Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
Oct 26, 2020
The History of the Albums - n°243

[I invite you to read my review of Lee Morgan's The Cooker (1958), in order to better understand his life and this one]. If you are familiar with the HOTA series, you may have noticed that with a few exceptions (especially when they are legends) there are few jazzmen from the 50's who have had the right to several episodes in the last 2 decades. It's a rather rare thing which can be explained by the very important evolution of jazz in about 10 years and also by the fact that I'm rigorous in the choice of albums. Today we're going to study again a work by Lee Morgan, which follows The Cooker. Remember, trumpet player Lee Morgan was only 20 years old when his iconic The Cooker was released and he had very few years of experience behind him. A great album that seriously lacks recognition. So why another episode? Simply because Lee Morgan has not only always released albums of very good quality, but on top of that he has managed the great feat of creating an album that will beat everything he's done before. We are talking about The Sidewinder, released in 1964. Besides he was great at that time, showing all the progression he knew and accumulated experience, that he will do the same thing again 2 years later with Search for the New Land. So there's a chance that there's a 3 episode as well. If I insist in my introduction on several important points highlighting Lee Morgan, it's simply because he remains an exceptional jazzman who is rarely quoted whereas he has always been one of the best.

So let's go back a bit. We are in September 1957 and Lee Morgan had just finished The Cooker. That same year he had just joined the Jazz Messengers of Art Blakey, while knowing that he was also in the team that directed John Coltrane's Blue Train. His introduction in the group of Art Blakey was very beneficial because Lee Morgan was able to improve with references and in a context that pushed him to give the best of himself. At the age of 20, his name was already making a lot of noise, between the release of his album The Cooker and his participation in the classic Moanin', but it was not unanimous. In fact, it wasn't until his tragic death in 1972 that people realized that they were wrong about him. Yet one only has to look at all that he did and composed at that time. Some people even think he could have done even better if he hadn't had all the problems related to his heroin addiction that slowed his progress and caused him to leave the group in 1961.

After a break that lasted more or less 2 years, Lee Morgan returned to the studio in December 1963 to record The Sidewinder. Accompanied by a remarkable team composed of Joe Henderson, Bob Cranshaw, Billy Higgins and Barry Harris, Lee Morgan not only created a great album, he also did justice to himself so that his true value was recognized. And this without premeditation. Let me explain. You may know the melody without knowing it, but The Sidewinter is a very popular jazz standard that has been hugely successful, even getting it on the Billboard. Basically the song that was supposed to be "a kind of filler" on the album became the centerpiece because it was an advertisement to use the music. An unhoped-for but undesired success, because Lee Morgan would later do everything possible to stop the commercial from being broadcast. Eventually, although he won, the strong success of this composition will last until 1965, which not only made Lee Morgan known to a wider audience but also made the album The Sidewinder, the best-selling record of the Blue Note label. Impressive when you think about it. What about the rest of the album since now we mechanically think of The Sidewinder, it remains similar and homogeneous until the end. The quintet explores Soul Jazz and Boogaloo on Hard bop structures, an art that Lee Morgan, one of the leading actors of this musical style, has mastered to perfection. I think that initially, before The Sidewinder automatically took over the domination of the album, that fantastic compositions like Gary's Notebook or Totem Pole were normally designed to be the ones that would push the album. To conclude, I'll finally say that this album has a great story, but not that. If you take a closer look at all the compositions you will understand how few jazzmen were able to make such an excellent and modern hard bop for the time. Lee Morgan has managed to make his hard bop timeless, resistant to the test of old age. He also knew how to surpass himself, a return to grace

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Lee Morgan - The Cooker
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