Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Frank Morgan Retrospective

Frank Morgan Dec. 23, 1933-Dec. 14, 2007
I feel like a tree has fallen, several trees in the forest this weekend with the loss of my dear friend, saxophonist, Frank Morgan, and the great pianist, Oscar Peterson (Aug. 1925- Dec. 2007). It took me several days to come to grips with the fact that I wouldn’t see Frank again. I remember when I first met him, he was special guest with Art Farmer on flugal horn, John Hicks on piano, Victor Lewis on drums and Jeff Chambers on bass. This was 7-8 years ago. I was blown away. The sound of the horn was unlike any I’d ever heard before. Immediately enamoured, I couldn’t get enough. Whenever Morgan came to town I was there. He had a quiet presence—not many words, but welcoming smiles and a deep inner peace he didn’t mind sharing. The last time I saw him was at the San Jose Jazz Festival this year in a salute hosted by Red Holloway. I hadn’t known he had prostate cancer—from what I read, neither did he as he was rushed to the hospital in Minneapolis. He’d just returned from a European tour. He loved being on the road he told me. There was nothing greater, so it was entirely in character that he might have worried about his healthn prior to the European tour, but nothing would keep him off the plane. So, this summer when I noticed the chair on stage and how Frank would sit and play, I didn’t think anything of it, Red at 80-something was the elder on stage that day-looking fit as could be, along with Greg Osby and Charles McPherson. The seated musician clearly held his own.

Listen to a great interview with Frank here: Also visit and

Man, Frank’s gone! I still miss Dewey Redman. His picture is on my website. Max Roach, gone. John Hicks, gone.

Now that the prince is gone, Frank Morgan reigns king (2000)
By Wanda Sabir

Dropped by Yoshi’s Frank Morgan and Art Farmer’s last night in town. I just had to shake the hand of the man who knew Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, especially after the concert last night where Morgan breathed golden fire threw his mouth. Even in my half-tipsy state (fatique not alcohol) I couldn’t help but be amazed by his adeptness on the horn and he and Farmer’s syncronicity – the two laced horns and blew beautiful sounds. Victor Lewis – drummer told me that playing and instrument was just knowin how to tell a good story. “There’s elements of drama/character (in the arrangement, in how you do what you do).” All the men live in different parts of the world from New Mexico to Vienna, yet, music makes their world smaller, Lewis said. They’re always in touch. “The music gives you a reason to trust.”

Well they had to trust Lewis, dynamite sticks lit he was explosive! I was so happy that I was sitting at a safe distant, close enough to hear, but far enough away so that I didn’t vanish – some things are that absorbing. Lewis and Chambers played off one another – call and response, what a way with keys he had – a tingle here and tingle there—Ahmad Jamal style silence additional modifiers to Lewis’ nouns, pronouns, articles and Morgan’s verbs. Now Jeff Chambers spoke in complete sentences, extremely articulate, he hushed everyone’s mouth when he chose to – and Mr. Art Farmer created a sense of awe, he was that phonomenal when his breath was just right which was often enough to give us a sense of what it was like when everything was still everything – or maybe it still is.

Frank Morgan and Sunny Fortune at Yoshi’s March 13 through March 16 with George Cables, Henry Franklin, and Steve Johns. (2003)

There’s something about Frank Morgan and Sonny Fortune... two altos saxophonists, with Steve Johns, George Cables, and Henry Franklin There are quintets and then there are quintets… nothing quite like what we experienced Thursday evening as Morgan, Fortune, Cables, Franklin and Johns recalled the greatness of creative black music. The set opened with a swinging San Francisco solo as Frank Morgan danced in crème slacks and plaid jacket.

His back to me, I couldn’t take my eyes off the pianist. Who is that? I thought to myself as I turned over the calendar and saw his name, George Cables – and suddenly everything was crystal clear the vibe, the high level playing the comradery between the men on stage.

Talk about a concert to remember… the evening started out swinging and didn’t stop as Frank Morgan and Sonny Fortune approached the music and their instruments – alto saxophones, with singular precision and complementary results as the repretoire surveyed the greats: Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane – proof why black classics never grow old.

With the men alternating solos first one then the other would open, Morgan’s rendition of “All Blue,” really sweet as he took his time telling the story. Fortune, on the other hand filled all the spaces with notes – complex, layered with notes lengthened and stretched often taunt from the pull Steve Johns exerted as he pushed the artist to impressive octaves – this was true with “Impressions,” fast and faster Fortune literally singing with his horn; Morgan’s playing looser melodies easing gently into the higher register, smooth, and as I said sweet.

Steve Johns would often solo between the alto-saxophonists who ended many songs that evening in conversation between one another – trading solos as rhythm section kept things fluid and open.

A sensitive pianist, Cables knew how to give Fortune space to compose and play when space was less primium, not to say that the saxman didn’t share. Both Morgan and Fortune did. One got the feeling that they wanted to hear the guys on the band stand too.

San Jose Jazz Festival 2007
I arrived in San Jose in under an hour, which was great because I wanted to hear the United Alto Summit with host Red Holloway, featuring Frank Morgan, Charles McPherson and the much younger Greg Osby. They were awesome and so was the fabulous rhythm section with drummer, Jerome E. Jennings, bassist, Corcoran Holt and pianist Luke O'Rielly. When I walked in Frank Morgan was soloing on "All the Things," followed by McPherson’s lovely wistful "Body and Soul." Greg Osby was featured on "Ash," and the band went out on "Blues and Boogie," which was an opportunity for the drummer to strut his stuff. The rhythm section was impressive and it was the first time they’d played with these awesome cats, so it was as special for them as it was for us. I also found out that Red Holloway is a Gemini, May 31, like me. He’s 80 now, a milestone he’s celebrating all year. Afterwards everyone wanted to take pictures with Frank. Pens and paper stuck between the gate as Frank signed autographs and posed for photos.

From an interview last year: October 2006
Frank Morgan is a musical icon. Though he talks about other alto saxophonists with awe, he is clearly the man everyone is watching. A date on the same bandstand with Morgan is worth more than a few semesters at the best academies. He’s a musician who tried to hide from a fate he recognized when he was 7 when he put his guitar down and picked up his first reed instrument.

Like Jonah, one really can’t run. And if the biblical attempted escape is to be believed, then whales, read drugs, prison cells… self-inflicted pain, eagerly waited in the shallow end of the pool treading water, ready to gobble up young Morgan who refused to dive off the high board. However, trust and faith have proved bigger than fear and Morgan is back on the road with his horn and a new CD.

After his teacher and mentor Charlie Parker died when he was 21, Morgan was afraid to walk where his teacher had tread not realizing until he was 52 that the only shoes he had to wear were his own.

72 now, Morgan has been making up for lost time, recording multiple records a year. He has big plans, one of them to record with a string orchestra. He had a concert with a string orchestra in Paris, and now would like have a concert here and make a record. On High Note, the same label which also owned Savoy, Charlie Parker’s label, Morgan has released an album a year for the past three years. Talk about coming full circle. I think Ray Charles says it best in Georgia On My Mind, “the road (turns) back to you.”

Morgan recorded the Ray Charles’ classic “Georgia” on City Nights (2004). This medley features a piece called “Cherokee,” the Miles Davis “All Blues,” Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight,” and closes fittingly with Coltrane’s “Equinox” and “Impressions.”

George Gershwin’s “Summertime," also on this record, reflects the artist’s birth date, December 23, which depending on what hemisphere he’s end could be the first days of summer.

Just back from the Satchmo SummerFest in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival in Mobile– Frank Morgan and I had a pleasant conversation last week on the phone from his home in Minneapolis.

Frank Morgan: “I had a great time in New Orleans. The spirit of New Orleans is great. Everybody was out in the streets like Mardi Gras.”

Wanda Sabir: Hopefully more positive things will come out considering it’s been a year since Hurricane Katrina on the 29th of August and so much is left undone. I visited Easter week to see how my family in New Orleans and Mississippi were doing. Everyone on the West Bank was doing okay, but my great aunt’s house in Tremé, the oldest section of New Orleans, is destroyed. Cousin Carrie Mae’s house in the Ninth Ward is still not habitable. They are both staying with Cousin Carrie Mae’s daughter. Relatives in Pearlington, Slidell, Waveland, and Biloxi are in FEMA trailers.

FM: I was just thinking as we were doing The Strut, that all these people were out on the streets all day and all night just like before (Katrina), (yet unlike before), many of these people aren’t going to have a place to sleep.

WS: So true, yet, there’s something about music and art, you could be feeling really bad and good music can make you feel great! And you can carry this good feeling with you when you leave and go back to the cardboard box or room without electricity. It’s really healing. It gives the soul something to chew on. So, you’re providing a really great service.

FM: It works both ways. I believe when people are really listening to you when you are playing, you have the benefit of their energy as well as your own and it helps us to play better.

WS: It’s reciprocal. I’m really happy you like coming here. The last time I saw you was at the Herbst with Sonny Fortune at a tribute to Charlie Parker.

FM: I’m bringing a great trumpet player with me Sean Jones. In fact he just won Downbeat’s Critic Poll. I’ve never played with him, (but) he’s been asking to play with me for the past five-six years. That’s the ideal situation, when someone wants to play with you. I’m just sorry it has taken this long. I asked my manager to set something up for us. He’s playing with Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and he just got back. I guess that’s kind of confining for him; he wants to play straight ahead, to stretch out and he can’t do that with Lincoln Center.

WS: No, not really. It’s another kind of music. I laugh before asking: Who else do you have with you?

FM: Ronnie Matthews. He plays with Roy Hargrove. Roy has three bands, so Ronnie has more time (now). Akira Tana is on drums.

WS: Oh really. He’s great. He lives here.

FM: Actually, Ronnie Matthews and Sean Jones and myself will be traveling to LA to do four days after this and we’ll have Tootie Heath with us in LA. I love Yoshi’s. It’s a beautiful place and I’ve been playing there oh I guess for the last 20 years. They were one of the first places that let me play there after I got out of prison.

WS: Did you have trouble in playing at different venues?

FM: There had been such a lull in my career and in my life from being strung out.

WS: But you were playing, people just didn’t know where.

FM: I was playing, but it was mostly in prison.

WS: True, if they knew you had this great band at San Quentin which did prison tours they could have caught up with your career. Too bad they didn’t make a recording like they did in Angola with the gospel and blues musicians, then everyone else would have known what you were doing.

FM: “You know Art Pepper and I were in there together and Frank Butler, musicians who were really great. Their playing was enhanced by the three meals a day, rest and everything…. They would play their ass off. It’s so much nicer playing out here." Morgan laughs.

“I did my research there. It’s complete. I never really want to go back.” Morgan laughs again.

WS: In California the justice department is looking at addiction as an illness, the goal according to legislation passed is to get people into treatment. Unfortunately there are not enough treatment facilities and programs for those who want them. Imprisonment doesn’t necessarily help you because you can get everything outside which you can acquire inside.

FM: You have to want to change your life.

WS: Yet, the drugs are affecting your body in a way it’s not that easy to kick the habit because it’s an illness, from what I read, you never recover from. You’re always in recovery.

FM: Exactly, there is no such thing as being cured. A cured addict is a dead one.

WS: We both laugh. I never heard that one. I comment.

FM: It’s a gut level decision. It’s so great to be alive. And then traveling all over the world playing, something I love to do.

WS: You know how they say cats have several lives? You’ve had several lives considering you just recovered from a stroke not too long ago which could have been debilitating but you’re back on the bandstand playing.

FM: I’m more comfortable sitting down now. My whole right side was paralyzed initially. My foot turned with the paralysis, which made me have a limp. I had a conversation with the creator, ‘Man if you let me play my horn…why don’t you let me play my horn; just give me a limp or something?’

“He never did answer me, but I’m playing my horn and I’ve got the limp.” He laughs.

WS: It all worked out didn’t it? That's really cool to have the inside track ‘cause obviously you’re supposed to be here.

FM: Well thank you. I feel sometimes now, in my better moments, this iwas worth waiting for. It’s clear to me now why I’m supposed to be here: keeper of the flame.
WS: You are because a lot of your peers – they’re not here anymore, are they?

FM: Just recently John Hicks, Hilton Ruiz. John Hicks and I had just finished playing a week together at Lincoln Center, John Hicks and Curtis Lundy and Victor Lewis.

WS: When I first saw you Victor Lewis was with you at Yoshi’s.

FM: He’s one of my favorites.

WS: You’ve played with some awesome drummers.

FM: Well I need all the help I can get.

WS: It looks really collaborative up there like you’re all helping each other.

FM: Coming in with this band, it’s not rehearsed. I don’t like rehearsing bands. The jazz band plays spontaneously…people getting together putting their heads and their hearts out there together. When you’re playing with people that you like to play with its like that.

I was just getting to know John Hicks. We’d been playing a lot recently and he was such a wonderful musician.

Yes, truly a beautiful man. When I think of Hilton, the first place I played with him was in New Orleans.

WS: He supposedly fell and hit his head.

FM: Well, he’s better off where he is.

WS: I don’t know….

FM: I don’t know either. I like it here. We laugh.

WS: You have a lot of albums with Billy Higgins.

FM: Oh, that’s my good luck charm. One of the last CDs he made, and one of the last CDs Ray Brown made was ‘Love Lost and Found’ (Telarc 1995). That was the first time I played with Ray Brown. You’re talking about ‘worth the wait…’ it was just awesome! And Billy was really sick when we did the last CD. I didn’t realize it, he was playing so beautifully but we took a break and he couldn’t get up from his drums, we had to help him up. He still had that beautiful smile.

“It sure is great to being alive! I’m looking forward to coming to (Oakland.)”

WS: I wondered if you could tell me about “Reflections.” I noticed that you have another album entitled ‘Reflections’ recorded in 1989 on Contemporary with Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter, Al Foster. Al Foster is another awesome drummer.

FM: Yeah. I guess this other one will be Reflections II, because just looking back, I feel fortunate about what I am able to do. I’m 72 years old and it feels great to be able to be 72 years old and have your career on the upswing.

WS: Certainly.

FM: I love the road. If it were up to me I’d never come off the road. You’re playing with five musicians everyday, having dinner with them, breakfast with you, plane rides….

WS: You like it all don’t you?

FM: Airports are one of my favorite places.

WS: Airports are your favorite place even after all the security stuff they’ve added?

FM: “That’s right. It gives people more to talk about. It’s so beautiful. It never fails that I end up talking with some lovely human being who just happens to sit next to me, if you’re lucky enough to stop looking ahead and take notice of your surroundings.”

WS: I read in some of the previously published interviews and in the liner notes that this is a rare studio recording for you. Can you tell me about the recording session at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio? I know Van Gelder was there and Houston Person.

FM: It was such a thrill to do a record at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio because it’s practically by invitation only even though you have to spend your money. He won’t take anybody. I found out I was on his list of people he’d like recorded there. I think probably the best record I have out there with regards to sound. He’s a master; the history…like the first time I walked into the Village Vanguard –all those great people who’d played there. I could feel this when I walked into the Rudy Van Gelder Studio.

“It made me feel how great it is to be alive. I’m really big on realizing dreams, mine and others. It’s important to be a part about someone else’s dreams and have something to do with it coming true.”

WS: Barney at High Note, said Houston Person was there.

FM: The first time I met Houston, the great tenor saxophone player; he played with Etta Jones for a few years. I thought they were married, but they weren’t. He one of those mean Texas tenor players – plenty of soul. I’ve never had a chance to play with him but he helped me out with the record date.

WS: How did you decide what songs to have?

FM: This is where Houston Person came in. He suggested the ballads.

WS: You’re the ballad person.

FM: I wanted to do the theme from ‘Love Story.’ My family asked me to do this. You know I moved back to Minneapolis. I left here when I was six.

WS: So you hadn’t lived there since you were six? So when you left to go to Los Angeles to live with your father….

FM: Well actually I left to live with my father’s mother. I was raised by both my grandmothers. In Minneapolis I lived with my mother’s mother. Then when I moved to Milwaukee I lived with my father’s parents: Grandmother Lizzy. (Both were Native American, his grandfather full-blood.)

FM: I’ve been living in New Mexico for six-seven years. I’ve been able to find out a little more about my heritage.

WS: Maybe there were some things you were already doing which you weren’t aware of how they connected to your family.

FM: I learned that under the Native American spirit is the Black Spirit.

WS: Did I read that you played “Love Story” at your father’s or your mother’s funeral?

FM: I played it at my father’s funeral in Hawaii and more recently at my mother’s memorial services in Minneapolis which prompted me coming home. I came home to see my mother a few months before she died. I left because had to go on the road. She died 20 minutes after I left. They called me in Chicago and I came back and a few months after that my family called me and said, ‘We’d like you to come home to live so we can take care of you.’

“God, what can you do with that?”

WS: Wow, isn’t that beautiful?

FM: They kidnapped me. I am so pampered. For example, I was anti-cell phone. I’d never had one. As soon as I walk in the door they hand me one, and say, ‘Here, you’re going to need this. Everybody in the family has one; everyone in the world has one.

I laugh.

FM: My first cousin is an executive at Verizon Express, so everyone in the family is (technologically savvy.) I’m trying to catch up on life, and the love of my family.

WS: I read that you always wanted your family around you, and now you have it.

FM: It feels so great. Coming home off the road it’s so nice to have someone there. They pick me up from the airport, take me there – everything. They were not kidding when they said they wanted to take care of me.

WS: You were telling me about some of the other songs.

FM: A beautiful song I’d hear Billie Holiday sing for many years and never (played) it; Houston brought the music to it. It’s called, ‘Crazy He Calls Me.’ When Billie Holiday would sing it when I was working with her as a kid, she would make me cry every night she would sing. A great experience for a 17 year old.

WS: Did you cry when you were playing it at the recording date?

FM: I was holding back the tears; I didn’t want the guys to see it.” He laughs.

WS: Well nowadays it’s okay for men to cry. So tell me, how was it working with Billie Holiday when you were just a teenager?

FM: Oh, it was great. I was able to grasp as much at the time, being 17. Looking back on it, man her spirit, I can hear it. She meant every word she said, every word. She knew I was bashful. Oh man.

WS: What did she look like, was she beautiful?

FM: Even more beautiful except towards the end. No matter how hard she tried not to be beautiful – not taking care of herself… she was still beautiful. Sometimes I feel like I had too much too soon.

WS: You were so young to be right there on the deep end.

FM: I’m grateful.

WS: Yes, it all went into making you who you are.

FM: That’s right.

WS: And it definitely comes out in your work. So when you play, are you telling some of those stories you’ve experienced in your life through your music?

FM: Oh yes, I’m trying to reflect on it. I put as much into it as I want to get out of it. It’s so beautiful to play, when you can openly lead with your heart. You don’t have to be afraid about being disappointed or anything.

WS: I read that the Thelonius Monk tunes: “Monks Mood” and “Blue Monk” were challenging to you musically, that you hadn’t understood him as a composer but you are getting more into him now.

I think they’re great. I think you’re great on them.

FM: I didn’t appreciate him as a pianist. He didn’t have the flawless technique like Oscar Peterson. He had a different kind of technique. He used those rings on his fingers and would hit the keys (stacking) several notes one on top of the other to give (his music) a more percussive effect. He played with his elbows. I’d feel funny now if I did an album and didn’t have one of his tunes.

“I was like that about Wayne Shorter for a long time (also). It didn’t change how I felt about him. He’s great. I had to find room for Monk. I’m so glad I did.” (Wayne Shorter tunes show up on volume 1 in the High Note trilogy.)

WS: Between this studio recording, the one before this at least 20 years before, and the last two albums before this one are “Live at the Jazz Standard,” do you see or notice any difference between the two studio dates and how you approach the music?

FM: I like recording live better. I miss the vibe off the people.

WS: Yes, you said that. It is really sterile, isn’t it?

FM: “Yeah. Old cold-ass studio. Studios are such horrible places (to make art.)”

WS: What do you do?

FM: It’s like when you’re on the road moving from one place to another you have to find that vibe. That’s why I like to play with people that I really dig. I like to play with people I am compatible with.

WS: Is there anyone else who you haven’t played with whom you’d like to play with?

FM: I haven’t played with Herbie Hancock. There are so many young cats like Kenny Garrett. I haven’t played with him. He’s a bad boy, and of course Charles McPherson.

WS: Is he in Southern California still?

FM: Yes, Charles and I played the Chicago Jazz Festival September 30 last year. Donald Harrison was playing with us and we wondered if he was going to make it. He said he ‘escaped from New Orleans,’ those are the words he used.

WS: I bet that was a heavy concert.

FM: I suggested to the guys that we let Donald stretch out, and he did. He played his butt off.

WS: How is Donald Harrison doing?

FM: I’ve seen him a couple of times. We get to these festivals, and only get a chance to say hi and bye (to other artists).

I’m particularly proud of the opportunity to play with Sean Jones. It’s the realization of a dream for him. He really wanted to play with me and I hope it is the first of many.

WS: It’s really good Yoshi’s records the concerts if you want to do something with it like a “Live at Yoshi’s.”

FM: And we probably will. Yoshi’s is the consummate hall. It ranks right there with Club Dizzy at Lincoln Center. I think.

WS: Now that you’re on the High Note label, did you realize Joe Field, bought out the Savoy label from Arista, and Charlie Parker was on Savoy?

FM: My God.

WS: Did you know that?

FM: No.

WS: I thought, wow, you’re on the same label as Charlie Parker. Historically you’re in the same lineage.

FM: I am certainly going to call and get the catalog. Actually my first record date was on Savoy. I did this thing with Kenny Clark and three quarters of the Modern Jazz Quartet. It was actually a Kenny Clark date, who was the drummer with the Modern Jazz Quartet at that time, and Milt Jackson and Percy Heath. I guess I was about 18. It was in Southern California.

WS: Tell me about Josephine Baker who just had a birthday, the second Saturday in June. She would have been 100.

FM: She sure knew how to make a young man blush. I just played for her once at Club Alabam. We had a benefit on a Sunday afternoon for the NAACP and she was at the Paramount Theater in downtown LA, so she came down and we did the benefit. After the show was over she called me to her dressing room.

“‘I just wanted to congratulate you young man,’ you sight read my music like an old pro.’ She grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks. She had the most beautiful bags under her eyes, with blush and long eyelashes touched me on the side of my face.”

We laugh.

FM: Don’t you tell nobody that. No, that’s okay. Between her and Billie Holiday, I had no will power. When I look back on all that I see how precious it was. Life is so fleeting.

WS: A lot of the interviews I read talk about your father as a professional musician (Ink Spots) and friend of Charlie Parker’s, how you were a guitarist first before starting out on the clarinet then alto. What was it when your dad took you to see Charlie Parker for the first time that made you realize this is what you wanted to do with your life? I ask Morgan who was seven at the time, Parker, 20.

FM: It’s almost indescribable. It was overwhelming. I didn’t have any choice but to play that instrument, if I wanted to play. I was a guitarist up until that point. When (Parker) took the bandstand and played his first solo, my dad said I turned to him and said, ‘Dad that’s it for the guitar. That’s what I want to play right there.’

“As a matter of fact (Parker) was a friend of my dad’s so he took me backstage and introduced him. He was supposed to meet my father and me to purchase a horn but he couldn’t make it and send Wardell Gray and Teddy Edwards and they picked out a clarinet. What’s ironic is I played with both Teddy Edwards and Wardell Gray. (With Gray I) recorded ‘Introducing Frank Morgan’ with the legendary Carl Perkins on piano, Leroy Vinegar on bass, Larance Marable on drums, Conte Candoli on trumpet, Howard Roberts on guitar. They were Machito’s rhythm section.”

WS: Machito’s rhythm section, I repeat in disbelief?

FM: Yes, Charlie Parker recorded with him.

WS: How old were you?

FM: 18 or 19.

WS: I thought you were young. That’s amazing. It’s almost like you got a calling, like people get callings for religious stuff. I guess it’s not a far stretch, music is spiritual.

FM” Sure. I’ve finally learned to relax with those things. I have finally realized I’m blessed.

WS: You certainly are.

FM: We’re all blessed in certain ways. So I’m working it out with my horn. I sit back and let it play itself and try not to get in the way.

WS: You’re like the conduit. The stuff just flows. Are you ever surprised with what comes out?

FM: Always. Surprised but never satisfied.

WS: You keep on pushing it?

FM: Oh yes, one day I might come close to getting it right. I’ll probably never get it right.

WS: You probably have this ideal your audience is not aware of. It’s like your contract with God after the stroke. I’m really happy on your last live albums that George Cables was there and you recorded his, “Helen’s Song.” The title is after his mother’s name. My mother’s name is Helen too.

FM: That’s one of my favorites. There are two songs I never play with anyone else except George, and that’s Lullaby and Helen’s Song. I don’t think they’d sound right with anyone else.

WS: Are any of these originals on these recent High Note recordings?

FM: They are originals but not by me. I got carried away and didn’t write anything down. But I’d much rather play the beautiful songs written by the composers, people who compose better than I. I’m happy to record their songs in my own way.

WS: I read that you want to record with a string orchestra. Has that been set up yet?

FM: Yes, I do want to do this. It’s a big money project. If I can ever save enough money, I’d be happy to sponsor myself in a big project.

WS: You’ve recorded with Tel Arc and one of their artists, Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded with a string orchestra in South Africa. Perhaps they might pick it up.

FM: I have to establish my credibility with High Note so I can go on…. When you’ve been places I’ve been you have to prove yourself over and over.

WS: Oh really?

FM: Oh sure. I understand that and I accept the challenge. I’m on a straight and narrow path and stay focused. I hope to be worthy of people putting up the money to do the string thing.

WS: But I was thinking for instance, the San Francisco Symphony has a summer concert series, it’s called Music in the City. You could do something with them, or the Oakland East Bay Symphony….

FM: I played with the Paris Symphony Orchestra. That’s in the archives of France. But it felt quite comfortable…he mentions the conductor (a name I can’t spell).

From Oakland Morgan goes to Los Angeles to Catalina Bar & Grill with Sean Jones, Ronnie Matthews, Tony Dumas, and Tootie Heath, then on to a duo gig with Ronnie Matthews in Minneapolis, then on August 25, he’s playing another duo in New York at Joe’s Club next door to the Public Theatre. Visit his website to stay in touch

WS: I was thinking with Winton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Orchestra. Perhaps promoters don’t know you want to do a string concert that might be why you haven’t been invited. We need to let them know.

FM: “Yeah you’re right.” He laughs. “Basic communication. Let someone know what you want to do.”

WS: Right. Is there anything else you want to do that I should tell people?

FM: Just tell them I love them and I look foreword to playing my heart out.


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