Edward Lee Morgan was born on July 10, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Morgan was originally interested in the vibraphone but began moving towards trumpet more and more early on. His sister bought him his first trumpet on his thirteenth birthday and it is a good thing she did. Lee’s biggest influence was Clifford Brown and he even studied with Brown before joining Dizzy Gillespie’s band at the age of eighteen years old. After a few years with Dizzy, Morgan was picked up by Blue Note Records and began making albums as a leader in 1956.
During this period Lee also made records with Horace Silver and John Coltrane including Trane’s album ‘Blue Train’ in 1957 before joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1958. Lee can be heard on Blakey’s classic albums ‘Moanin’ in 1958 and ‘The Freedom Rider’ in 1961 among others. It was also Morgan who convinced Art to hire Wayne Shorter to join the Jazz Messengers after Benny Golson left the band which proved to be significant for everyone involved. After leaving Blakey, Lee played on Grachan Moncur III’s album ‘Evolution’ in 1963 pushing his own boundaries within the music. Also in 1963 Morgan made his most popular album, ‘The Sidewinder’, and the title track had much commercial success. The success of that tune inspired Blue Note to encourage many of its artists to follow Lee in recording tunes that had potential for crossover sales in the R&B market. In 1964 Morgan recorded ‘Search for the New Land’ which went to on to hit number twenty on the R&B charts. Lee also rejoined the Jazz Messengers for a short time, replacing Freddie Hubbard and playing alongside John Gilmore.
Some other notable albums in the 1960s that Morgan can be heard playing on include Wayne Shorter’s ‘Night Dreamer’, Stanley Turrentine’s ‘Mr. Natural’, Hank Mobley’s ‘Dippin’ and ‘Straight No Filter’, Joe Henderson’s ‘Mode For Joe’, McCoy Tyner’s ‘Tender Moments’ and Elvin Jones’ ‘The Prime Element’ among many others. In the early 1970s Lee became one of the leaders of the Jazz and People’s Movement which fought to have Jazz included and respected on nationally at least at a respectable level when compared to the way pop music was being pushed. During those final years Lee worked mostly with Billy Harper, Bennie Maupin, Harold Mabern, Jymie Merritt, Mickey Roker and Freddie Waits among others. Hear Morgan with Maupin, Mabern, Merritt and Roker on his 1970 album ‘Live at the Lighthouse.’ Lee Morgan was tragically murdered in 1972 at the young age of thirty three.
Lee’s body of work in less than twenty years as a professional is beyond impressive. Morgan recorded more than twenty five albums as a leader and worked with hundreds of musicians that make up the greatest Jazz has to offer. Lee Morgan’s sound and musical approach continues to influence Jazz musicians and trumpet players to this day.
“The symphonic orchestras have sponsors, people who give them endowments, and I think it should be the same way with jazz - because this is a national treasure." – Lee Morgan