I Called Him Morgan (2016) Movie Script

[radio announcer]
Thelonious, 1963.
Don't Blame Me,
the Criss-Cross album.
You're listening to
Blue Notes, Blue Nights,
here in New York City.
Going to be a stormy one
tonight, folks.
Nor-easter coming in.
They're saying high winds
and a heavy snowfall.
So take care of yourselves.
Now, a fresh outtake
from a forthcoming blue
note album by Lee Morgan.
He's really flying
high on this one.
[jazz music playing]
-[man] Is that Helen?
That's Lee.
Boy, they were young then.
I just couldn't believe it.
Didn't know what to think.
Because they were
both together.
They were always
the people we related to.
Both of them.
[man] The fact that he had
totaled the car that night,
came to work,
and still wasn't able to
come through the night,
was not able to get through
the night alive, you know?
I was never able to go
down that street again.
Didn't get back to New York.
I was destroyed, man.
And then, you know,
I was curious about
what happened to Helen.
And then I heard that
the police had arrested her
and taken her to jail.
And you know, I never
saw her again.
[jazz music playing]
[Larry Thomas] This is where
I first met Mrs. Helen Morgan.
At this building.
Wilson High School.
Our classroom was situated
on the first floor here,
closest to the door.
Because whenever
we had a break,
Mrs. Morgan did smoke.
My class was
a Western civilization class.
But I don't begin with
the Greeks and the Romans.
I began with the ancient
African civilizations.
So I wasn't
a "traditional teacher."
As a matter of fact, they
didn't call me Mr. Thomas.
They called me Larry.
Almost all the students
called me Larry.
And they were--most of them
were her age maybe,
or they were some of them--
I would say the youngest ones
were in their 40s.
Mrs. Morgan struck
me as a person
who wasn't that academically
sound, but she was streetwise.
Just the aura or vibe
about her was streetwise.
So as a way of introducing
myself to the class,
I would always hand
out this bio of me,
with my picture and everything,
stating that, you know,
I was a jazz radio announcer,
a little bit of background
information on who I was.
When I gave it to her,
she said, "Oh, I love jazz."
So I said, "Really?"
She said, "Oh, yeah,
by the way, my husband
was a jazz musician."
And her last name was Morgan.
And I said, "Your husband?
What was his name?"
And she said
his name was Lee.
So I said, "Lee Morgan,
the trumpet player?"
And she said,"Yeah."
And she kind of looked
at me kind of funny.
Like, you know, "You know
the story too," you know.
So I said, "Well, I want
to interview you one day."
So she said, "I don't
have to think about it."
So eventually in '96, I guess
about eight years later,
she decided that--
she called me, and said,
"Larry, you still
want the interview?"
And I said, "Yeah, of course."
So I borrowed a tape recorder,
just a regular Sony.
And I got two cassettes,
I just grabbed two cassettes.
I said, "I got to
get this interview."
You know?
And that was in February, 1996.
In March, 1996, she died.
[indistinct tape playing over
loud high pitched noise]
[ambient background
music playing]
[Helen] The country,
I never liked at all.
My mother's biggest aim was
when I was growing up
in the country,
and I had to work
on the farm,
and I had to do all of this,
that when I got big enough,
I was leaving this place.
And I was--
I was young.
And then, see,
I had kids early.
And I had my first child at 13.
Then I had another baby
right behind that.
About 14, right behind.
So that disillusioned me
from whole lot of things.
Because I've never once
said I wanted any children.
I never did that.
But I had them.
I didn't raise them.
My grandparents
raised my children.
Because I left.
I left.
I came to Wilmington.
And then I got married here.
And I only knew him for a week.
And this was that--
the fast life here.
I was 17, he was 39.
And he got drowned.
So his family
lived in New York.
And I left Wilmington,
stayed two weeks in New York.
And I never came back.
[jazz music playing, applause]
[announcer] Lee Morgan,
ladies and gentlemen.
[audience cheering]
[Wayne] The first time
I met Lee Morgan,
I was in the army.
And in the army, we talked
about anything new.
They were talking about
Clifford Brown, the actor.
They were talking about
James Dean, the actor.
And they said,
"Dizzy Gillespie found
a trumpet player,
16 years old.
His name is Lee Morgan
from Philadelphia."
That's when I heard his name.
And one weekend, I went
to New Jersey, home.
And they said,
"Dizzy Gillespie is playing
at Sugar Hill, the club.
And Lee Morgan is there
in that band."
[jazz music playing]
So I went to the Sugar Hill,
and I saw the band.
And Dizzy Gillespie
was soloing,
then he would stop.
Then the next thing
I saw, this young--
the Lee Morgan stand up,
he started playing.
[solo trumpet playing]
It was fun to watch him
almost challenge Dizzy
in the band, musically.
He was extremely confident.
Almost to the point
of being cocky.
And here was this
bubbly young artist
who knew he was talented.
No question about it.
He knew that he was talented.
[Wayne] The band, they had
the band uniforms.
But Lee Morgan
and Dizzy Gillespie
and the drummer,
which was Charlie Persip,
dressed different.
They were like the stars
of the band.
[Charli] I mean, everybody
was kind of like in shock.
I mean, here's this kid, man,
that's playing like
a seasoned veteran,
and with great ideas.
I mean, it was never
no doubt in anybody's mind
'cause he was
going to be a star.
[Paul] It was common
among musicians
to be one of the best dressers.
[Charli] We talked about
fashion all the time.
What they called Ivy League,
that was like the style then.
And Lee was really
into that, and so was I.
[Paul] You know, have
the best car, prettiest lady,
lots of money,
best shoes.
And all that was
important to us.
[Charli] Yeah, I bought
this Austin-Healey.
And Lee bought a Triumph.
And I used to tease him
about it, I said,
"Man, your car is
not as powerful, it's
not as fast as my car."
He said, "Oh, man, we
have to see about that."
[jazz music playing]
[Albert] And, man, we would
run around in this city.
And we would go in
Central Park at night.
Because in those days,
you could drive around
in Central Park at night.
Just get out the way,
let me go around this turn
as fast as I can.
Could never turn the car over.
[jazz music playing]
The great big festival
with Ahmad Jamal was there.
Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie,
the Jazz Messengers.
Lee Morgan came running
across the racetrack
during an intermission.
And he said to me, you want
to play with the Messengers?
Do you want to play
with the Messengers?
And I said, "Yeah."
And he said, "Come with me."
And I jumped down on
the racetrack with him
and went to the dressing room
where Art Blakey was.
And Art said to me, "Do you
want to play in my band?"
He had that voice.
[imitating] "You want
to play in my band,
with the Messengers?"
I said, "Yeah."
[jazz music playing]
Ladies and gentlemen, we are
now beginning the third set
with the terrific Art Blakey
and his Jazz Messengers
from the jazz corner
of the world.
Lee Morgan on trumpet,
Wayne Shorter on
the tenor saxophone,
Bobby Timmons on the piano,
Jymie Merritt on the bass.
Soul brothers
on this scene now.
Really do a cool one for you.
[jazz music playing]
[Wayne] I was always known
as a lone wolf.
But with Lee,
Lee was the friend.
And he and I would
like to have a debate
about different things,
He wanted to know everything.
I went to Europe
for the first time with them.
And sometimes when
we were playing,
and Lee would be
playing a solo,
and Art would be yelling
to Lee, "Talk to the people,
talk to the people.
Tell them your story,
tell them your story."
He knew how to
tell a story musically,
you know?
[jazz music playing]
[Helen] Well, I lived for
most of my part now,
53rd Street.
Not far from Birdland
between 8th and 9th.
Ride around, they all ride
around in the circle there.
I could always fit in
because I was a talker.
And I got a job.
And then I begin to
meet other people.
I started going
uptown to clubs.
That's when you would
really hear music,
the jam sessions, you know?
And I would be invited
to the after-hour joints.
Helen was a hero
in my neighborhood
because she came up
from the south.
And she was a woman
that had to struggle
because she didn't want
to work for anyone.
So she wanted to
be her own person.
When she walked down
the block in the neighborhood,
the men and the women
paid attention.
Especially the men, because
she wore provocative clothes.
She wore are a lot of those
A-line type dresses and suits.
Everything fitted her because
she was built very nice.
And on Friday, she would
change her outfits
and come downstairs
when all the guys
got off from work.
And they'd be shooting crap,
you know.
And she'd go across the street,
and she would shoot with them.
She didn't talk a lot about
her background or home
or anything like that.
She only sort of fit
into conversations
when she felt it was necessary
to correct something.
That something was said
that was not correct,
that she felt
uncomfortable with.
That's the only time she
would really say anything.
[Helen] I will not sit here
and tell you that
I was so nice,
because I was not.
A woman that would cut you.
I was sharp.
I had to be.
Had to be.
I was sharp.
And I looked out for me.
[jazz music playing]
[man] That's him.
Oh, he could be a showman.
He had his little style,
you know. Be stylin'.
He had a nice laugh too.
[Lee] I'm not gonna
stand too close when
we play the ensemble.
I might, you know,
take my solo.
Yeah, well, I'll step back.
I can't be very loud.
[indistinct chatter]
[jazz music playing]
Every time we went to record,
Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff,
the owners of Blue Note,
would bring boxes and boxes
of food and everything.
It was like a party.
And there was always a record
that came out of those six,
seven-hour recording sessions.
With that group, we had a lot
to do with developing
what was called
the "Blue Note sound."
[Jymie] Here was
these two guys
who seemed to be
as involved as the players
themselves, you know.
The guys used to call them
"the animal brothers."
You know,
the lion and the wolf.
And I'll never forget
Frank Wolff,
the whole time,
he would be taking pictures.
He took some
remarkable pictures.
[jazz music playing]
[Wayne] He wrote music that
came from his youth.
In Search for the New Land,
he was actually digging back
into his roots in history.
And what could be
achieved with freedom.
I wish the world
was like this.
I wish--when we did record,
there was always
the thought that
this is going to be forever.
What we choose is
going to be forever.
[Helen] My apartment
was that open house.
Was always beans cooking,
always cooked, from to dinner.
You eat, "go by Helen's house."
My house at 53rd Street
was the place.
[Al] The first time I met
my mother, I was 21.
I went to her house,
to her apartment.
And strange enough,
when I knocked on the door,
she said "Come in."
And the door was
open, not locked,
and I went in.
And there was three women
at the table.
And I immediately
recognized Helen,
first time ever
seeing her, because...
I guess you could say
the family resemblance to her.
And we greeted each other.
And here she is, 35 or
something like that.
And, wow, you know.
"That means that you was 13
when I was born."
It didn't take long for me
to latch on to her,
because she was
quite interesting.
She worked at
an answering service.
And they was pulling and
pushing cords in order
to make connections.
It was a means of
making it in New York.
And being a woman,
being a black woman,
there wasn't a whole
lot of jobs for you.
[Ron] Everyone knew Helen
because she could cook.
And I used to go by
and a lot of the musicians
would be there.
She would always say,
"Listen, if you're ever
in my neighborhood, stop by.
I like to cook."
And they would say, "Okay,
I'm in her neighborhood.
Let's see what
she cooked today."
Helen would say,
"Are you hungry?"
And you said, "Nah,
just, you know, maybe
a little snack or something."
She say, "I'm gonna
fix you somethin'."
She'd be out in the kitchen,
doing a roast pork or a turkey.
And you're like, "Whoa,
this is going to be great!"
And when she put
the food on the table,
she might have a pie
or a cake or something.
This is within an hour or two.
Two this woman was fantastic
when it came to the kitchen.
[jazz music playing]
She always had
some good music playin',
I remember that.
Always good jazz music playing.
I remember once, a party.
I mean, it was a small place,
but people from
all walks of life.
Most of her friends
was gay or lesbian or--
"People are people,"
she'd say.
[Ron] I remember this.
Helen was washing up some
dishes from a great meal
that we all had had.
And I had my camera with me.
And I said, "Can I
take your picture?"
She said, "No, I
don't like pictures."
She wouldn't let people
take pictures of her.
But I wanted to get
a picture of her.
So I said something slick.
I don't remember exactly
what I said to her.
But when I said it,
she turned around.
And when she turned
around, I said "Pop!"
And I caught it.
As advertised, we're
going to be introducing,
in just a moment,
one of the top jazz groups
in the world,
on the Blue Note label.
These fellows have been
playing together since 1955.
And now, as I say,
one of the top jazz groups
in the whole world--
they play all around
the world too.
Here we go.
[jazz music playing]
[Larry Ridley]
Oh, he's buggin' here.
Stickin' his tongue out.
"Yes!" [laughs]
Oh, yeah, he's really muggin'
there with the young lady.
Oh, yeah, they doin' their
little Philly two-step.
That's what it was all about,
stayin' neat, get a haircut,
show up on the scene.
That was the whole thing.
We want to impress
a young lady, you know.
Come in like, "What it is?"
I think of the good times
that we had back then.
You know, there was
a lot of good times.
[jazz music playing]
[Wayne] In between,
we have a break, we play
and we have a break,
and I'd go right to the bar and
get a cognac, a double cognac,
sometimes a triple.
And then we would eat.
We all had a plan.
We eat so we could
stay sober enough.
You know, but I was--
I thought I was
out of the Army, I'm still
26 years old, 27.
And alcohol, you sweat it out.
And you're never going to
be staggering or swaying
on the bandstand.
You don't stagger.
It's not cool to stagger.
You're supposed to be strong.
I would drink and have
like a thin veil around me,
that's my space.
My little dream space
and everything.
And we would play.
[jazz music playing]
I'm looking at
the back of his head.
There's a bandage.
It's almost like in my face,
"What's gonna happen to him?"
It's like,
"What you doin', man?
Lee, hey, Lee,
what you doin'?"
[jazz music playing]
I was with him in Chicago.
I was with Donnie Washington
and he was with Art Blakey.
And that's when
I first realized
that he had succumbed
to the drug culture.
And it was most unfortunate
because he was
such a rare talent.
And I was very disappointed,
but then I'd ask him
if there's anything
I could do to help him.
And there was nothing
I could do at that time.
And so next thing I know,
I had been talked
about firing him.
And so next time I know, he and
Bobby Timmons were both--
had left the group.
[Wayne] There was
some concern...
what was coming
next in his life
that we had no control over.
"Lee, why don't you do this,
Lee, why don't you do--"
you know.
We knew that, you know.
Because when he left, we
wasn't going to see him.
You know, like...
I mean, we couldn't
go home with him.
Not all musicians
were experimenting
with drugs and everything.
I never did.
We played at Birdland one time.
It's a Monday night,
and Lee came with no shoes.
Because he had on
some bedroom slippers.
And he was trying to make us
all be okay with it, you know.
Like he was like,
you know,"What's wrong
with you guys, man?
Oh, yeah.
I got my slippers on."
But he had sold his shoes
to get some drugs.
Heroin, if you know
about it,
it leaves you really sick
and in a lot of pain
if you don't have it.
And he said he'd rather
do that than play
the trumpet at the time.
Because he could play the
trumpet well, no problem.
It's the drugs that
he couldn't control.
[Lena] I asked him about--
once he was lying down,
I saw that he had the burn
on the side of his head.
I asked him about that.
He told me readily about that.
He'd gotten high
and kind of OD'ed and fell,
and his head hit the radiator.
And he was out, and
smelled burning flesh.
And the radiator had
burned a big hole.
And then if you notice,
in his pictures after 1965,
he combed his hair forward.
And it was only when his head
was in a certain position,
the hair would fall away
and you could see
the scar, the burn on his head.
[jazz music playing]
Lee's sound was in my head
since I was like maybe 18.
I just really
loved his playing.
When I came to New York,
it was a different time.
And I didn't see Lee Morgan.
He wasn't around.
Until one day, oddly enough,
I was on the subway,
and we had come to
maybe 125th street.
And the subway stopped
and I happened to
look out the window.
And I saw this guy.
He had on a long overcoat
because it was the winter time
and he had his head wrapped
in like... it was like
a scarf or something.
And just as the train was
moving out of the station,
I saw his face.
It was Lee Morgan.
But he looked like
a homeless person.
It was a very, very sad time.
You know,
nobody would hire him.
He really went down
as far as you can go.
And then somehow,
he met Helen.
[high pitched noise]
[Larry Thomas] Well, I noticed
you call him Morgan.
[Helen] Yeah.
[Larry Thomas]
Why do you
call him Morgan?
-[Helen] It's his last name.
-[Larry Thomas] Uh-huh.
[Helen] And
I called him Morgan.
Morgan was one
of the people that
came to my house.
And for some kind of reason,
I don't know,
just sittin' there, like,
my heart went out to him.
I saw this little boy,
you know.
I remember it was cold.
And he had on his jacket.
I said, "You ain't
got no coat?"
And I said, "What are you
doing out in that jacket?"
And I said "Child, this is
zero degrees out there."
I said, "Well, child,
you need your coat."
I said, "Where is your coat?"
He said, "I pawned it."
I said, "Well, c'mon, I'm
gonna go get you a coat.
Because it's too cold."
And he just hung on to me.
He had had his teeth
knocked out.
And he had the brace on,
that saved the teeth,
and that had been years,
and he hadn't even
gotten the brace off.
But I said, "You know, are
you not playin' or nothing?"
I said, "You need to
start back to work."
Because see, they
couldn't depend on him.
They said, "Lee Morgan is gonna
play at so and so place.
He might not be there."
He said, "I know."
I said,"Well,
you can't do that.
[Bennie] I thought
Helen was super.
She was like his confidante.
She was his friend, his lover.
She was older.
And she definitely
was unafraid
to be with a person
who was unstable.
I don't know much
about her background,
but whatever it was,
it gave her a strength.
She had a real
quiet strength about her.
And he really trusted her.
[Helen] We got an apartment.
We moved from downtown.
Morgan went to
the hospital in the Bronx.
That hospital,
they were giving him methadone,
a place you had to go
in there and stay in there.
He turned himself in.
He went in.
[Al] Grand Concourse.
About two blocks
from Yankee Stadium
and the Bronx.
Uh, but it was...
I mean, it was
quite a move up,
so to speak,
from what it was.
[Helen] And when he came out,
that's when I was working,
you know, talking to people.
And when he came out,
they started rehearsing.
Because the people--
everybody wanted to--
would play with him now.
[jazz music playing]
Wasn't no thing about
getting you to work.
[Jymie] I was coming from
rehearsal with Joe Henderson
at Chick Corea's house.
I remember that because
of that bakery of his.
His family had
a bakery up there.
And as I came out
of the bakery, I was
standing on the corner,
I looked down and
it was Lee Morgan.
And he was standing.
So we got into conversation.
And I hadn't seen him
in quite a while.
And considering what
he had gone through,
I was amazed that he was
able to hold together at all,
you know.
He informed me he was
starting a new group.
And would I like to be in it?
Sure, we got together at
a place called Slugs'.
[Jerry] He had never come
to a job without her.
We did the contract
with her, you know?
It was like she
was managing him.
I did always work out,
you know, "When is he
coming in?
Well, he can come in
so and so time.
Okay, let's make it this time."
This was always with her.
She carried his trumpet case,
you know?
She did everything for him.
He played a lot, you know?
[Helen] He started dressing,
because he liked to
wear his white shirt.
Shirt, tie, leather jacket,
shoe shine.
Yeah, he liked
to be clean now.
He liked to be clean.
And then when his shirts
aren't ironed, he'd
want me to iron his shirt.
I'd do all that.
[jazz music playing]
He wrote this tune for me
called "Helen's Ritual."
Puttin' lotion and things on.
[laughs] Gettin' ready to
go somewhere, took me
a half hour.
'Cause I've got to go
through that ritual,
that lotion.
Every day when
we were going out,
wherever we were going,
whatever, that lotion...
"Helen's ritual."
[Al] I didn't meet him
until after they had
a relationship goin' good.
And sure, I said sure.
Me and him about the same age.
And I said "Miss Helen."
And I would say they
needed each other
at the time that she met him.
She had someone
to take care of,
and he had someone
to take care of him.
And it seemed to
be a good thing.
[jazz music playing]
[Lee] Good evening,
ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Lee Morgan.
For those of you
who might have just come in,
the reason for all
these microphones
is that we're recording
live for Blue Note Records.
Lee Morgan Quintet live at
Hermosa Beach, The Lighthouse.
Now here's "Absolution."
We were enjoying it.
You know, we really enjoyed it
because it gave us
a chance, first of all,
to be away for
a month from New York.
Because we here by the ocean.
What I remember one thing,
Lee practiced every day.
He would make me feel
like, "Well, maybe
I should practice too."
He was enjoying
not wearing any shoes
and walking on the sand
in his bare feet, you know.
How can you not be relaxed?
This was a great place
to relax.
[jazz music playing]
[Lee] Right now, it's just
me and my wife, solo.
A lot of times, I would say
at least half of the time,
I'd take her with me.
And she serves as wife,
cook, secretary...
everything else, you know?
Besides, it's a nice vacation
for her as well.
I could understand
Helen's position.
I mean, she wanted
to be in that world.
And he was the key.
And traveling up and
down the West Coast
and rubbing elbows
with that crowd.
[Jymie] She always did
all the arrangements
for the traveling.
And she just, big head
come in the door,
and you'd know it was Helen.
[Bennie] That was a good part
of his life, I'm sure.
I mean, they really
cared about each other.
They loved each other.
I see them sometimes,
they were walking,
holding hands, you know.
Laughing about
something, you know.
Lee was always
making her laugh.
And I think that's
one thing she liked
a lot, you know.
[crickets chirping]
[Helen] I met Miles...
Nasty, you know?
I met him.
He said hello, I said hello.
He said, "And who are you
supposed to be?"
I said, "I am not
'supposed to be.'"
I am Helen Morgan.
He said, "Oh, you mean
Morgan's woman?"
I said yes.
He said, "Well, I guess
you know who I am."
And I said, "I don't
have to know who you are."
And he laughed, you know.
He said, "I see
you got a quick mouth."
And the words he said
to me like this,
"I don't mess too much
around with bitches
with quick mouths."
And I said, "Well, I don't
consider myself that."
[Al] She was
the entertainment's wife.
You know, it was her thing.
It seemed to be
working good,
as far as I could see.
More power to her.
[jazz music playing]
[Ron] I saw her one day,
and I said, "Are you
still with Lee?"
She said, "Of course."
She said, "Yeah, I got
him back on his feet,
and we're doing this and this."
Then I saw a different Helen.
It wasn't the Helen
that I grew up with.
It was a woman who cared,
who almost had adopted a child
because Lee and her were
quite different in age.
And I was very proud of her.
I was proud of her when I
knew her as a young man.
But as a man, I became
even more proud of her.
Because she was helping
someone get back on their feet
who had a lot of talent.
[Paul] His life was
restored by Helen.
And it was joy to watch.
He had his own group.
He was playing, was producing.
And he was living.
[Bennie] We would get together
sometimes at his apartment--
at their apartment, actually.
Lee would call me.
He'd say, "Why don't you come
over and we'll have dinner?
So I said, "Okay."
This apartment they had
was beautiful.
It was immaculate.
Helen took care of the house.
You know, she would
fix us a nice dinner.
We would sit down
and have dinner.
And then after dinner,
Lee would, you know,
want to go out.
Because he liked to go out
and hear other musicians.
So we would leave.
Helen would say,"No, I'm
not going with you guys,
because you're going
to be out too late.
I just want to stay here.
It would be good to
get him out of here
so I could be here by myself."
She was like, "Take him away."
That kind of thing.
So he said, "I'll be back."
But it was always fun.
[Paul] And so
during that time, I said
"What Lee needs now
is not only the support
that he gets from
his home, from Helen,
but he needs to be put in
with a group of young people
who are aspiring to be
like him, artistically.
So I brought him in to
Jazzmobile Workshop.
[Lee] I would teach
anybody who wants it.
It's mostly designed
for youngsters,
but anybody who wants to come.
It's not really teaching.
We've had, like,
arrangements for big bands,
small bands, whatnot.
And these are donated by,
say, by Thad or Benny Golson,
or Oliver Nelson,
Wayne Shorter.
You know, our top writers.
And they get a chance to play.
Some of the more talented ones
are trying to write themselves.
And we kind of
evaluate their things,
you know.
I notice a lot of times
I'm talking to them,
and I'll say something or
mention something
that might have happened in
the 50s or something,
talking about Clifford Brown...
And he'll be looking at me
with a puzzled look.
And I realize that here,
I'm talking to a kid
that's only 15 years old.
To him, I'm ancient.
You see what I'm trying to say?
[Paul] These young kids,
they loved him.
And they were soaking up
all that he had to offer.
And he wanted to give and
give and give and give.
[jazz music playing]
[Lee] I find that
the essence of creativity
is the newness of things.
And the only way
to keep things new
is to have constant
changes in environment
and surroundings and people.
And that's the thing
that is so exciting about
being a jazz musician.
[jazz music playing]
[Lena] Wow.
Man, Lee.
That's the fun.
That's what I saw a lot of.
That's the fun stuff.
Fooling around.
Yeah, I like that one.
I met Lee Morgan
in the late 1950s
in Atlantic City, New Jersey
when my family
was working down there
in the different clubs,
in the cabaret clubs,
preceding the casinos.
And Lee Morgan
was at the Cotton Club
with the Cookers,
his own group.
When we hung out,
we'd go to the movies,
we'd get popcorn,
we'd spill it.
He'd laugh just like a kid.
And I liked him because
he was so down-to-earth.
He called himself Howdy Doody.
That was a private joke
we had between us
because he had big ears
like Howdy Doody,
which was a doll clown
years ago.
And so he says,
"I'm Howdy Doody."
And he'd called me
Baby Huey because
I had kind of big butt.
He says,"Let's go up to
the Blue Note and let's
pick out some albums,
and we'd just listen to them."
And at that time in my car,
I had an 8-track in my car.
That's as big as
a VHS now, you know,
this big thing and
you put it in your car.
And we would ride around
listening to music.
Go down by
the West Side Highway,
end up at
the George Washington Bridge,
and listen to music.
Nothing fancy, just hang out.
That's just what we did.
[jazz music playing]
[Helen] He ventured out often,
either at the train
at the Grand Concourse,
and I ain't going back
to New Jersey.
[jazz music playing]
Lee's kind of
seeing this girl.
You know what I mean?
Once he was got himself
straight, I warned him.
And then they were hangin' out.
She was--you know.
He had somebody to--
I started hangin' around.
And I'd go in the bathroom,
and they would be in there,
you know.
[Bennie] I got
a call from Helen.
And Helen was looking for Lee.
And Lee never
stayed out all night.
Generally, when he was out,
he was out with Helen.
Or he was out with me.
It would be like that.
And so she says, "I'm really
concerned about him
because he didn't
come home last night.
And he didn't call me.
So I don't know what
to think, if he's hurt
or, you know,
what's happening.
Have you seen him?"
And I told her,"No,
I haven't seen him."
So later in the day,
Lee called me.
And I told him that
Helen had called me.
He says, "Yeah, I know.
She was calling everybody."
And he said,
"I met this woman,
and there's a vibe
between this woman and I,
and I went to her house,
and I did not go home."
So I was like, "Wow."
How old are you now?
[Lee] Thirty three.
[interviewer] Well,
you're still very young, man.
You've been around for years.
[Lee] Right.
Right, I started
with Dizzy at 18.
So that means last 15 years.
[interviewer] Mm-hmm.
That's like a lot to have
learned something from.
[Lee] Mm-hmm.
[Lena] Between Christmas
and New Years, when
the year 1972 came in,
we were hanging out in Jersey,
going to the local bar.
He was shooting pool
with my friends.
He just wanted to
be in New Jersey,
go to the diner that
stayed open all day,
East Orange Diner from
East Orange, New Jersey.
Go to the diner, you know.
And on New Year's Eve,
we were at my house.
No hanging out, no giggin',
no partyin', no nothing.
And we just crashed
watching the fish tank.
I had a 100-gallon-long
fish tank from my children.
Fish tank was like the center
of attraction in my house.
Because the fish
were really cool.
And he would sit there
mesmerized watching the fish.
He said, "I'm not
composing anymore."
I never bothered him.
I just wanted him to
search his own soul
and feel good about it.
Because of the addiction
and whatnot,
his sexuality was very, very,
very, very, very, very limited.
Almost non-existent
because of what
he had been through.
It didn't faze me because
we were good friends.
And that New Year's Eve,
he woke me up like 3
or 4 o'clock in the morning,
which was then
1972 had come in.
And he said something drastic
is getting ready to happen.
He said "I can feel it."
[jazz music playing]
[Billy] I heard from Lee
that we were supposed
to do a television recording
on this show called Soul.
This show featured jazz acts,
jazz performances.
And the audience was a lot
of young black listeners
who were really into jazz.
So this was a good one.
This was a good show, a good
event to participate in.
Good evening.
I'm your announcer, Jerry B.
And tonight on Soul,
trumpet star Lee Morgan,
Harold Mabern, Jymie Merritt,
Freddy Waits, Billy Harper.
Yeah, it was a nice set.
And it was good to have
the opportunity to, you know,
be on television at that time.
Here is brother Lee Morgan
and the Quintet.
Now, we'd like to
do a brand new one.
This was composed by
our bassist Jymie Merritt,
and is dedicated to
sister Angela Davis.
The title, "Angela."
[Jymie] We recorded
a tune called "Angela,"
which was something
that Lee had asked me
to write for, you know,
write something for him.
And that seemed to be
something that needed
to be addressed at that time.
[Lee] You know,
I don't believe in
labels in music, period.
I don't even like
the word "jazz," really.
I think it's a bad word.
It's not a word
that we made up.
It's a word that we
were told what it was.
Just like we were told
that we are negroes,
or you know...
Same kind of thing.
If you ask me what would I
call our music, you know,
the best that I
could come up with
would probably be
"black classical music."
But then that's even
a broad term, you know?
[jazz music playing]
[Helen] He did
a television show,
and naturally, I was there.
But that didn't mean nothing!
Because when we left,
he was going on to her.
And I was going on to...
you know.
"What you doin'?"
I said,
"I'm not one of those women
that you can talk to
wile I'm the main woman and you
got somebody outside that."
I said, "I'm not
built that way.
That's not me.
I never--no, no--
I'm no main woman
if you leavin' me here
every night by myself
and you out there
with somebody.
I'm not--
I also get up, told him
I had some friends in Chicago,
and I was going to visit them.
And I told him, I said,
"I'm going to Chicago.
I don't know
when I'll be back."
I said,"Because I
feel like something bad's
gonna happen out of this."
And that Sunday,
he begged me not to go.
He said, "No, no, don't go."
"Don't go to Chicago," he said.
I said, "Well,
you can't live--
I can't live like this.
I said it's not in me.
And I didn't go to Chicago.
And I told him, I said,
"You know, Morgan,
I'm making the biggest
mistake of my life."
[jazz music playing]
[newsreader] This is the news
in detail on the hour.
National Weather Service
warns the Nor'easter
currently hitting the city
could bring the biggest
snowfall of the winter.
Winds up to 40 miles an hour
and continued snow and sleet
are expected.
Again, high winds,
lows around 32
and a high temperature of 37.
Authorities advice you
to stay off the road
and stay indoors...
[Billy] So that night,
we had the gig at Slugs'.
Well in the first place,
Slugs', this was a real
raw saloon basically, you know.
I mean, when you go in there,
sawdust on the floor.
And then the stage in the back.
That was one of the places
where all the musicians
were playing at the time.
And so it had the reputation
of a place where you can
really hear the real cats.
I remember it was
a most difficult night.
It was a night that
started out, and then it
became something else.
It was a snow--
When we got there,
the snow was two feet high.
I remember because
I had to get out of there
with my instrument.
Then I went back to
Philadelphia the next day.
That was...
that was it.
[Lena] It was February 18th.
I met Lee for dinner.
And he liked the dress
that I had on.
I remember him talking about
my dress. "I like your dress."
And we ate.
And then I said,
"Well, it's going to
be a blizzard,
so I got to go
back to Jersey.
Because I ain't
drivin' in the snow."
He said, "Just take me up to
the Bronx, I'll get my horn,
and drop me off at Slugs'."
And that was the plan.
[Helen] And that Saturday,
I don't know
what possessed me.
I said, "I'm going to Slugs'."
He was working down there
that whole week.
I hadnt been down there
that whole week.
And a fella was stayin'
with me named Ed.
So Ed was gay.
And Ed knew all
the musicians and
everything, you know.
And I said, "Ed, come on."
He said, "Don't go."
I said,"No, I'm goin'."
He said "I just don't
want you to go."
[Lena] As you may know,
up in the Bronx, a lot
of streets are cobblestone.
And we slid
on the cobblestone
and totaled my car.
So we got the--
we didn't get hurt, though.
We had our fur coats and
we were all bundled up.
It was near
the Grand Concourse.
He went upstairs
and got his horn.
I said, "Well, I got
to get back to Jersey."
My car was totaled.
It was maybe four or five
inches of snow by then.
Going down in the cab, going
down from Grand Concourse
stand to Slugs'.
Now we're talking about
seven, eight inches of snow.
He said,"I can't not go
on the stand because I'm
the leader, it's my group."
And he was flashing back
to when he was strung out,
and lots of times
he didn't show up.
He said,"I can't
let them down."
So I went in.
I sat by the door, because
if I could get a cab,
I was going to
get out of there.
[Jymie] That night was
pay night.
And Lee was late getting there.
And when he came in,
he rushed right
to the bathroom.
He had to throw up.
He had just--his car
had just totaled.
He had totaled his car
on the way to work.
[Helen] I said, "I'm just
going to stop in Slugs'
and say hello."
And then I'd gone over to
the band guy named Freddy.
A guy Cam I met down there.
And I went in Slugs', went in.
[jazz music playing]
[Billy] You know,
while we were playing,
he said,"Don't look now
but Helen just came in."
I didn't know there was
a big problem with them
at the time.
But when I look back,
you know, it was like a movie.
The doors flung open
and there was Helen.
[Lena] It was crowded
for it to be a blizzard.
Um, Helen came to the door.
He was not sitting with me,
I was sitting by the door
so I could see
out the window,
waiting for a cab.
"I'm here for the draw."
That's what Helen said,
"I'm here for the draw."
She said it real loud.
He said, "You want a draw?"
Which would be,
musicians get a draw.
They can draw money
out of their pay.
And whatever, I didn't
even hear the argument.
I knew something was going on.
[Paul] It was snowing outside.
And I and my lady decided
we're going to run down
to Slugs' and catch Lee.
As I walked in,
Helen approached me.
And she says, "Paul,
could you go and talk
to your friend, Lee?
And, because he's got
his little girlfriend here.
And I feel very uncomfortable
with her being here,
and she shouldn't be here."
I said okay.
So I walked over to him.
He was at the bar and
talking to this little lady.
"Lee," I said,"look.
Your wife is here.
And I don't know who
this young lady is.
But I think you ought to take
her outside, put her in a cab,
and send her home."
"All right, okay,
all right, we'll do it."
You know, that was
his attitude at the time.
And so his wife then
came and sat with us.
[Helen] Morgan came
where I was.
We was talking.
The girl walked up.
And she said,
"I thought you wasn't
supposed to be with her
anymore," or something.
"I'm not--
I'm not with this bitch,
I'm just telling her
to leave me alone."
And about that time,
I hit him.
And when I hit him,
I didn't have on my coat
or nothing but I had my bag.
He threw me out the club.
Winter time.
The gun fell out the bag.
He's the one who
bought me the gun.
I couldn't get it myself.
And I got up.
So my lady said to me, "Paul,
Helen is outside in the snow.
Her coat is here.
Why don't you
take her coat to her?"
And she comes in.
[Lena] Lee was getting ready
to go back up there,
play "Angela" for Angela Davis.
And he was getting ready to
go back up and Helen came in.
Helen is walking
and I'm walking,
we're both walking
toward each other,
and Lee is in the middle.
And she once again
taps Lee on his shoulder,
but she has her hand
in her pocketbook.
And taps him, and
Lee turns around.
And bam!
And I said, "What is that?"
You know, we're looking up.
Lee's still standing up,
and I thought maybe--
I don't know what happened.
Maybe somebody shot something
in the air or something.
It was just pop-pop.
Pop--one pop, I don't know.
And, um, and he fell.
[Helen] Yeah,
I lost it, I lost it.
I said,
"I couldn't have did this.
I couldn't have did this.
This must be a dream.
And I'mma wake up."
[sirens wailing]
[Paul] The police
came right away.
But in--I don't know
whether it was because
of the bad weather,
the ambulance took almost
an hour to get to the club.
I think he could
have been saved.
It took such a long time
for the ambulance to come.
[Jymie] E verybody
walked away--
I don't know,
I never walked back.
I never--I don't know...
I was never able to go
down that street again.
Didn't get back to New York.
[jazz music playing]
[Lena] I went with him
to the hospital,
sitting in this
big empty Bellevue,
and ran to see by myself.
After a while, I saw them come
out of the ER with a big bag,
they were dragging it
on the floor.
And there was blood--
there was nobody there but Lee.
And I just walked over,
over to it.
I knew he was gone.
[newsreader] Well-known
trumpet player, Lee Morgan
was fatally shot
during a Saturday morning
in an East Village jazz club.
Police said the 33-year-old
Morgan had quarreled earlier
with his wife, Helen Morgan,
who shot the musician
once in the chest after he
completed the late night set
at Slugs' Jazz Club.
Police have arrested
Mrs. Morgan,
who is due to be arraigned
in Manhattan criminal court.
No further statements
have been issued.
We had a memorial service
over in Philadelphia.
And, uh...
And they buried him
in Philadelphia.
And that was a very sad time.
That was--that was...
the end of a beginning.
[Bennie] I cried most of
the day that day.
And I hadn't cried,
you know, in ages.
I don't remember
crying like that.
And then I was curious about
what happened to Helen.
And then I heard
that, of course,
the police had arrested her,
taken her to jail.
And I never saw her again.
[Helen] And it came down,
you know.
My kids is upset.
They don't know what to think.
They don't know what
to think, you know?
I had to go to court.
And then when we went
to jail, I sat there.
And I was just sitting there.
She was, for a while
there, I mean, she just--
it was almost like
she wished she had
shot herself instead of him.
And then trying to
get her out, trying to
get a lawyer,
all those kind of things--
it was pretty hectic.
The lawyer made
arrangements for her
to plead guilty to
second-degree manslaughter.
And I think within two
or five years' probation.
That's what she
pleaded guilty to.
[serene music playing]
She had to get permission to
leave the state of New York.
We drove down, probably
it was in 1974 or '75,
somewhere along then.
We took her down.
So she wanted to go visit.
And that was
the first time that she had
been back down there.
And she took me
to the house, the country,
I think where I was born.
She really seemed to be
visiting her childhood
when we was there.
Because she was--
you know,
you're able to walk without
shoes on when you're
in the country, you know.
And walking, and--
And she is talking about all of
the things that she remembered.
Because all she could
visit in that place
was her childhood,
because she had no other
connections to it.
And then she wound up
moving back there.
She moved down to Wilmington.
She became active
in the church.
I don't want to use
the word "religious"
because that wasn't her.
But she still had
this thing in her
about the taking of a life.
It's like she
had to help folks
from that point on.
She had to help folks.
And she did a lot of cooking
in a home for people, you know,
for the church and whatever
because they loved her cooking,
and she was traveling
with the bishop.
She moved right into
the church, and became
a celebrity in the church.
And how could I say--
she found her salvation.
[Helen] I was
over there in Rikers.
And I said, "Well,
Helen, you got to
get yourself together.
It's done.
You done put yourself
in it now.
You got to get
your mind--
you got to get yourself
together mentally
to accept what you've done."
And the lawyer came over
and talked to me.
He came to see me.
[child] Sweet grains.
[Helen] Oh, okay.
And he said that
what was going on,
he was waiting for
the right lawyer.
[man] Hey, little guy.
How you doin'?
[high-pitched noise]
[Larry Thomas] And then
her grandson walked in.
So we had to
stop the conversation
at that point.
We had to stop
the conversation.
So at that point, I said,
"Can I come back and finish?"
You know, because we really
weren't finished.
And she said, "Sure."
And that was in February, 1996.
And March, 1996, she died.
[Billy] I just
couldn't believe it.
All the musicians were,
of course,
just befuddled.
Didn't know what to think.
Because they were
both together.
They were always
the people who we
related to, both of them.
[Larry Ridley] I was mad
for a long time.
You know, "How can she
do that to my brother,
Lee Morgan," you know.
"If I ever see her,
I don't know,
I'm gonna give her
a piece of my mind."
You know, I was really angry.
I went through that
for a while.
And I was always wondering,
"What am I going to do
when I finally come
in contact with her?"
And it was interesting because
I was playing at a club
called the Needle's Eye.
And this is after she
finally got out of jail
and she was released.
And she was in the club.
And I was playing there.
And she came there specifically
to see me because she--
you know, we were all
very close, you know.
And I had all this anger
that had been built up.
And when I saw her,
and the expression
on her face ,
and the vibe I got from her,
I couldn't do anything
but open my arms open.
And she came and just started
hugging me and she was crying.
And she said,
"Larry, I'm so sorry.
I'm so sorry.
I didn't mean to do it."
That's what she said to me.
And you know, like,
all of that anger
and everything just went away.
[jazz music playing]
[Paul] I was--
I was very angry.
That was my first response,
I was angry at her
for having committed this act
on somebody
I consider a friend,
and someone who
contributed so much
in his short life,
to our music.
That was my initial feeling,
one of anger.
And yet...
I had a feeling of compassion.
Because I realized that
this was the woman
who literally picked
this man up out of the gutter.
I mean literally, the gutter.
And made it possible for him
to function again as an artist,
as a human being.
[Wayne] Sometimes I am
talking to people now,
and I would say to them,
"You should have
known Lee Morgan,"
you know.
They'll see a picture of him
and say, "Who's this?"
I'll say,"His name
is Lee Morgan."
[jazz music playing]
[jazz music playing]