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Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder (1964)

Updated: May 9

Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder

(Blue Note)

Released July 1964

Recorded December 21, 1963

I don't mean to blow my horn, but I know a lot about jazz trumpeters. The trumpet and its cousin, the cornet, have a rich history in jazz, and many of the most famed soloists played the instrument; therefore, trumpeters are often the most celebrated jazz musicians. Due to their popularity, there are running jokes about trumpeters regarding their personality -What do trumpeters use for birth control- Their personality? What do you call an arrogant trumpeter? A brass hole.

The jazz trumpet and cornet lineage begins with New Orleans jazz legend Buddy Bolden. Bolden is often credited as the first jazzman, although he never recorded and spent the ladder part of his life in a mental institution. After Bolden, other New Orleans cornetists like Freddie Keppard, King Oliver, and Bunk Johnson began to gain regional popularity. Despite their early influence, nobody was more successful on the instrument than Louis Armstrong, jazz's first great improviser and celebrity. Also emerging in the 1920s was Bix Beiderbecke, a white jazz musician from Iowa who played in a contrasting style to Armstrong. Sadly he died at the age of only 28 from alcoholism.

During the Swing Era, which began around 1933, more great trumpeters emerged, like Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Harry Sweets Edison, Harry James, Hot Lips Page, and Clark Terry. Still, no one was more impressive than the man they called "Little Jazz," Roy Eldridge. Then bebop hit in the early 1940s and Dizzy Gillespie took the reins from Eldridge, with Fats Navarro also displaying some impressive playing. After Gillespie, Miles Davis emerged and was impressed not by his technicality but by his unique conversational way of playing and phrasing in a speech-like pattern. He did this by adding more space within his improvisations.

Then out of nowhere, an incredibly gifted young trumpeter named Clifford Brown knocked everyone on their asses with his incredible display of technicality; however, he died young in a car crash at only 25. Lee Morgan was next in line for greatness, although a nod must be given to Kenny Dorham and Freddie Hubbard. What made Morgan's playing so magical was his ability to blend technicality with tasteful phrases and an overall soulfulness associated with the more roots-oriented Hard Bop sub-genre that gained popularity in the mid-1950s, the style in which he is most connected.

About Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan from Philadelphia was one of the premier jazz trumpeters to emerge in the late 1950s. His primary influence was the virtuosic jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown, with whom he took a few lessons. Morgan began playing trumpet around age 13, and by the age of 18-year-old, he joined Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band. He then started recording as a leader, mainly for Blue Note Records, in 1956. In 1957, he recorded with John Coltrane 1957 on the classic album Blue Train (Blue Note). In 1958, Morgan joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and recorded on many of the group's most celebrated records, including Moanin' (1959, Blue Note), A Night in Tunisia (1960- Blue Note), etc. In the early 1960s. Morgan was plagued by severe heroin addiction and forced to leave Blakey's band. After cleaning up in Philadelphia, Morgan returned to the New York jazz scene in 1963.

About The Album

The Sidewinder was a critical album in helping reestablish Lee Morgan as a major force in jazz after a period in which heroin addiction forced the trumpeter into a down period. Fueled by the success of the album's title track, the record had crossover appeal and even charted #25 on the Billboard Pop Charts, which was a rare feat for an instrumental jazz album in 1960. Widespread interest in the song "The Sidewinder" came partly because the tune aired on a Chrysler television commercial during the 1965 World Series without Morgan's permission. The song "The Sidewinder" was critical in establishing a rhythmic groove based on a boogaloo beat often reinterpreted on future Blue Note releases. Joining Morgan on the record is tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Henderson is one of the premier post-bop tenor masters who, from 1963-1968, appeared on nearly 30 Blue Note albums. Playing piano was Barry Harris, a skilled pianist influenced by Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Before recording Sidewinder, Harris had already recorded with Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Thad Jones, Benny Golson, Hank Mobley, and Sonny Stitt. Harris also appeared on Morgan's 1962 album Take Twelve (Jazzland). On drums is Billy Higgins. Before this recording, Higgins had worked and recorded with innovators like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, and many others. In his career, he recorded over 700 albums. Playing bass on the record is Bob Cranshaw, a frequently recorded and steady bassist who was best known at the time for his work with Sonny Rollins. As with many jazz recordings Morgan, Henderson, Harris, Higgins, and Cranshaw were not a consistent band but a group of talented musicians who came together for this session.

Following The Sidewinder

From 1964-1965, Lee Morgan rejoined the Jazz Messanger, and throughout the mid to late 1960s, he continued to play on dozens of fantastic records, including several of his own. In 1970, the trumpeter became one of the leaders of the Jazz and People's Movement, a group of politically fueled jazz musicians focused on demonstrating and disrupting television shows that refused to feature jazz music.

In 1972, during a terrible snowstorm, Lee Morgan was shot and killed by his common-law wife, Helen Moore, while performing at Slug's Saloon in New York. The murder was fueled by Moore's jealousy over the fact that Morgan was now seeing another woman and her feeling of being disrespected by the trumpeter after she helped him to achieve sobriety and a career resurgence. The shot did not kill Morgan initially, but he died because the ambulance struggled to navigate the snowy conditions in time. He was only 33 years old. The incident has been documented in the film I Called Him Morgan (2016). (Awards- DownBeat Jazz Hall Of Fame)

Side 1

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Track 1- "The Sidewinder" was a surprising hit for Lee Morgan. The tune was used in 1965 for a Chrysler television commercial during the 1965 World Series broadcast. Unaware that the company was using it, Morgan threatened to sue, and in response, the advertisement was pulled. Morgan would never match the song's success, as only some instrumental jazz songs received such high acclaim. The over ten-minute hard bop classic is based on a repetitive 16-bar form played against a steadily funky beat. The music is easily digestible to the general public, which may be why it was so popular. Solos are taken first by Morgan (1:55). Morgan's solo offers clear phrasing and control that builds steadily in terms of dynamics and rhythmic intensity. Joe Henderson's (3:43) soloing is a centerpiece of the record and the song. Like Morgan, Henderson was a technically gifted player who offered solo statements that balanced technicality and taste to create interest. As with most great soloists, Henderson often reached for ideas creating new musical scenarios which he had to figure out ways to resolve. Due to this level of discovering or working out musical problems, Joe Henderson never sounded formulaic or stale. His sense of exploration creates a humanistic quality and interest in his playing. Following Henderson is Barry Harris' solo (5:35), which is not technically impressive but pretty soulful. His playing style on the track is a nice counterbalance to Henderson's approach. Crenshaw's solos next (7:28), his improvisation is bluesy, and his phrases are clearly presented. Crenshaw was not regarded as one of the great bass soloists but was a perfect choice to support gifted improvisers and leaders looking for consistency and a steady, fundamental bass line. Overall the tune works so well because of its groove and Morgan's and Henderson's improvisations. (*+)

Track 2- "Totem Pole" is another 10-minute-long jazz exploration based on the traditional 32-bar standard song form. "Totem Pole" is played with a Latin tinge that shifts to swing during the bridge before returning to the Latin feel. As with "Sidewinder," the melody is clear and easy to remember. Morgan begins the solo parade (1:20). He starts his solo with short phrases before building. Henderson enters with his solo at 3:18. It's truly an inspired solo. In addition to his phrases and note choices, a special mention must be given to his tone, which has a certain fullness and brilliance that helps to provide Henderson with his signature sound. Harris follows (5:10) with his solo, and although his playing is less angular, you can hear the Thelonius Monk influence in his lines. Morgan jumps back in (6:57) and plays with great fire and energy in the higher register, showing why he is considered one of the most exciting post-bop improvisers. Take notice of Higgins fiery playing against Morgan during this second solo. Consistent with style, the track concludes with a reinterpretation of the melody. This is a very cool track featuring a totem pole of jazz legends (+)

Side 2

Track 1- "Gary's Notebook" is a medium uptempo swing, and apparently, Gary was a friend of Morgan. This time Henderson's solo first, and the tenorist showcases his complete command and inventiveness (1:07). Next, Morgan enters with his solo at 2:18 against specific hits provided by the rhythm section. Soloing next is Harris, who plays his finest solo on the record with inventive melodic lines (3:30). The rhythm section is cooking on this tune! By this point, it is clear that Harris, Higgins, and Crenshaw have a solid hookup (+)

Track 2-"Boy, What A Night" - is an uptempo swing that begins with Harris soloing. The horns enter with the tightly played angular melodic line (:40). There is something truly magical about the sound of a tenor and trumpet playing together. Henderson, Morgan, and Harris continue to impress as soloists.

Track 3- "Hocus- Pocus" kicks into the melody without warning. The song has similar chord changes to the standard "Mean To Me." It's a hard swinger and a strong closer. This solo order starts with Joe Henderson, who has solos first on each track on side two. Morgan follows Henderson, and Barry Harris follows him. After only five tracks, we get a sense of the musical personalities of Henderson, Morgan, and Harris as improvisers at the time. During the album's final tracks and the song's final moments, Higgins is given a moment to shine as he plays some well-handled solo fills.

Conclusion: The Sidewinder showcases Morgan's talents as a trumpet and writer; it is his most celebrated album and maybe his best. It is one of the finest hard bop presentations, although there is little variety in terms of feel and material. The combination of Morgan and Henderson playing in the front line in their prime partially makes the albums memorable. Barry Harris, Billy Higgins, and Bob Crenshaw must also be credited for providing the perfect toe-tapping grooves for Morgan and Henderson to solo.

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