I Called Him Morgan

Synopsis: On a snowy night in February 1972, celebrated jazz musician Lee Morgan was shot dead by his common-law wife Helen during a gig at a club in New York City. The murder sent shockwaves through the jazz community, and the memory of the event still haunts those who knew the Morgans. This feature documentary by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin is a love letter to two unique personalities and the music that brought them together. A film about love, jazz and America.
Director(s): Kasper Collin
Production: Kasper Collin Produktion
  1 win & 6 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
92 min


[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

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Kasper Collin

Kasper Collin (born November 16, 1972) is a Swedish film director, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter and film producer based in Gothenburg, Sweden. His first feature documentary was My Name Is Albert Ayler which was well received when it opened theatrically in UK and US in 2007 and 2008. Metacritic gives the film 83/100 and has awarded it the 19th best film from 2007. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a Tomatometer score of 94%.His second feature documentary I Called Him Morgan premiered September 1, 2016 at the 73rd Venice Film Festival. After Venice it went on to play Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival. I Called Him Morgan had its US theatrical premiere on March 24, 2017 and its Swedish theatrical premiere on March 31. There are 20 reviews registered at Metacritics. Eight of them are registered as 100/100 and the film has reached a metascore of 90/100. There are 44 reviews registered at Rotten Tomatoes and the Tomatometer score is 95%.On July 1, 2017 Metacritic announced I Called Him Morgan as the best reviewed movie of the first half of 2017.Indiewire listed Kasper Collin as one of nine breakthrough names to look out for at TIFF 2016.Between 2009 and 2014 Kasper Collin was one of two chairmen of the Swedish independent filmmakers' organization (Oberoende Filmares Förbund). more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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