explosive trumpet and sax sounds outwards from the bowels of The Lighthouse over the sweaty, salty Hermosa shore. Lots of seagulls, their obnoxious squawks momentarily stunned.

The stress is on vamp, modality, mood. Music that challenges you to surrender to its spiritual cry and moan. It’s tenorist, bass clarinetist and flutist Bennie Maupin that ‘moans’ most convincingly. No doubt, Lee Morgan blows spirited trumpet and builds crafty stories, but while Morgan focuses on recurring figures and effects like the halve valve trick, Maupin sends us unpredictable weather from his throne above the clouds, alternating deadpan turns, bluesy phrasing and torrents of edgy Coltrane’s sheets of sound preceding the release of dark-hued calm-after-the-storm notes. His feature on bass clarinet on Neophilia, a lullaby-ish, concise and plainly beautiful, slow-moving melody, goes from sweetness to drama, climaxing with violin-like cries. Maupin, nowadays going strong at the age of 76, came into prominence with Horace Silver in ‘68/’69, Lee Morgan in ‘68/’70, Woody Shaw in ’70/’72, played on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and was a long-time part of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band in the late sixties and early seventies. His 1974 album on ECM, The Jewel In The Lotus, is a treasured album for avant-leaning jazz fans. Cutting edge cat.

A great band with writers Morgan could benefit from. Harold Mabern’s The Beehive’s a short, quirky theme, like a fragment from a Charlie Parker solo, alternating between the fragment and Mickey Roker’s ferocious drums breaks. Jimmy Merritt’s strangely beguiling Nommo switches between a soulful line and elegiac intermezzo, building on a twisted boogaloo vibe and Roker and Merrit’s hefty cross-rhythm. The a capella sections of Morgan and Maupin before returning to the theme are thoroughly enjoyable. Another Jimmy Merritt tune, Absolutions, showcases the group’s dynamic prowess, squeezing every bit out of the modal vamp, pushing and pulling at time’s rear end until it, like time seems to have been doing eternally, bends. Morgan is terrific, translating the military-rolls of a snare drum to the trumpet, and charmingly experimenting with the various shades of softness and loudness.

Strictly vinyl on Flophouse’s smoky Monte Christo #2 premisses. But just this once, an exception, since the Compact Dick not only offers more avant-leaning, uptempo jazz that for the most part would easily have stood the test of LP release, but also brings a version of The Sidewinder, the hit that Morgan almost hated more than Trump fans hate reason. Table three was requesting a tune, perhaps. The group’s turning in a solid take.

Trane, Lee & Helen

Lee and Helen Morgan

It seems that nowadays every three months or so a jazz movie is released. What’s happening? Must be something in the Kentucky Bourbon. First Whiplash, then Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, Robert Budreau’s Chet Baker movie Born To Be Blue, and documentaries on both John Coltrane and Lee Morgan. For decades we had to make do with Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight (starring Dexter Gordon, who’s largely responsible for making it the best jazz movie ever) and Clint Eastwood’s Bird, now jazz pictures roll off the assembly line like chocolate letters during Santa Claus season.

Lots of talking heads crowd the Coltrane biopic, John Scheinfeld’s Chasing Trane, including the former saxophone colossus of the White House, Bill “Slightly Drawling Behind The Beat” Clinton:

Chasing Trane

A lot of unreleased studio photography and footage seems to appear in Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan, tickling the senses of hard bop aficionados around the globe:

I Called Him Morgan

To this day, the story of how Lee Morgan took a slug at Slugs’ from his common-law wife Helen in 1972 has remained a dramatic, horrible and hyper-real slice of classic jazz history. Let’s go back to a revealing, detailed account from drummer Billy Hart in his interview with Ethan Iverson of 2006. (The interview itself is one of many truly fascinating, long Iverson interviews on his Do The Math blog) Scroll to about three/fourths of the page:

Billy Hart about the death of Lee Morgan

Below are listed three albums from the Flophouse vault: Coltrane and Morgan’s sole cooperation on wax, Blue Train (Blue Note 1577, 1957); Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder (Blue Note/United Artists 84157, 1972-75, France); Coltrane Time (Solid State 7013, 1970; previously issued on United Artists in 1963 and as Cecil Taylor’s Hard Driving Jazz (United Artists, 1959)


Reuben Wilson Love Bug (Blue Note 1969)

Basically, the artistic success of a jazz album dedicated to pop and funk music depends on the quality of the musicians and the way they interact. In this respect, organist Reuben Wilson and the heavy-weight crew he assembled for Love Bug in March 1969, presented a cum laude performance. It’s neither glib nor pretentious, but an allround groove album.



Reuben Wilson (organ), Lee Morgan (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar), Idris Muhammad (drums)


on March 21, 1969 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BST 84317 in 1969

Track listing

Side A
Hot rod
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
I Say A Little Prayer
Side B
Love Bug
Back Out

Wilson’s debut for Blue Note half a year earlier, On Broadway, contained a mix of soul and tin pan alley. Follow-up Love Bug, including three long groove cuts and a danceable rendition of I Say A Little Prayer, puts the emphasis on pop and funk. In an interview in her book Grant Green: Rediscovering The Forgotten Genius Of Jazz Guitar, Sharon Andrews Green, the biography writer of guitarist Grant Green, Wilson said:

“See, I came up with this idea of playing pop music with jazz. I didn’t think they should be limited. In a lot of ways it had already been done, but not necessarily given the appreciation. They used a lot of jazz musicians in Motown. They were background players. So instead of having them in the background, it was just a matter of bringing them to the foreground. When I went to Grant with these things I wanted to do, he was just ecstatic. He was like: ‘Yeah, man. Let’s go. This is hip. Come on, Ru, let’s do this thing.’

At which time the established team of sidemen came into the picture. Playing with the famous Lee Morgan and crew was a big deal for the organist, but Wilson is composed and authoritative. The way he embellishes the extra slow boogaloo Hot Rod with meandering phrases suggests a mind that’s intent on both logic and understated emotion. Sound-wise, Wilson is almost indistinguisable from fellow organist Lonnie Smith. As if Wilson borrowed his organ; the register and pitch are alike. His phrasing, however, is less flamboyant, more introverted. A minor complaint about Hot Rod: one could do without the drum solo near the end.

Otherwise, the bass-heavy back beat of Idris Muhammad is key to the irresistable charm of Love Bug. It’s there on the title track; an uptempo, sharp-as-a-tack threesome of snare, bass and hi-hat that puts you smack, dab, in the middle of a soulful groove and stimulates Wilson, Green, Coleman and Morgan to put their best foot forward. And on Back Out as well. It has a beat that resembles the beat of Spinning Wheel, the 1968 hit from Blood, Sweat & Tears. At the time, Blood, Sweat & Tears’ combination of jazz and rock raised quite a few eyebrows in the jazz community and led to a number of hot debates about the state of jazz in periodicals such as Downbeat Magazine. Apart from this, the beat that Wilson and Muhammad incorporated is effective and swinging.

Grant Green had interpreted some pop tunes on mid-sixties Blue Note albums, but the territory of funk, which he had been preoccupated with as a listener for some time, was fresh ground. After a troubling period wherein Green had disappeared out of the limelight, because of both a drug problem and a disappointment in the music business, Green sounds invigorated. Love Bug would stimulate Green to boost his career by delving deeper into funk, starting with Carryin’ On in October, 1969. Love Bug and Carryin’ On brought Green back into the Blue Note family. George Coleman is in particularly fine form; his playing is in the possession of both gutbucket feeling and complexity.

Reuben Wilson’s pop covers on Love Bug contain tight ensemble work and a lithe feeling. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – a Gamble & Huff composition that was a hit for Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and a smash hit in 1968 for the combination Supremes/Temptations – has a natural, irresistable flow. The laid-back comping of Wilson and smart combination of chords and strummed bass parts by Grant Green blends well together. George Coleman takes a lyrical, vocalised solo. Lee Morgan delivers a far from pedestrian bit, but his mind seems to be elsewhere and there are some bum notes. On the whole album, George Coleman is in better form than Morgan.

Burt Bacharach’s I Say A Little Prayer has a sunny feeling and bouncy vibe. It cooks with ease and boasts delicate phrases by Grant Green and understated, yet spirited statements by Reuben Wilson Stormy, a Classics IV hit from 1969, gets a nice Latin treatment.

Love Bug contains three deft and danceable excursions into the pop realm and three cookin’ funk originals by Reuben Wilson. It is proof organ jazz, as performed by the talented and knowledgable, was smart and groovy at the same time.

Lee Morgan - Candy

Lee Morgan Candy (Blue Note 1958)

What strikes the listener of Lee Morgan’s Candy is the incredible production of producer Rudy van Gelder. Both group and leader sound big, fresh and in-your-face. And what especially triggers the heart and mind of jazz lovers is the amazing, facile agility and feeling for the core of a composition that the then twenty-year old trumpeter Lee Morgan demonstrates. Moreover, despite his age Morgan showed he was capable of carrying an album as the sole horn player.

Lee Morgan - Candy


Lee Morgan (trumpet), Sonny Clark (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Taylor (drums)


on November 18, 1957 and February 2, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey


BLP 1590 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
Since I Fell For You
Side B:
All The Way
Who Do You Love

Lee Morgan’s freshman years in the recording studio were very prolific. Candy, recorded at the end of 1957 and the start of 1958, was his seventh album and it only took roughly one year to record those seven albums. This period represented a rapid evolution of Morgan’s style. It’s delightful to hear Morgan incorporate his influences into his bag in such an eloquent way on Candy. 1958 would be busy as well. At the end of that year Morgan had joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. One might safely say that in his years with Blakey (1958-61) Morgan was not only putting the finishing touches to his style, but rapidly evolving into a full-fledged trumpet superstar.

The overall mood of Candy is relatively lighthearted, joyful and swinging. Morgan didn’t contribute any writing for this album; his focal point was to interpret a set of standards. The title track, fired up by some stimulating press rolls by drummer Art Taylor, is a catchy tune in which Morgan shows what a storyteller he already is. The sound of the horn that Van Gelder creates at his studio in Hackensack, New Jersey is ‘spacey’ and simply majestic and makes Morgan’s statements all the more imposing. Give it a listen with headphones on and it’ll be pointed out to you what Van Gelder was capable of. It succeeds to arouse my spirits even after nearly two decades of listening to the recording.

Morgan’s lyrical capabilities are in order and he injects vigorous blowing into two ballads – Since I Fell For You and All The Way. The former comes out so confidently and au naturel, it is by far the best of the two.

For faster tempos one can turn to C.T.A., Jimmy Heath’s bop standard. It was put on the map by Miles Davis on his Blue Note release from 1953, Miles Davis Vol. 2. (that included Jimmy Heath and Art Blakey). Incidentally, Davis claimed to possess the knowledge of what the title was about and said it had as its subject the better parts of a woman’s body. The rest of the decidedly less deadpan universe sticks to Chicago Transit Authority, which ran through Jimmy Heath’s hometown of Philadelphia.

There’s a high quality version of Red Garland featuring John Coltrane, released on Dig It!. Lee Morgan’s cockier-than-cocksure rendition, however, beats them if not by armlength, surely by more than an inch; it contains multiple interesting ideas, fluid phrasing and above all, a sizeable dose of soul. The group is groovin’ high and Sonny Clark puts in a string of coherent, charged remarks.

Morgan’s profusion of ad-lib phrases in Personality make his statements cheaper than they should be. Yet, how aptly chosen a title can be. It puts the finger on the road Lee Morgan was traveling on around the recording period of Candy. The sweet side of this session adds to Morgan’s already extraordinary and virtuoso character.

Freddie Hubbard - Night Of The Cookers

Freddie Hubbard Night Of The Cookers Vol. 2 (Blue Note 1964)

Freddie Hubbard’s in top form. Lee Morgan’s below average. The group’s hi-voltage performance is marred by boring percussion excursions. In short, Hubbard’s 1965 live date at Club La Marchal, Night Of The Cookers Vol.2, is a mixed bag.

Freddie Hubbard - Night Of The Cookers


Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Lee Morgan (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto sax), Harold Mabern Jr. (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Pete LaRoca (drums), Big Black (congas)


at Club La Marchal, NYC, on April 9 & 10, 1965


as BLP 4207 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Side B:
Breaking Point

Jodo starts with a haunting bass note that catapults the group into modal action. Hubbard ignites amazing, free flowing fireworks, Spaulding impressively fills the vacuum between ex-and impressionism. But then, alas, percussion jams create no end of tedium. Where to go from there? Jodo rules out an escape route and leaves one gasping for breath. It tends to be ‘loud’ bop instead of ‘hard’ bop. Breaking Point is a great Latin tune but this version is quite uneven. It makes one long for Hubbard’s previous Blue Note releases and the many classic albums he played on like Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil and Art Blakey’s Ugetsu.

Fellow trumpet legend Lee Morgan has a hard time following Freddie Hubbard. His off-day ruined the promise that The Cooker’s star-studded line up held. Reportedly, Morgan’s addiction to heroin took its toll considerably those days. Take into account that as a consequence Morgan didn’t own a horn and played the Club La Marchal dates on a borrowed trumpet. Plus mouthpiece.

Each song extends over twenty minutes. (same goes for Night Of The Cookers Vol. 1 consisting of Pensativa and Walkin’) That’s fine if the dynamics are in check. But they aren’t. Not a scorched meal, but shall we say, a bit overdone.