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Artist’s Choice: Randy Brecker on Lee Morgan

Today’s top jazz performers pick 10 favorite tracks by the players, singers and styles that helped define them.

Randy Brecker

Lee Morgan has always been, since I first heard him when I was around 13, one of my absolute favorite players. We have a shared history. We’re both from Philadelphia, and we had the same trumpet teacher, the incredible Tony Marchione, who first told me about Lee and what an individual he was. Shortly thereafter I heard a great trumpet player on the jazz station in Philly, and judging from his unique sound and execution, I said to myself, “That must be him!” (I was right!) From then on I was hooked. A couple of months later, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers were playing at the Academy of Music on Broad Street and I was up in the balcony, amazed at the maturity and virtuosity of this 19-year-old trumpet master.

A few short years later when I was 19 and spending the summer of ’65 in Seattle, the Messengers came to the Penthouse for a week with Lee, Gary Bartz, John Hicks, Victor Sproles and, of course, Blakey. I hung around Lee all week after citing my Philly credentials. He heard me play at an afternoon jam session at the club and told me to stick around and sit in with the band at the matinee. I was thrilled. When the time came he motioned for me to come up and play, so I jumped on the bandstand ready to play “A Night in Tunisia.”

As soon as I started to play, Blakey went into a drum solo and started yelling at Lee, “I told you, no sitting in!”

Lee said, “But this kid can play!”

Art responded, “I don’t care how good he plays-no sitting in!”

We stayed in touch after that, and Art did hire me in ’69 and I stayed with him for about a year. These are not in any particular order. I just chose tunes that popped into my head first. They were instrumental in my own development and I included some lesser-known solos.

“Blue Train”
John Coltrane
Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957)
This was on the jukebox at the Brecker Brothers’ NYC club, Seventh Ave. South, so I heard it night after night for 10 years. Such a flawless solo with Lee’s signature double-time figures building until the end.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Moanin’ (Blue Note, 1958)
Soul personified. “You big fat mama,” at the end of Morgan’s solo, is quoted any time anyone plays a solo on this tune.

“The Sidewinder”
The Sidewinder (Blue Note, 1963)
His best-known tune and Lee is slip-sidin’ through the whole thing. Apparently the tune was an afterthought on the record. What a groove!

Expoobident (Vee-Jay, 1960)
The head got me. This is one of the first Lee things I heard. He’s layin’ waaay back on his solo.

“You Go to My Head”
The Gigolo (Blue Note, 1965)
Great arrangement and great Wayne Shorter, and that half-valve slur at 3:04 gets me every time.

“A Night in Tunisia”
The Cooker (Blue Note, 1957)
It was interesting to me to hear the Clifford Brown influence and how Lee put his own stamp on it at an early age. How do you develop that fast?

“This Here”
Unforgettable Lee! (Fresh Sound, 1960)
This features the Jazz Messengers live under Lee’s name. They do “This Here,” later made famous by Cannonball Adderley, but this was the first unknown version, so it’s a cool thing to check out. Lee and Wayne take unbelievably creative solos, as does Bobby Timmons (who wrote this tune).

“Chicken an’ Dumplins”
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers At the Jazz Corner of the World, Vol. 2 (Blue Note, 1959)
Ah, I love this tune. What can I say? And Lee is at his nasty and sleazy best with Blakey at Birdland: “The Jazz Corner of the World.”

“Can’t Buy Me Love”
Blue Beat: The Music of Lennon and McCartney
(Blue Note, 1991)
Hokey head, but Stanley Turrentine and Lee had to try and outdo each other. All of Lee’s devices are included in this one (recorded in 1964, unreleased until much later), and his chops are way up.

“Like Someone in Love”
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Like Someone in Love (Blue Note, 1960)
Lee once again puts his stamp on the tune made famous in an earlier version featuring Kenny Dorham. The slow build at 3:14 is too much and the solo hangs together so well.

“Johnny’s Blue”
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Like Someone in Love (Blue Note, 1960)
Great long solo with everything in Lee’s arsenal in there. Chorus after chorus of great ideas. Originally Published