Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Book Review - Delightfulee : the life and music of Lee Morgan

Delightfulee : the life and music of Lee Morgan by Jeffery S. McMillan

Published in 2008 by The University of Michigan Press    ISBN 9780472032815

For those who don't know, Lee Morgan was a modern jazz trumpet player who recorded prolifically, was a friend of jazz trumpet great Clifford Brown, and played with other jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. He played as a sideman on one of the greatest ever modern jazz records, Blue Train, and wrote and played another modern jazz classic The Sidewinder, which reached number 35 in the Billboard charts in 1964.

Jeffery McMillan's biography of Morgan can be slotted pretty much into the genre of hagiography. According to McMillan, Morgan never really did any wrong by anyone, or any bad things. The truth, which can be read between the lines, is that for a lot of his tragically short life Morgan was a junkie, along with all that entails.

What does come out from the book is how remarkable it was that he managed to produce as much good jazz as he did - along with the what if question - if he hadn't become a junkie, or had he managed to somehow control his addiction, how much better would he have been?

Despite McMillan's claim that Morgan was pretty much straight at the time of his death, other reports, and even statements in McMillan's book itself, suggest that Morgan was still struggling with his demons right up until the time he was shot dead by his de-facto wife between sets at Slug's nightclub in Manhattan.

It is clear that initially, it was Art Blakey who got Morgan "turned on", as he did to many other members of the jazz fraternity at one time or another - for all that one can admire Blakey for his contribution to music, it has to be balanced against the destruction of lives that he was involved in by passing on the heroin habit.

In fact, where he can McMillan chooses to avoid the bad parts of Morgan's life, and focus on the music. This book is partly a very detailed list of  recording sessions and gigs - obviously a lot of legwork was undertaken by McMillan to get this information, and for that we must thank him. He also goes into quite a bit of descriptive detail of most of Morgan's recording sessions, which may or may not be interesting to a reader, depending on how much of an appoggiatura geek they might be - and I'm still not sure what a "splatty" sound is....

While not what I would call a balanced biography, this book does give an overview of Morgan's life, and for the recordings completists out there, this will be about as good a guide as you can get to hunt down every last pressing for your collection.

As a hack trumpet player myself, reading this has taken me back to my relatively limited number of Morgan albums with a new insight, a new appreciation for his talent, and with a list of one or two more records I must get.

Worth a look if you're interested - check out your local library, or Amazon.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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