Published Sep 11, 2016The two main subjects of I Called Him Morgan, the second feature-length documentary from filmmaker Kasper Collin, are essentially the Sid and Nancy of the jazz world. The Swedish director's melancholic new film is a desolate documentary that digs deep into the tumultuous and lethal relationship of late jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, who shot him to death in a New York City bar in 1972.
Interview footage featuring some of Morgan's early accomplices — including saxophone great Wayne Shorter and drummer Charlie Persip — sheds light on Morgan's undeniable talent, as well as his charisma and confidence, whether in the spotlight or with women after hours (adultery plays a role in his ultimate demise). On the other side, a rare interview with his wife, recorded to tape years after his death (and only a few weeks before her own), paints a broader picture of the chaotic life he lived and its impact on her behind closed doors.
Blue Note Records, Morgan's home label, let Collin access their photography archives for the project, so while the scope of I Called Him Morgan may seem small, the photos, combined with Collin's various interviews, will no doubt be enlightening for jazz purists. Those less familiar with the genre will appreciate the more macro insights into the art form's transition from small clubs to concert halls to becoming one of the defining American musical movements of the 20th century, but it's Collin's portrayal of an artist and composer cut down in his prime, as well as the ways emotional neglect ultimately lead to his death, that makes I Called Him Morgan a striking and sombre cinematic affair. (Films We Like)