Legendary Saxophonist Frank Morgan Dies

Frank Morgan Frank Morgan Morrice Blackwell
We've just been notified that Frank Morgan passed away peacefully from kidney failure this morning, near his family and friends in his hometown of Minneapolis. He had just completed a successful European tour, even though he was worried about his health.

A memorial gathering is planned in his longtime home town of Taos, New Mexico, on what would have been his 74th, birthday, December 23.

Frank Morgan Bio (Courtesty of High Note Records): It is a real rarity for a jazz musician to have his career interrupted for three decades and then be able to make a complete comeback. Frank Morgan showed a great deal of promise in his early days, but it was a long time before he could fulfill his potential. The son of guitarist Stanley Morgan (who played with the Ink Spots), he took up clarinet and alto early on. Morgan moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and was approached by Duke Ellington who wanted the then 15-year-old Frank to go on the road with his band. Frank's father wanted his son to finish school so the Ellington gig never materialized, but by the time he was 17, Frank was working at LA's Club Alabam, backing the likes of Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday. Morgan worked on the bop scene of early-'50s Los Angeles, recording with Teddy Charles (1953) and Kenny Clarke (1954), and under his own name for GNP in 1955.

Unfortunately, around that same time Frank followed his idol and mentor Charlie "Bird" Parker into heroin addiction, and spent most of the next thirty years serving time for thefts to support his habit. Yet except for periods in the Los Angeles County jail system, he never strayed too far from music. At most penal institutions, there were bands made up of inmates, and Morgan was greeted as a celebrity. He was constantly made gifts of mouthpieces, drugs, food, cigarettes. "The greatest big band I ever played with was in San Quentin. Art Pepper and I were proud of that band. We had Jimmy Bunn and Frank Butler, and some other musicians who were known and some who weren't, but they could play. We played every Saturday night for what they called a Warden's Tour, which showed paying visitors only the cleanest cell blocks and exercise yards. But people would take that tour just to hear the band."

When he was not incarcerated Frank performed occasionally around LA, but it was not until 1985 that Morgan, with the help of artist and future wife Rosalinda Kolb, managed to leave his life of "questionable interests" behind him and once again concentrate on his music. Resuming his recording career after a thirty-year hiatus, Frank was rediscovered and his unique history, combined with his equally unique sound and story-telling ability on his horn, made him a media star. He made multiple appearances on the Today Show in the '80s and '90s; starred in "Prison-Made Tuxedos," an off-Broadway play about his life, in 1987; was the first subject of Jane Pauley's "Real Life" primetime TV show on NBC in 1990; and won the Downbeat Critics Poll for Best Alto Saxophonist in 1991.

In 1998 a new chapter was added to Frank's inspiring life story when he suffered a stroke while enroute to the Flint Jazz Festival in Michigan. Although doctors initially predicted he would never play again, Frank was gigging within six months. After a series of critically-acclaimed pre-stroke recordings for Contemporary, Antilles, and Telarc, in 2003 Frank signed a new recording agreement with New York-based HighNote Records, and today many fans and Jazz writers alike say he has never sounded better.

Frank Morgan's initial recordings for his new label, "City Nights" (HighNote HCD 7129) and "Raising the Standard" (HighNote HCD 7143), have received great reviews and significant airplay both here and abroad. Both albums were recorded live at New York's Jazz Standard on a series of triumphant evenings which heralded the reappearance of a vibrant and important voice in Jazz.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Frank Morgan
  • Event Date: 12/14/2007
Morrice Blackwell

Owner and publisher of jazzreview.com, Morrice Blackwell is a christian husband dad jazz fan website developing marketing manager basketball playing engineer that lives for photography.

Website: morriceblackwell.com
Login to post comments