Little Franky: Peace and Love!
FRANK MORGAN PLAYS MONK
When someone drops the word alto saxophone in a group of jazz fans, most of them will think of Charlie Parker, the legendary bebop jazz musician, who split the jazz scene in the early 1950s. Most starting alto saxophonists nowadays listen to Charlie Parker and try to sound like him. A few years ago the Dutch alto saxophonist Piet Noordijk ( I certainly won't label this Nestor of Dutch jazz, our own Dutch Bird, as a "starter") had a great program entitled Piet Plays Bird, in which he revived the Charlie Parker with Strings recordings ( with some help of course by the String Quartet Ernö Olah). When I heard him in concert, at the Stadsschouwburg of Middelburg ( in the southwest part of The Netherlands), January 1998, and closed my eyes, I heard Bird himself alive on stage. That same experience I had with the late Frank Morgan, when I heard him in concert at the Porgy en Bess Jazz Club in Terneuzen, November 2007, in a concert with the Rein De Graaff Trio. This old fragile man, although he developed his own style during the past 55 years, still sounded like his great model, Charlie Parker.
Frank Morgan (1933-2007) (Porgy en Bess - Terneuzen - November 2007) ( photo courtesy: Hans Koert)
Born in Minneapolis, December 1933, as the son of the Ink Spot guitar player Stanley Morgan, his father introduced him to the music of Charlie Parker as a young kid. Frank told about that: But at seven, as part of my continuing music education, I went over from Milwaukee where I was living to spend Easter vacation with my father who was on the road in Detroit, and he took me to hear the Jay McShann Band. And when Charlie Parker stood up to take his first solo on "Hootie Blues", my father said I turned to him and said "Listen, dad, that's it for the guitar." When the concert was over, his father went backstage and introduced him to Parker. And Bird made arrangements to meet us at the music store the next day to pick out what I thought was an alto saxophone. But Bird made me start on clarinet. That's how Frank started to play the clarinet and when he was ten he took the alto. (Source: an interview by Brandt Reiter)
As a teenager the family moved to the west coast of the US. When he was 15 years old he played, thanks to a talent contest, in the band of Freddie Martin. In the early 1950s he became part of the west coast bebop scene and performed with Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. In July 1952 he played in the Charlie Parker Sextet at the Zorthian's Ranch in Altadena and parts of these concerts have been recorded and released on a RLR-release. (RLR 88622). It was his only performing together with this great master on the alto saxophonist, that has been recorded. He was influenced and fascinated by the music and world of Charlie Parker, not only in a musical way, as he also copied his drugs habits .......... like so many musicians in the 1950s. After some recordings with Teddy Charles, Kenny Clarke and Lyle Spud Murphy he founded his own group and was to be heard in clubs and on the radio. His own band was recorded on some of these radio shows and on a live performance at the Crescendo Club in Los Angeles, August 1956.
In 1955 he was arrested for the very first time for having drugs and for the next thirty years he was most of the times in prison. In 1985 he had kicked the habit, thanks to his wife Rosalinda Kolb and returned back into the international jazz scene. His playing on the alto saxophone still sounded like Charlie Parker, but he had developed his own style, still closely related to the bebop and the music of Bird. He was a fighter, who returned into the scene. In 1998 he suffered a stroke while enroute to the Flint Jazz Festival in Michigan, but he survived that too ......... half a year later he was back on the scene.
Enjoy a fragment from a TV-show featuring the Frank Morgan Quartet, with Buster Williams, Ronnie Matthews and Ronnie Burrage: Night in Tunesia.
Frank Morgan (Porgy en Bess - Terneuzen - November 2007) ( photo courtesy: Hans Koert)
Frank Morgan recorded several tunes composed by the great Thelonious Monk. A compilation of his compositions ( incl. a portable cd-player with a solar cell of course ) will be in my trunk if I have to sail to an uninhabited island. I found a compilation of tunes labelled as Frank Morgan plays Monk, in which some of these tunes have been put together played by Morgan - that one will be in my hand-luggage; no doubt about that! The oldest one is Well You Needn't from 1986, one year after his comeback and the youngest track dates from November 2003. Great pure bebop performances of the most important composer ( i.m.h.o.) of the 20the century, Thelonious Monk, as played by Frank Morgan, who rose like a phoenix from the ashes, who climbed out of the valley up to the top again, the great alto saxophonist who fascinates me since that November 2007 concert, just a month before he passed away ..............
Listen to a live recording of one of those Thelonious Monk composition Well You Needn't by Frank Morgan in Toledo, Ohio, March 2006 featuring Claude Black at the piano, Clifford Murphy on bass and Sean Dobbins on drums.
Great stuff. It's the way I remember him, sitting on a stool, alone with his instrument and surprised by the lively encouragements of the audience - a living legend from the past !!
Frank Morgan is one of those legends in jazz that fascinate me. A few years ago I joined a concert a month before he passed away. Little Franky, as he was called in the 1950s, played with Charlie Parker, his master and model, not only from a musical point of view ............. He conquered his drug-dependence and a stroke and returned into the international jazz scene. Keep Swinging loves to point you to a compilation of tunes he played, composed by Thelonious Monk. Frank Morgan: Peace and Love, he labeled his autograph ............ Keep Swinging loves to share with you those legends from the past. If you don't want to miss it, ask for the newsletter.
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