Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
6d ago
“There are no natural barriers. It's all music. It's either hip or it ain't.”
-Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan was a prodigy. By the age of 20 he was releasing his own records and had already performed in multiple classics, such as "Blue Train" by John Coltrane and "Moanin" by Art Blakey. He didn't just perform in these records though, he was one of the key components of them. He was a young mind with fresh ideas. In fact, when Benny Golson exited the Jazz Messengers, Morgan persuaded Blakey to employ Wayne Shorter, a young saxophonist. This decision would prove to be very beneficial for the group, marking one of Morgan's earliest contributions. He continued to play with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1958 to 1961, in which time the group created a considerable amount of records - each one worth checking out (though a lot of the best records from this era weren't released immediately and instead released later on, such as: "Africaine" and "Just Coolin"). In 1961 Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons both had to leave the Jazz Messengers due to drug problems.

These drug problems were related to heroin, of course, which was the drug taking out many important jazz musicians at the time. Heroin was readily available to most jazz performers at the clubs they went to, and in Morgan's case, it was actually Art Blakey who introduced him to it. A decision I'm sure Art Blakey would live to regret. For two years (1961-1963) Morgan was unable to create music, heavily addicted to drugs, and nearing the edge of death. Soon he was sent to a Narcotic Farm in Lexington, a hospital which had been the host of many similar addicts. When he returned to New York, he was ready to work. It is said that he went into the recording studio almost immediately, as I'm sure two years of silence for such a creative mind would be torture.

This was when he recorded "The Sidewinder" - his most famous and acclaimed record. During this session he was strong and revitalized, a new life could be heard in his playing. His group made 4 great tracks, but felt they needed another to fill the album. According to Stuart Nicholson, a jazz author, "During the session, the band ran out of material, and legend has it Morgan disappeared into the toilet and wrote out ‘The Sidewinder’ on lavatory paper, the number simply intended to fill the album out." This track is anything but filler, and quickly became Morgan's best-known composition, a famous jazz standard, and reached the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 (it was even in the top 25). In addition, this album became Blue Note's best-selling record ever, saving the label from bankruptcy. When listening to The Sidewinder, there is no question why it became so popular. The album never lets up, has incredible performances from all members, shows the legendary talent in performing and composing from Lee Morgan, has some very catchy melodies, great production, etc. Everything you could want in a jazz record is here.

Speaking of the performances, time to discuss the lineup. We have the incredibly powerful and strong Lee Morgan on trumpet, of course. The center focus of the album and the reason it exists. Joe Henderson is on saxophone, which was a perfect choice, as he compliments Morgan well. Both Morgan and Henderson play memorable solos on every track. On piano is Barry Harris, a lesser known musician, but still a very important one (had worked with Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, and Yusef Lateef before). Bob Cranshaw on bass, a necessary player to know in jazz, who worked with many wonderful composers. Finally, Billy Higgins on drums. Higgins was amazing, drumming for Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Clark, and many more. It is easy to assume that this lineup would work well, as each musician has a considerable amount of talent, especially Morgan. I would consider him to be one of my favorite trumpeters ever, if not my absolute favorite.

Lee Morgan's life was truthfully a lot more interesting than I could ever describe, and I highly suggest checking out the documentary "I Called Him Morgan" which dives more into the specifics. In the end, he was shot and killed by his common-law wife Helen Moore at only 33 years old. It is a terrible shame, and something I think about quite often: how much music we missed out on due to this altercation. Morgan was innovative and forward thinking, so I'm sure his future compositions would have been greatly fascinating, but that is something we will never know for sure. Either way, we should be eternally grateful for the music he was able to provide the world in his short but meaningful life.

"The Sidewinder" is a great representation of Morgan's excellence as a player, leader, and composer. The group puts together extremely tight and impressive performances which influenced many to come and became very popular - even in the pop world. This album should be considered a necessary listen for anyone wanting to get into jazz.
Morgan is another musician I feel often has his discography overshined by one record, so here are some recommendations of other Morgan releases I feel are amazing (though his whole discography is well worth checking out):
Lee Morgan's "The Complete Live at the Lighthouse"
I cannot get over how beautiful this release is. Though very long, it is very worth it.
Lee Morgan's "The Cooker"
Lee Morgan's "Cornbread"
Lee Morgan's "The Gigolo"
Lee Morgan's "The Rumproller"
Lee Morgan's "Lee-Way"

As always, thank you all very much for the recent support on these jazz reviews. I hope that I have inspired some of you to check out these important albums and dive more into the incredible world of jazz! I'm still not complete with my Lee Morgan ranked list, but you can expect that to release somewhat soon. For now, check out my John Coltrane & Miles Davis lists.
Daily Jazz Review #6 complete! 🎷🎺🥁❤️

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