I Called Him Morgan

image from the documentary i called him morgan

I’ve been praising this film for nearly a year now, since I caught it at the Venice Film Festival. Now at last, it’s out on a brief theatrical run in London (Curzon Bloomsbury and Picturehouse Central, mainly) and it really should be seen and heard in cinema.

It’s about the extraordinary murder of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, shot by a woman called Helen on a snowy night in New York.

I’m a big fan of Morgan’s playing, such a blistering star of the horn on grooves such as The Sidewinder, Cornbread and The Rumproller, fiery yet cool, clear as a bell, imbued with funkiness and urgent with experiment in his solos.

All that comes over in the doc, as well as the man’s stylishness and handsome appeal,  as does the atmosphere of the jazz world of 60s New York, much of it captured in Blue Note producer Francis Wolff’s own photos of the musicians’ sessions.

But the other dimension is perhaps more fascinating, the story, some 25 years after Lee’s death, of a university lecturer coaxing an interview out of a woman called Helen Morgan.

The film is both their story. I called it a jazz detective story, requiring you to piece together scraps of myth and evidence. Swedish director Kasper Collin gives us a proper jazz movie, one that riffs and sparkles and spars, but always returns to restate its theme. It’s a beautiful film yet haunting and fragile, sad yet bristling with energy and youth, bubbling with the heat of jazz and passion.

I was delighted to host a QnA with Kasper at the film’s first night at Picturehouse Central. You can hear our discussion on the podcast. But, see the film, please, and go and get yourself some Lee Morgan.

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