March 21, 2017 — I Called Him Morgan, the acclaimed documentary about the brilliant, troubled and doomed be-bop trumpeter Lee Morgan will play at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center of Lincoln Center beginning on March 24.
The film was directed by Kasper Collin; the cinematographer, Bradford Young, recently received an Academy Award® nomination for his work on the film Arrival.
Lee Morgan’s rise to fame as a musician came early. As a teenager he played with John Coltrane (at 19 he played on Coltrane’s Blue Train album), Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. As he grew into his talent he became one of the most sought-after Be-Bop jazz performers in an era of jazz greats. In 1963 he recorded Sidewinder, which became a major success, and was even used as theme for a Chrysler car commercial.
What should have been a legendary career was side-tracked by a serious heroin addiction. His work became more and more erratic. Performances were cancelled on a regular basis. At one point his addiction became so severe that one of the era’s greatest trumpet players pawned his trumpet.
At this point in his life he met Helen, the woman who would become his common-law wife. Helen helped wean Morgan away from drugs — it is doubtful he was ever entirely clean — and guided him back towards performing and recording. She was controlling and tough — something he undoubtedly needed at that point in his life.
But as he got more self-sufficient, Morgan needed a break from the stultifying and obsessive relationship that he and Helen had developed. eventually he became involved with another woman, a situation Helen could not control or abide.
One night, when Morgan was performing at a club, Helen showed up. Morgan didn’t want her there and threw her out in the street. She entered the club again and shot Morgan with the gun she had brought.
Morgan would die that night. He was 33 years old.
Helen would serve a short time in prison for the shooting. After that she would move to North Carolina. An interview Helen Morgan gave shortly before her death serves as the focus of the film.
Variety said of the film, “The visuals contend with the music for start status in Kasper Collin’s moody, fascinating documentary study of the late jazzman Lee Morgan. …Kasper Collin’s excellent documentary “I Called Him Morgan,” a sleek, sorrowful elegy for the prodigiously gifted, tragically slain bop trumpeter Lee Morgan, is as much a visual and textural triumph as it is a gripping feat of reportage. Binding its charismatic gallery of talking heads with woozy, moody evocations of Morgan’s New York City — courtesy of ravishing 16mm lensing by the ingenious cinematographer Bradford Young — Collin’s film is most moving when it delves past the expected struggles with fame, creation and addiction to etch the unusual, affectionate and finally fatal relationship between Morgan and his common-law wife Helen.”
The Guardian said of the film “Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan isn’t just the greatest jazz documentary since Let’s Get Lost, it’s a documentary-as-jazz. Spellbinding, mercurial, hallucinatory, exuberant, tragic … aw hell, man, those are a lot of heavy words, but have you heard Lee Morgan’s music? More importantly, do you know the story of his life?”
The film I Called Him Morgan will have its East Coat premiere at the Film Center of Lincoln Center, at the Elinor Bunin theater. Check here for showtimes.