Sadly, all good things must come to an end. So I will close out Black Music Month with “The Blue Note Show” which aired on PBS’ Soul! television series on January 26, 1972.
The episode featured Blue Note Records artists Horace Silver, Bobbi Humphrey, Cecil Bridgewater, Bob Crenshaw, Billy Harper, Harold Mabern, and Andy and Salome Bey. Philadelphia natives Jymie Merritt and Lee Morgan, and long-time resident Mickey Roker were in the house. At 33:58 Silver tells host Ellis Haizlip that he formed his quintet after “the fellow that owned the Showboat in Philadelphia called me and said he wanted me to get a group together and come in for a week.”
Lee Morgan’s appearance on Soul! was one of his last performances. He was shot and killed less than a month later. But his legacy lives on. We have nominated the legendary trumpeter for a Pennsylvania historical marker. We are hopeful the nomination will be approved when the committee meets in September.
Lee Morgan was killed by his former paramour at Slugs’, a New York City jazz club, on February 19, 1972. While only 33, Lee’s legacy includes collaborating as a sideman on John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’. As a bandleader, Lee recorded 30 albums for Blue Note Records, including The Sidewinder, one of the label’s best-selling albums.
Lee’s nephew, Raymond Darryl Cox, and I visited his grave on the 50th anniversary of his death. Lee was briefly united with his cherished flugelhorn.
To commemorate this milestone, All That Philly Jazz, along with Blue Note Records, Lee’s family, Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical High School alumni, business leaders, and Lee Morgan scholars and enthusiasts have nominated the legendary trumpeter for a Pennsylvania historical marker. A historical marker recognizes people, places and events that have had a measurable impact on their times, and are of statewide or national significance.
Cem Kurosman, Vice President of Publicity at Blue Note Records/Capitol Music Group, said:
Fifty years after his death, Lee Morgan’s music remarkably continues to grow in stature. There remains a high level of interest from jazz fans all over the world in Lee’s life and music, which has fueled our efforts to reissue his Blue Note catalog so that his music can keep finding new generations of listeners. The expanded box set The Complete Live at the Lighthouse was widely acclaimed and sold out shortly after its release in August 2021. A historical marker would be a long overdue public memorial celebrating one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
Raymond Darryl Cox, executor of the Estate of Lee Morgan, said:
My mother, Ernestine Morgan Cox, was Lee’s older sister. She bought Lee his first trumpet and exposed him to jazz at the Earle Theater. JazzTimes named The Complete Live at the Lighthouse the number two historical album of 2021. The flugelhorn with which Uncle Lee posed on the album cover is a treasured family heirloom. Uncle Lee lives forever in our hearts. If the nomination for a Pennsylvania historical marker is approved, Lee Morgan will live forever in public memory.
Jazz master and trumpeter Cullen Knight met Lee in 1956. Knight was entering Mastbaum AVTS and Morgan was graduating from the storied high school. Knight said:
Lee’s heart and soul went into his music, and that’s what came out. Although Lee’s life was cut short, he said what he wanted to say with his trumpet and his compositions, and that was plenty.
In the coming months, we will make an announcement about legendary trumpeter and Philadelphia native Lee Morgan.
It’s driving me crazy that I can’t share the good news now. Instead, I will share Stop Driving Us Crazy, an animated safe driving PSA produced by the General Board of Temperance of the Methodist Church. Released in 1959, the soundtrack was scored by another Philadelphian, Benny Golson, and performed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan on trumpet.
Located in the Tioga neighborhood in North Philly, the 1400-seat Tioga Theater opened in 1915 and operated as a movie theater until circa 1950.
In the late 1950s and ‘60s, top jazz artists performed here including John Coltrane, James Moody, Zoot Simms, Donald Byrd, Sarah Vaughan, Kenny Rodgers and Cannonball Adderley. On January 12, 1958, Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Morgan headlined a concert. The Philadelphia Tribune reported:
What began as a sizable crowd for Sunday’s jazz matinee concert at the Tioga Theater, became what is known in the newspaper business as a SRO (standing room only) gathering by nightfall. It all goes to prove that Rock-N-Roll hasn’t as yet completely captivated the musical world–and modern jazz is nowhere near dead.
The Tioga was repurposed and later abandoned by Deliverance Evangelical Church in 1973. It has been vacant ever since.
The inaugural Philadelphia Jazz Summit will be held November 2-3, 2018. Spearheaded by jazz bassist Gerald Veasley, the event will bring together musicians, jazz enthusiasts, advocates, funders, and the arts and culture community.
The time has come for Philadelphia to be recognized as the world-class jazz destination it is. Philadelphia has been fertile soil for jazz for over 100 years. The city has served as a launching pad for the careers of legends such as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lee Morgan, Melody Gardot, Christian McBride, Grover Washington, Jr., Sun Ra and many more.
Jazz Philadelphia is here to provide more opportunities for the next generation of musicians to play here, stay here, and share their talent with the world. I’ve had a wonderful career as a Philadelphia-based musician, and I want to ensure that others can do the same.
The schedule includes speakers, workshops, and panel discussions that cover a wide range of topics, including applying for grants and residencies, educating artists and audiences, and playing in unconventional spaces. I’m on the panel, “The Philadelphia Story.” I’ll talk about ongoing project to document Philly’s jazz spots from A to Z, from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.
Nnenna Freelon, a jazz singer, composer, producer, arranger and six-time Grammy® nominee, is the keynote speaker. Freelon was selected in recognition of her cultural activism and commitment to social justice.
The Philadelphia Jazz Summit is free but you must register.
In jazz’s heyday, there were clubs named the Blue Note across the country. Philadelphia had three such clubs, the most famous of which was located at 1502 Ridge Avenue where the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums), performed on December 8, 1956.
But there’s only one Blue Note record label that was home to such greats as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.
A new documentary, “It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story,” retells the journey of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two German Jewish immigrants who fled Nazi Germany and founded Blue Note Records in 1939.
Fittingly, the film premiered at the Munich Film Festival on July 2.