Cultural Percussionist

Frank Morgan Day

Frank Morgan (December 23, 1933 – December 14, 2007) was a jazz saxophonist with a career spanning more than 50 years. He mainly played alto saxophone but also played soprano saxophone. He was known as a Charlie Parker successor who primarily played bebop and ballads.

Frank Morgan was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1933, but spent most of his childhood living with his grandmother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while his parents were on tour. Morgan’s father Stanley was a guitarist with Harlan Leonard and the Rockets and The Ink Spots, and his mother, Geraldine, was a 14-year-old student when she gave birth to him. Morgan took up his father’s instrument at an early age, but lost interest the moment he saw Charlie Parker take his first solo with the Jay McShann band at the Paradise Theater in Detroit, Michigan. Stanley introduced them backstage, where Parker offered Morgan advice about starting out on the alto sax, and they met at a music store the following day. Morgan, seven years old at the time, assumed they’d be picking out a saxophone, but Parker suggested he start on the clarinet to develop his embouchure. Morgan practiced on the clarinet for about two years before acquiring a soprano sax, and finally, an alto. Morgan moved to live with his father (by that time divorced) in Los Angeles, California at the age of 14, after his grandmother caught him with marijuana.

As a teenager Morgan had opportunities to jam with the likes of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray on Sunday afternoons at the Crystal Tearoom. When he was just 15 years old, Morgan was offered Johnny Hodges‘s spot in Duke Ellington‘s Orchestra, but Stanley deemed him too young for touring. Instead he joined the house band at Club Alabam where he backed vocal luminaries such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker.That same year he won a television talent-show contest, the prize of which was a recording session with the Freddy Martin Orchestra, playing “Over the Rainbow” in an arrangement by Ray Conniff, with vocals by Merv Griffin. Morgan attended Jefferson High School during the day, where he played in the school big band that also spawned jazz greats Art Farmer, Ed Thigpen, Chico Hamilton, Sonny Criss, and Dexter Gordon. Morgan stayed in contact with Parker during these years, finding himself in jam sessions at Hollywoodcelebrities’ homes when Parker visited L.A. In 1952, Morgan earned a spot in Lionel Hampton‘s band, but his first arrest in 1953 prevented him from joining the Clifford Brown and Max Roachquintet (that role went instead to Harold Land, and later, Sonny Rollins). He made his recording debut on February 20, 1953 with Teddy Charles and his West Coasters in a session for Prestige Records. This sextet featured short-lived tenor player Wardell Gray and was included on the 1983 posthumous release Wardell Gray Memorial Volume 1. On November 1, 1954, Morgan cut five tracks with the Kenny Clarke Sextet for Savoy Records, four of which were released with Clarke billed as the leader, with “I’ve Lost Your Love” credited to writer Milt Jackson as leader.Morgan recorded an all-star date with Wild Bill Davis and Conte Candoli on January 29, 1955 and participated in a second recording session on March 31, 1955 with Candoli, Wardell Gray, Leroy Vinnegar and others, which were combined and released in 1955 as Morgan’s first album, Frank Morgan, by GNP Crescendo Records. Later releases also included five tracks cut at the Crescendo Club in L.A. on August 11, 1956 with a sextet featuring Bobby Timmons and Jack Sheldon.

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