DVD Review: I Called Him Morgan

STUDIO: FilmRise/MVD | DIRECTOR: Kasper Collin
RELEASE DATE: June 12, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $18.06
SPECS: NR | 92 min. | Documentary | 1.85: 1 widescreen | Surround 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall 

Kasper Collin’s wonderful and insightful biographical jazz documentary I Called Him Morgan tells of two lives: that of Lee Morgan, the celebrated trumpeter who corralled the heroin addiction that initially derailed his trajectory as one of jazz’s great bandleaders, sidemen and composers, and Helen Morgan, Lee’s common-law wife, who got the troubled Morgan back onto his feet during the tough times before shooting him dead in an East Village jazz club years later in a crime of passion.

Lee Morgan (l.) and Helen Morgan in 1970

I Called Him Morgan is filled with the requisite interviews of those who knew Lee and Helen (who died in 1996), led by tenor sax legend Wayne Shorter, who met Lee in the late 1950s when the prodigy helped to recruit him for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. There are also a slew of great stills (many snapped by Frank Wolff at Lee’s recording sessions for Blue Note Records, of which Wolff was the co-founder) as well as film and audio clips of Lee himself, of whom very little exist.

But just as I Called Him Morgan recounts the story of two lives that fatefully come together, so does the success of the film rest on two audio backbones. The first is a 1996 extended audio interview given by Helen just a month before she died, wherein she recounts her impoverished childhood in North Carolina, her life in New York as a sort of jazz musician den mother to many, her meeting and relationship with Lee, and her recollections of the snowy evening in February, 1972 when she killed him in a fit of jealousy over another woman. (She was ultimately convicted of second degree manslaughter and put on probation.) Just as the interview snakes through the film as a kind spiritual narration, so does the second audio sensation: the music of Lee Morgan himself, which fills the soundtrack and is at once sensual, smooth, exuberant and, in the case of his solo during a Jazz Messengers performance of “Dat Dere” in 1961, positively sublime.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.