[JPL] Frank Morgan, Master of Bebop Sax, Dies at 73

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 19 11:23:45 EST 2007

December 19, 2007
Frank Morgan, Master of Bebop Sax, Dies at 73 
Frank Morgan, a jazz saxophonist whose promising
career was derailed by drug problems in the 1950s but
whose triumphant comeback 30 years later led to an
unexpected taste of midlife stardom, died on Friday in
Minneapolis. He was 73.

The cause was colon cancer, said his agent, Reggie
Marshall. He had battled other health problems in
recent years, including a stroke and kidney failure.

Mr. Morgan was heralded as one of the rising stars of
the Los Angeles jazz scene when he was barely out of
his teens. He worked with Lionel Hampton and recorded
with the drummer Kenny Clarke and others. But it would
take him decades to achieve the fame many predicted
for him, primarily for reasons that had nothing to do
with music.

He had taken up the alto saxophone at a young age
after hearing Charlie Parker, a master of that
instrument and one of the architects of bebop. So
all-consuming was his admiration for Parker that he
emulated not just the musical approach for which
Parker was celebrated but also the heroin habit for
which he was notorious. 

“I thought the heroin and the bebop and the whole
lifestyle thing went together,” he told the jazz
critic Gary Giddins in 1986. “I thought that one used
heroin to play like Charlie Parker played.”

By the time Mr. Morgan recorded his first album in
1955 — coincidentally the year Parker died — he had
already spent time in prison. Over the next three
decades he was in more than he was out, serving time
for robbery as well as drug possession. He did not
record another album as a leader until 1985. 

That album, “Easy Living,” the first of seven he
recorded for the California jazz label Contemporary,
earned laudatory reviews and jump-started his career.
In 1986 he played a week at the Village Vanguard, to
still more acclaim; it was his first New York
nightclub engagement.

Mr. Morgan became a leading figure in the jazz revival
of the late ’80s, a living reminder of bebop’s
durability. He worked regularly and recorded
prolifically over the next decade for the
Contemporary, Antilles and Telarc labels. Robert
Palmer of The New York Times, reviewing a return
engagement at the Vanguard in 1987, wrote, “Jazz just
doesn’t come any better.”

Frank Morgan was born in Minneapolis on Dec. 23, 1933,
and was exposed to jazz as a child by his father,
Stanley, a professional guitarist. He grew up in
Minneapolis and Milwaukee and in 1947, after his
parents divorced, moved to Los Angeles to live with
his father. He won a talent contest there at 15 and
was soon working regularly on the city’s thriving
Central Avenue nightclub circuit.

Mr. Morgan suffered a stroke in 1998, but he was back
on the road and in the studio within a few months and
resumed recording, for the HighNote label, in 2004.
After living in New Mexico for many years, he moved
back to Minneapolis in 2005 and reduced his workload,
although he continued to perform occasionally. He had
just returned from a European tour when he learned he
had cancer last month.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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