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Film Review: I Called Him Morgan

Lee and Helen Morgan are seen in a screen capture from the trailer for the documentary I Called Him Morgan.Courtesy of Kasper Collin Produktion AB.
Lee and Helen Morgan are seen in a screen capture from the trailer for the documentary I Called Him Morgan.
Courtesy of Kasper Collin Produktion AB.

Both a Jazz and a Human Tragedy

(TORONTO, ON) – Famed jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was gunned down at the age of 33 by his wife, Helen Morgan, while performing at the Slugs nightclub in New York City on February 20, 1972. Lee Morgan was a musician with enormous talent.

He started out playing with Dizzy Gillespie when he was a mere 16 years old and played with Art Blakey and The Messengers for many years.

We are told stories by Lee Morgan’s friends. They unravel a very interesting tale about a self-confident, good looking, and very fashionable man, who found success very early on in his life. And, despite a disastrous flirtation with heroin, he kicked the habit and went on to an illustrious though truncated career.

Then there is Helen Morgan. She descended from a poor rural background and gave birth to children at age 13 and 14. Eventually she made it to New York where her good looks and cooking made her somewhat of a player in the jazz industry.

Helen rescued Lee from the gutter and stayed by his side as he recovered from his heroin addiction.

She needed a way into the jazz world and he was her ticket. She needed someone to take care of and he needed someone to care for him.

It was all going so well.

Lee recovered his health and made a comeback and the pair looked as if they were deeply in love. That crumbled and another women arrived on the scene. Before you knew, Lee was gunned down by Helen, who pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter and did a very brief stint in jail.

Yes, Helen lamented what she did and joined the church, back in the countryside.

For the jazz fan, and those who like an interesting story, this is a compelling and fascinating documentary. Wonderful photographic stills and archival footage litter the film. Some very big names in jazz tell parts of the story.

Was poetic justice served? Did Helen rescue a man from self-destruction and then scorned for her part? Or, was she just a jealous lover seeking revenge?

The film makes no conclusions. I’ll leave it up to you.

Just basking in all the great jazz in this documentary rates a thumbs up.

(I Called Him Morgan, Sweden, 2016, Director Kasper Collin, 91 minutes, opens at Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto on 7 April 2017)

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