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Frank Morgan Show Song List

(Originally broadcast Oct. 5, 2004) (Originally recorded Feb. 16, 2004)

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Frank Morgan
Frank Morgan is an alto saxophonist in the West Coast bebop tradition. He was born in Minneapolis in 1933. His family moved to Milwaukee when he was six and to Los Angeles when he was 14. His father, a guitarist for the band The Ink Spots, began teaching him guitar when he was just two years old.

When Morgan was seven, he traveled to Detroit to spend some time with his father, who was playing a gig there. The elder Morgan took his son to the Paradise Theater, where the stage show included Jay McShann's band. Morgan recalls that his life changed the moment he heard Charlie Parker take a solo during "Hootie's Blues."

Morgan's dad took his son backstage to meet Parker. It was Parker who suggested that the child learn and master the clarinet before moving on to the alto sax. Parker later became a regular at the club opened in L.A. by the elder Morgan in 1947, Casablanca, and continued his interest in Frank Morgan's musical development. Parker was only one of the many bebop players that frequented the club, with Hollywood stars such as Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck and Ginger Rogers often in the house to hear this cutting-edge music.

Morgan recalls Casablanca as the place where he learned that drug use was "socially acceptable" -- this in spite of Charlie Parker's efforts to shield him from the seamier side of the musician's life. To Parker's profound disappointment, Frank Morgan saw heroin as part of what it took to "play like Charlie Parker." Morgan began using the narcotic when he was 17.

Having won a TV talent contest at 15, Morgan eventually began playing with Lionel Hampton's band. Before his recording debut as a leader in 1955 he had played as a sideman with Kenny Clarke, Teddy Charles and Ray Charles. The album, Introducing Frank Morgan, received critical acclaim. However, heroin addiction and prison time were soon to rob Morgan of his time in the spotlight. Although he continued to play in prison, it was not until 1985 that Morgan was once again able to take control of his life and music.

Morgan made his second album, Easy Living, that year and began his career again. He has continued to record, tour, and reach out to those in prison and those fighting addiction. Along the way has received critical accolades.

Check out this week's Piano Jazz Shorts: the Piano Jazz podcast.

Set List for Frank Morgan on Piano Jazz:
  • Blue Monk (Monk)
  • In A Sentimental Mood (Ellington)
  • I'll Remember April (DePaul, Johnston, Raye)
  • Billie's Bounce (C. Parker)
  • Embraceable You (G. Gershwin, I. Gershwin)
  • Goodbye (G. Jenkins)