Skip to main content

Morgan, Frank

Frank Morgan

Saxophonist

Impelled by Jazz as Youth

Jeopardized Career at Onset

Triumphed After Prison

Selected discography

Sources

Seduction, suggested Down Beat corresponídent Larry Bimbaum, is the expertise of jazz saxophonist Frank Morgan. Lyrical, refined, unblushingly romantic, his alto sings a siren song, animating wordless tunes with the aching poetry of triumph and loss, fruition and desire. His poised, spare, sculpted lines mark him as an old master. Hes a virtuoso who makes deep feeling accessible, commented Eric Pooley in New York. Through his horn, he sings shockingly intimate songs about loves lost and won, years irretrievably gone, death cheated but heading back to settle the score. Considered one of the greatest jazz saxophonists of all time, Morgan is a 1950s-generation bebop artist who regained popularity in the 1990s bebop revival.

Until Morgan opted to play straight in 1985, thievery and con games to support his drug habit designated him the recurrent star of prison bands. For several decades his alto reverberated on and off in numerous penitentiaries, including San Quentin, San Luis, Chino, and Obisbo. A media darling as a new jazz discovery since his 1980s revival, Morgan has appeared on the television news show CBS Sunday Morning, in such magazines as Newsweek and Time, and in an inspirational book One Person Can Make A Difference.

With the encouragement of his wife, Rosalinda, he cut nine albums amid personal turmoil and a media blitz. Its my wife who saved my life, Morgan told Birnbaum. She propped me up and said, If you love me and want to be with me, then youll play your saxophone and stop going to prison.

Impelled by Jazz as Youth

Born in 1933, Morgan is the son of bebop guitarist Stanley Morgan, who played with jazz master Charlie Parker and later led the Ink Spots. Morgans mother, Geraldine, gave birth to Morgan when she was a 14- year-old Minneapolis schoolgirl. My father told me he used to play his guitar next to my mothers womb, Morgan related to Zan Stewart in Down Beat. Then he would practice by my crib. I took my first guitar lesson when I was three.

Morgan was raised by his maternal grandmother and great-grandmother until he was six years old. He was sent to live with his paternal grandmother, Mama Coot, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since his parents were anchored in Detroit between engagements, Morgan was taken on short trips to Michigan. One memorable weekend with his father, the seven-year-old Frank became enthralled with alto saxophonist Charlie Parkers performance at the Paradise Theater. Backstage,

For the Record

Born in 1933; son of Stanley (a guitarist) and Geraldine Morgan; married a forensic pathologist, 1977 (divorced); married Rosalinda (one source says Roselinda) Kolb (an artist and former model), 1988.

Jazz saxophonist. Began guitar lessons, c. 1936; performed at Crystal Tearoom, Los Angeles, c. 1947; offered alto sax chair with Duke Ellington, c. 1948; while in high school, backed Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker at Club Alabam, Los Angeles; performed in jazz clubs; released debut album, Introducing Frank MorgAn, 1955; led jazz bands while in prison, 1960s and 1970s; debuted at the Village Vanguard, New York City, 1987. Starred in Off-Broadway production Prison-Made Tuxedos, 1987.

Addresses: Record company Antilles/Polygram, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.

he asked Parkers advice about playing an alto saxophone.

The next day Morgan put away his guitar and purchased the clarinet Parker recommended for childhood fingering. Three years went by before he got his first saxophone. By the age of 14, he had mastered the alto sax enough to mimic Parker. When his grandmother found the adolescent with marijuana, though, she shipped Frank off to Los Angeles to live with his divorced father.

Jeopardized Career at Onset

In 1948 Stanley Morgan was opening at the Casablanca, but he took Frank, who had recently joined him, to the nonalcoholic Crystal Tearoom to jam on Sunday afternoons. Morgan kept up his Parker-like play with Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, and others who frequented those sessions. At the age of 15, he was offered Johnny Hodgess former chair in Duke Ellingtons band, but his father felt Frank was too young for road trips. Instead, Morgan backed famed jazz singers Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker in the house band at the Club Alabam.

While working at the club at night and attending Jefferson High School, where he played in the Jefferson Big Band by day, Morgan starting using heroin. When his idol Charlie Parker came to Los Angeles in 1952, Morgan assumed Parkerwho also used the drugwould be pleased to know Frank had taken up the habit. At first, Parker lectured, swore, and cried, begging the boy not to follow his example. But when Morgan offered him a half-ounce of the drug, Parker gleefully took it. Ill always wonder, Morgan confessed to Pooley, what would have happened if he had flushed it down the toilet instead.

By 1955the year Parker diedMorgan was a serious junkie with his first drug arrest. His debut album, Intro-ducing Frank Morgan, appeared the same year, but he had already embarked on the course of thievery and scams that would eventually land him in San Quentin in 1962. Though he left the prison in 1967, he would be a habitual offender for the next 20 years.

In 1978 Morgans one-year marriage to a forensic pathologist was already failing when he met Rosalinda Kolb on a brief time-out from jail. An artist and model, Kolb lived with Parker after his divorce until the day in 1980 when he took money set aside for brake repairs to buy drugs. When the couples cardriven by Morgannearly went off a cliff that night, Kolb left Morgan. Though she returned to Morgan periodically, by 1985 the relationship was over.

That same year, one of Fantasy Records executives called Kolb, asking her to locate Morgan so he could sign a recording contract. Just out of prison in April, Morgan released Easy Living plugged on the television show Simon and Simon when a character held up the album on camerabut turned himself in after using drugs in violation of his parole. He and Kolb were reunited prior to his release from his last incarceration on December 7, 1986; the couple married in 1988.

Triumphed After Prison

After his record company staff required he move to New York City so they could keep an eye on him, Morgan debuted to resounding success at the Village Vanguard in 1987. In New York, the saxophonists career flourished. He appeared in several magazines, including People, and in the Off-Broadway production Prison-Made Tuxedosa semi-autobiographical musical based on his days as a prison superstar. Also during the 1980s, he released the well-received albums Lament, Bebop Lives!, Double Image, Major Changes, and Yardbird Suite.

Reflections followed in 1989, but 1990s Mood Indigo, released on Morgans new record label, Antilles, reached Number Four on Billboards jazz charts. When A Lovesome Thing was released in 1991, Morgan had kept his life straight for many years. His methadone treatments and sometimes nightly Narcotics Anonymous meetings proved to be successful.

Morgans immense talent has kept him in the favor of music critics. Alto saxophonist Frank Morgan is a rarity among jazz musicians: a virtuoso who is not ashamed to tug at the heartstrings of his listeners... Morgan is capable of dazzling displays of musical finesse, wrote David Grogan in People. But he is at his best when he launches into a familiar melody and caresses the notes with a tenderness that will make even the most jaded soul consider a surreptitious swoon or two. He also plays an alto sax better than any man alive, penned Daniel Okrent in Esquire. And David Gates appraised in Newsweek, His playing, of course, sounds like [Charlie Parkers]. But he pauses more often to caress a single note and to revel in the sheer texture of soundfrom a frail piping, to a croon, to a lowdown honk. Parker was an innovator who played saxophone; Morgan is a saxophonist

Morgan revealed to Birnbaum the resolve that motivates this reborn, master musician, I have an assignment, a job to do. Its apparent to me that a force greater than me saved me from myself, so I could do what Im doing now. The more nice things they write about [me], the harder Ill practice and the harder Ill try to be a better human being. Just to be the best Frank Morgan I can be.

Selected discography

Introducing Frank Morgan, GNP Crescendo, 1955.

Easy Living, Contemporary, 1985.

Lament, Contemporary, 1986.

Bebop Lives!, Contemporary, 1987.

Reflections, Contemporary, 1989.

Mood Indigo, Antilles, 1990.

A Lovesome Thing, Antilles, 1991.

(With Bud Shank) Quiet Fire, Contemporary, 1992.

You Must Believe in Spring, Antilles, 1992.

Double Image, Contemporary.

Major Changes, Contemporary.

Yardbird Suite, Contemporary.

Sources

American Visions, April 1991.

Atlantic, October 1987.

Down Beat, June 1986; December 1988; April 1991.

Esquire, July 1988.

High Fidelity, August 1988.

Newsweek, April 6, 1987.

New York, February 12, 1990.

People, July 18, 1988; February 12, 1990; January 18, 1993.

Pulse!, December 1992.

Rolling Stone, March 8, 1990.

Time, March 26, 1990.

Marjorie Burgess

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morgan, Frank." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morgan, Frank." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/morgan-frank

"Morgan, Frank." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/morgan-frank

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.