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6 Degrees Entertainment

'I Called Him Morgan'
(Lee Morgan, Helen Morgan, Wayne Shorter, et al / DVD / NR / (2016) 2018 / Film Rise - MVD Visual)

Overview: On a snowy night in February 1972, celebrated jazz musician Lee Morgan was shot dead by his wife Helen during a gig at a New York City club. The murder sent shockwaves through the jazz community, and the memory of the event still haunts all who knew the Morgans.

This feature documentary by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin is a love letter to two unique personalities and the music that brought them together. A film about love, jazz and America.

DVD Verdict: For those not in the know, Lee Morgan was a brilliant trumpet star and was recognized for his talents by the time he was a teenager. Indeed, by 1960, he had recorded with legendary jazz musicians like John Coltrane, Tina Brooks, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey.

But the downside to a rising artist’s life is the drugs and alcohol that are so easily accessible. Lee almost gave into them, but a woman named Helene Moore saved him.

That said, Lee Morgan could have gone on to produce many more jazz records, unfortunately, his burgeoning career would be tragically cut short. In 1972, after getting into an argument, Morgan was shot by his wife in the middle of a show. Ironically, that woman who saved him would ultimately cause his demise.

This haunting documentary, 'I Called Him Morgan,' is an expose of the highest order about the life of a great jazz trumpeter and his wife. Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin weaves the tale of their lives and their relationship through interviews with his friends and fellow musicians including saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

He caps it off with an interview with Helen a month before her death in 1996. Through extraordinary black and white archival photographs, rare TV performances and an amazing soundtrack of Lee's music, we are transported to the NYC jazz scene from the '50s to the '70s.

As a music aficionado, I was aware of jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey, but not of Lee Morgan. The footage of his trumpet playing with these masters really drew me in. As one friend said in the film, "Lee really knew how to tell a story musically." So very true.

His was an exceptional talent as a young teenager of 17. However, his addiction to heroin took him out and it wasn't until he met Helen, that he got back on his feet to play. Through this documentary, we learn that through her care, inspiration and love, she managed his career and uplifted him back to compose and play music and eventually form his own band, The Lee Morgan Quartet.

But, as we know all too well now, the twist and turns of Lee and Helen's life together ended tragically when Lee played at a popular club called Slugs, down in the East Village of NYC. On a snowy night in February 1972, his life is cut short at the young age of 33 by the woman who had brought him back to life. Following an altercation between sets, Morgan's common law wife Helen Moore, shot him.

However, and trying to look at the great man himself, in 1957, Morgan recorded on John Coltrane’s Blue Train, which elevated him to a level of prominence in the jazz world, a level he remained at until his death. In fact, he wound up recording on 25 albums for the Blue Note, a notable jazz record label. And, as aforementioned, would surely have made more. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1:85.1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.