I Called Him Morgan
Discovered by Dizzy Gillespie and an MVP of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers ensemble, Lee Morgan was a key player in New York’s 1960s “hard-bop” scene—a trumpeter with a beautifully supple, expressive sound, a dapper prodigy who had played with John Coltrane by his late teens and gained the admiration of his peers by his early twenties. It was inevitable he’d eventually cross paths with Helen More, a self-proclaimed “sharp” woman whose apartment on 53rd Street was a hospitable hot spot for hungry jazz musicians. She would help Morgan kick a drug habit, clean up, and stage a comeback. She would be by his side when he formed a quintet and recorded some of his most enduring records for Blue Note. She would become his common-law wife. And on February 19, 1972, in between late-night sets at an East Village club, Helen would pull out a gun and shoot the thirty-three-year-old band leader, killing the man she loved. Gathering together archival footage, stills, testimonials from legends like Wayne Shorter and Billy Harper, and a 1996 interview with Helen conducted a month before her death, Swedish documentarian Kasper Collin (My Name Is Albert Ayler) traces the duo’s individual histories and tries to unravel the mystery behind her impulsive act that fateful night. The movie also draws an incredible you-are-there portrait of the era’s after-hours jazz scene, from the hectic recording-studio sessions to the smoky Manhattan stages where these musical pioneers chased a sound. And most of all, it recounts a wild amour fou story, in which two mercurial people can’t live without each other and can’t help turning their romance into something like a Greek tragedy.