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Review: “I Called Him Morgan,” a tale of self-growth through personal tragedy.

Drugs. Infidelity. And Jazz. All interplay in the clubs of New York City in the engrossing documentary “I Called Him Morgan,” screening this Friday (March 31) at Laemmle theaters.

With the story that seems fitting for an episode straight out of a crime investigation series, the documentary tells the love and tragedy of confiding couple Lee Morgan, a promising jazz trumpeter, and the sharp-edged, streetwise Helen Morgan, who took the musician under her wing during the lowest point of his career.  The troubles in the couple’s relationship begin to surface as Morgan rebuilds himself following a nearly fatal addiction to heroin that eventually climaxes to the death of Morgan shot by his wife during a gig in 1972.

“I Called Him Morgan,” is the second feature film by acclaimed Swedish director and producer Kasper Collins, with cinematography by Brad Young and Erik Vallsten. Collins appeared on the documentary scene with his 2006 UK smash “My Name is Albert Ayler” recounting another raging tale about another jazz musician.

“I Called Him Morgan” is primarily told through the interviews with Helen Morgan.  Fellow musicians Paul West, Bill Harper, and Jamie Merritt also discuss the events that lead to the night at Slugs, who wear their hearts on their sleeves at the still-apparent void due to the absences of their friend.  Much like the satisfying audios that it provides, backed with a soundtrack by the music of the Lee Morgan band, “I Called Him Morgan,” is secondarily enhanced by the stunning photographs of New York City and the images of Morgan’s prolific career in concerts and recording sessions at Blue Note Records.

 

Though the tale chronicles the life of Morgan from his not so humble begins with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra to eventual his rise to fame with the developing of his signature “hard bop” style and releasing of his legendary album “The Sidewinder” in 1964 (complete with high street fashion, cars and women,  Morgan would add) the documentary doubles as a redemption piece for his common-law wife Helen. Otherwise known as quiet, she finally opens up twenty years later to her post self-described regrettable mistake to her adult education teacher and former jazz radio announcer Larry Rani Thomas.

It is clear that “I Called Him Morgan,” despite its often times entertaining elements, is not to entertain but rather to inform.  And it informs through the pain and poignant dialogue revealing the robust andright-from-the-get-go message of self-growth through personal tragedy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Called Him Morgan”

Directed by: Kasper Collins

Written by: Kasper Collins

Starring: Lee Morgan, Helen Morgan, Paul West, Charli Persip, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Larry Ridley, Jymie Merritt, Bennie Maupin, and Billy Harper.

Run Time: 91 minutes

Next showings: March 31 Laemmle Monica and Playhouse.

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