Lee Morgan Vol. 3 // Blue Note (BLP 1557)

I mean, if I’m doing a Black History Month tribute, I can’t NOT feature an album from the illustrious Blue Note label, can I? The answer, of course, is no. Hail no. And as a trumpeter myself, of course I had to profile one of my favorite trumpeters of all time. Enough chit chat; to the music!


The Music

The Tune: “Hasaan’s Dream”
Recorded: 24 March, 1957 at Van Gelder Studios, Hackensack, NJ

Personnel:

  • Lee Morgan – Trumpet
  • Benny Golson – Tenor Sax
  • Gigi Gryce – Alto Sax
  • Wynton Kelly – Piano
  • Paul Chambers – Bass
  • Charlie Persip – Drums

1957

  • Governor Orval Faubus defies the Supreme Court, President Eisenhower and the United States Constitution and bars nine black students from integrating a Little Rock, Arkansas high school. Eisenhower eventually orders a division of the United States army to personally escort and guard the black students for the remainder of the 1957-58 school year.
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  • President Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act Bill of 1957, which sets out to protect voter rights, making it a federal offence to suppress someone’s right to vote. It does absolutely nothing to change the situation of voting suppression in the South.
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Ah, 1957. 1957 was a seminal year in terms of music in general and jazz in particular. John Coltrane signs with Prestige as a leader while playing with Thelonious Monk by night. On the opposite side of the country, Art Pepper wakes up to the news that he’s recording an album with Miles Davis’ rhythm section. Cal Tjader records his first live album at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. Tina Brooks is introduced to the Blue Note staff. Cecil Taylor plays the Newport Jazz Festival. Ricky Nelson sings on his parent’s television show ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ and overnight becomes the biggest thing in rock n roll since Elvis. Across the pond in England, John Lennon meets Paul McCartney. Lots of musical history took place in those 12 months of 1957. 1957 was also a year of tremendous social upheaval. School integration had been proclaimed legal and a must three years earlier in 1954, but many schools and universities simply ignored it or delayed the process. This refusal to give all American citizens the right to education came to a dramatic crescendo in September of ’57 when the governor of Arkansas flouted the law and tried to prevent the integration of a high school in the state’s capital. His actions have long-lasting repercussions, one of which is the normally jovial Louis Armstrong angrily stating to a news reporter that not only was he considering cancelling a government-sponsored tour of Russia (he did cancel) but the government could “go to hell”.

Amidst all of this, enter this album.

Recorded when he was just 18 years young, this was one of Lee Morgan’s early albums for Blue Note, and he was in good company. With the exception of bassist Paul Chambers, the fellas on the record were all part of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band and thus familiar faces. Far from being mere sidemen, each guy was a strong force individually and would all go on to bigger and better things in jazz. Benny Golson, along with Lee Morgan, would join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers the following year while Wynton Kelly would later reunite with Paul Chambers and join Miles Davis’ group the following year as well. Gigi Gryce appeared on numerous albums throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, as did drummer Charlie Persip.

The album is credited to Lee Morgan, yet it could also be said to be a collaborative effort with Benny Golson and Lee Morgan sharing leadership roles. Besides Golson’s assertive playing in many areas on the record, he wrote and arranged every tune on the album, of which “I Remember Clifford” would become a jazz standard. Every tune is a gem with phenomenal playing by all involved, and is one of those rare albums that can be listened through without skipping a single tune. I had a difficult time picking a tune to spotlight, but eventually decided on the opening track, “Hasaan’s Dream”.

The slightly mysterious opening with tambourine and flute combined with the neat segue into a head-bobbing minor blues is too cool. It’s classic Blue Note: A minor blues, not too fast, with gutsy playing from all the guys. This track has some of Lee Morgan’s best soloing of the entire record. He enters with a swaggering, confident, and brassy sound and maintains the mood throughout his solo. It’s a solo full of taste, logic, and a healthy amount of jubilant sass. Gigi Gryce carries Morgan’s mood into his solo, even quoting Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. Golson’s solo is equally fine, with his tenor sax sounding like a cross between Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Thompson, which isn’t a bad cross at all. Wynton Kelly’s solo cools things down and the great Paul Chambers gets a chance to make his own solo statements before the group closes the tune out with Gryce’s flute.

The rest of the album is full of phenomenal playing. Golson’s solo entrance on “Domingo” is absolutely smooth and nasty. The ensemble work on “Mesabi Chant” is clean and cohesive, and the closing blues is a perfectly strutting thing to close the album.

Our friend Scott Yanow over at Allmusic gave the album four stars and a glowing, lengthy review. He ended it with this statement:
“A composed (in more than one way) and relaxed session for this stellar small ensemble, it also brings forth the intelligence and street smarts of all the players, one of the best recordings in Lee Morgan’s early career and well worth a hearty recommendation to all.”
Agreed.

That black musicians could make such joyful and expressive music like this while not even considered full American citizens, not to mention full humans in some parts of the country, is nothing short of miraculous.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: C-

I’ll concede that I understand what the cover designer (Harold Feinstein) was aiming for. “It’s volume three, so why not throw three pictures of Lee on the cover? That’s clever, right?” At the time he thought of it, maybe. In actual execution, it looks like the art department was tired from designing two other volumes and threw something together with minimal thought or planning. I will say that at least the photo of Lee is pretty expressive, and the use of a yellow filter gives it some classic Blue Note cool points.

The Back

Written by the late great Nat Hentoff, you know the liner notes are excellent, and by default you know the album they appear on will be excellent as well. His opening statements about a French critic’s reaction to the American jazz scene of 1957 sound like something a jazz fan from today might say: “When the prominent, contentious French critic, Andre Hodeir, made his first American visit in the spring of 1957, he was struck by an obvious fact that most American jazz listeners and writers have taken quite for granted. “You are living..in almost another classical period of jazz…””
Hail yeah they were, and hail yeah those lucky jazz fans and writers had no idea until the middle of the 1960’s.

As for the condition of the actual condition of the record jacket, it’s seen better days since 1957. Much better days.

The Vinyl

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Blue Note labels are sexy. The crisp white with the deliciously contrasting light blue… mercy. Amen and amen. Pressed in 1957, the vinyl is heavy and thick with an assertive deep groove on both sides. The 47 West 63rd label address is consistent with the date the album was released, making this an original first pressing. Rudy Van Gelder’s initials are hand-written in the runnout wax, along with the Plastylite ear and album code.

Speaking of Rudy Van Gelder…

I have gone on record as saying that I didn’t really think his mastering and engineering sound was all that great. On this 17th day of the second month of 2019 A.D., I have a confession to make: I was wrong.

Playing this record for the first time after buying it, I was blown away by the audio quality of the music, not to mention the unbelievable quality of the record itself. Talk about musicians in the room! The tambourine on “Hasaan’s Dream” was right there in my room, and Lee’s trumpet was front and center. Paul’s bass resonated throughout my room. When Benny Golson began his solo on “Domingo”, I was startled by how lifelike it was. It truly sounded like his tenor sax had somehow jumped from 1957 to my Alabama room.

And this was before I tweaked the bass and treble levels on my stereo.

While writing this post, I put the record on and decided to play with the levels. After adjusting some knobs, I was in tears due to how absolutely realistic and full-bodied the music sounded. So good was it that I almost re-recorded the vinyl onto my computer. I would’ve but I figured it would be a little unfair to alter what the sound engineer originally heard and intended for the record-buying public to hear. So believe me that as great as the sound clip sounds, it sounds even better in real life with a few minor adjustments. Mercy.

The Place of Acquisition

Vertical House Records in Huntsville, AL aka my local record store is by far the greatest record store in the Southeastern United States. This is an indisputable fact. When I walked in their store on the eighth day of 2018, I was not prepared for the amount of gold I would find in the form of several Blue Note albums. Original Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, oh my! This combined with other good stuff (including a beautiful vintage 1972 Sansui 771 stereo receiver and a pair of Klipsch speakers) resulted in me walking out of the record store broke as a joke. This record specifically was $20, which was on the high end of my then-collegiate budget for records, but how often do I see original Blue Note albums in the flesh? For $20 I didn’t think it would sound that great. I was gloriously wrong. Aside from a single skip on the second 2 and a scratch that causes some clicks, also on side 2, the record plays through relatively quiet with minimal groove wear. Amen and amen.

5 thoughts on “Lee Morgan Vol. 3 // Blue Note (BLP 1557)

  1. Fantastic review! With your permission, I’d like to use your quote about black musicians being able to make music like this while not being considered full humans. I’ll be reviewing this in 16 days. This is @strictlyheadies by the way. Great to be getting to know you better. Incredible score by the way, which of course can go without saying. All the best to you Tariq,

    Charles

  2. Beautifully put together review that logically ties this album in with the turbulent year 1957. And for $20, that’s quite a score, I’m still in the market for an original pressing for what is my favorite Lee Morgan album.

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