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Lee Morgan was a Jazz giant and could be considered as one of the very best trumpeters that this musical art form ever produced. In my very own opinion, he is the best and of course my favorite. But with all the amount of recognition he had achieved while he was alive, the same could not be said of Lee Morgan after his tragic death in 1972 at the tender age of 33 years of age. Unlike Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown and many others, he has simply been forgotten. Not for me though and as the Jazz Con Class listeners know very well, I have the “Lee Morgan Playlist” which plays practically every day. I personally have all 30 albums (CD’s) of Lee Morgan as a leader and countless others as a sideman. The problem, I feel, is the lack search material on the internet concerning information about Lee Morgan. For instance, there is no real “Official” website dedicated to him at all. I’m sure that Lee Morgan fans are stunned by this fact and wonder why this legend has been forgotten. More can be done for certain but I also feel that this great Jazz musician will be remembered in a more dignified manner in the near future.
With this in mind, I would like to introduce Lena Sherrod to all the readers here. Lena Sherrod is, like me, an avid Lee Morgan fan also but on a much greater scale. Lena took that extra step to make sure that Lee Morgan will never be forgotten forever. In 2006 she made the space available and created a Jazz gallery in dedication to Lee Morgan and she named it the SOM Jazz Gallery (Shrine Of the Masters Jazz Gallery). This article written on the 40th year celebration of Lee Morgan’s death explains further. There is also a post here that shows you images from inside the gallery itself for those interested in visiting. I read both articles also and said to myself, “Why don’t I make some type of contribution towards the recognition and preservation of Lee Morgan.” I figured, why don’t I call Lena Sherrod and set up some type of interview with her so the readers here can learn more about the SOM Jazz Gallery and about Lee Morgan himself, since Lena was actually a friend of his. I called her, we spoke for a while on the phone, I explained the online Jazz station here and asked her if she would be interested in an “online interview” with me. An online interview is where I would prepare a questionnaire for her and email it to her. She would then answer the questions and email her answers back to me. She happily accepted this “online interview” and with absolutely no hesitation at all! Wow, fantastic! I sent the questionnaire to Lena and here is the result, the whole interview:
Hello Lena, I would like to thank you again for taking the time off to answer this questionnaire. The Jazz Con Class listeners and anybody else interested would like to thank you also. Ok to begin, my first and most appropriate question would concentrate on a short bio of yourself and an introduction to the SOM Jazz Gallery. So, can you provide the readers here with this information please?
Lena Sherrod’s answer:
I have been a Jazz enthusiast since I was a teenager. A few years after I relocated to New York in the sixties, I founded SPEUJM, Inc.([pronounced SPOO Jim] Society to Prevent Excess Unemployment for Jazz Musicians) and began producing/presenting Jazz concerts in Brooklyn, Greenwich Village and Harlem, mainly because many of my friends were musicians and were not working as regularly as they should have been, given their enormous talent.
I later moved on to other callings, including the Civil Rights Movement and then a two-year sojourn in Africa. I was on my way back to the U.S. by way of Paris when I learned of Lee Morgan’s murder while chatting with the saxophonist from Philadelphia who was playing with drummer Sunny Murray at Le Chat Qui Peche, a popular Jazz club in Paris. Lee and I had been close, so I was more than upset by the news.
A few years ago, when I retired from my position as finance and careers editor at ESSENCE magazine, I decided to research a book on Lee Morgan and was surprised to learn of the abundance of albums he had recorded. So I put the book project aside and began collecting his albums, buying them primarily on EBay from sellers around the world, many from Europe, Japan and even China.
I had the album covers framed, beginning with his recordings when he was with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band to his first album as a leader in 1956—Lee Morgan Indeed!—to his last record date as a sideman with organist Charles Earland in 1972; and I hung then chronologically in a space in my home that had just been renovated.
After reading an interview with Lee that ran in Downbeat magazine in 1972 where he remarked that Jazz artists “should have shrines dedicated to them just like they have shrines in Europe to Beethoven and Bach,” I decided to name the space The Shrine of the Masters Jazz Gallery/Home of the Lee Morgan Legacy Exhibit.
2nd Question: As mentioned in the New York Daily News article, you met Lee Morgan approximately in 1967 and became friends with him. Can you tell the readers here a little more about the character of Lee Morgan and also give them a sort of feel of the Jazz scene in those days? The reason I ask the second part of this question, is because most Jazz fans who listen to Classic/Tradional Jazz now were either too young when these giants were playing or simply weren’t born yet.They want to somehow picture themselves being there in person and listening to these gifted musicians performing.
Lena Sherrod’s answer:
In addition to being a masterful trumpeter, Lee was a gifted raconteur, with a quick wit and a really sharp mind. When I met him, he was playing at the Blue Coronet in Brooklyn with greats like pianist Cedar Walton, drummer Billy Higgins, bassist Reggie Workman.
Back then, musicians usually had a weeklong engagement at a club, from Tuesday until Sunday, playing about four sets a night, usually hitting the bandstand around 9 p.m. and ending around 4 a.m., Some clubs had a cover charge, others did not, and you could sit and listen to as many sets as you wanted without having to pay another minimum or another cover charge. But today, understandably, club owners have to pay musicians more than they did back then, so they have to charge more and try to get as many people as possible in for two or three sets.
During that time, you could catch, say, Monk at the Five Spot, dash a few blocks west and catch Miles at the Village Vanguard and then go to the East Village and catch Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard or Jackie McLean or Sun Ra at Slugs’.
Those were truly the nights when the giants of Jazz walked the earth!
Getting back to the SOM Jazz gallery, can you give the readers here a visual, in detail, of this sanction, where all Jazz entusiasts can visit and travel back into time?
Lena Sherrod’s answer:
The SOM Jazz Gallery is a rather compact space, about 15 feet by 50 feet, located on the garden floor of a Harlem brownstone. On entering you see photos of Lee, including one from his 1956 high school yearbook—Philadelphia’s Jules E. Mastbaum Vocational-Technical School—where his hobby is listed as: “Collecting jazz records” and his ambition: “To be a jazz trumpet player.” The covers of the more than 130 albums on which Lee Morgan was the leader or sideman are hung grouped by the year of recording. There is a directory of musicians with the year and number of albums on which they perform; photos of Lee with various musicians, collages of musicians, an “I Remember You” memorial collage wall, a hanging trumpet and other items. A visitor is given a guided tour of the exhibit and they also get to sit and enjoy a video of Lee Morgan performing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Live in Belgium in 1958 or another video.
4th and Final Question:
To finalized this short but very informative interview, can you give the readers here your honest opinion of the treatment of Lee Morgan, in other words, do you feel that Lee Morgan was under appreciated for his musical achievements and/or do you think that classic/traditional Jazz has been under appreciated as a whole here in America?
Lena Sherrod’s answer:
I do not think Lee was fully appreciated for his artistry and his achievements. Case in point: When “The Sidewinder” crossed over and became a commercial success, many Jazz “purists” tried to put his music down, overlooking the fact that his repertory of compositions and his recordings ran the gamut—from blues to bossa to funky to avant-garde. But Jazz, in general, is not as appreciated in America as it is in Europe and Japan.
Way back in the day—before the advent of Bebop—Jazz had a more populist appeal. That was when people went out to ballrooms and dance halls to hear the swing bands and would dance to the music.
But, hey, such is life.
Information on SOMJazz Gallery:
(SOM viewing hours are by appointment only)
Call: 212-368-9588 or
Email Lena Sherrod: SOMJazzGallery@aol.com.