Frank Morgan, Bebop Saxophonist, Dies at 73

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Terry Gross spoke with Frank Morgan in 1987 for NPR's Fresh Air:

A Frank Morgan performance on NPR's Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz:

Frank Morgan, a jazz saxophonist who modeled his style after bebop pioneer Charlie Parker, died of complications relating to colon cancer Friday morning in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minn.

An acclaimed practitioner of the alto saxophone, Morgan's comeback from drug addiction and prison made him a celebrity.

In his youth, Morgan was a prodigy who was invited to join Duke Ellington's orchestra at the age of 15. Though his father, guitarist Stanley Morgan, nixed the opportunity, he was working as a backup musician in Los Angeles clubs by the age of 17.

In 1955, after having performed and recorded throughout the L.A. area, Morgan recorded his critically acclaimed debut as a leader: Introducing Frank Morgan. He was 22. However, Morgan had already developed a heroin habit like his idol Charlie Parker, even though Parker warned him against it. The addiction and the crimes it motivated would keep Morgan in and out of prison for many years.

Morgan wouldn't record again for 30 years, though he drifted in and out of music. While incarcerated, he would occasionally play with various ensembles of fellow inmates — one time, he performed in such a group with alto saxophonist Art Pepper.

In 1985, Morgan cut a new album, Easy Living. The LP signaled a new chapter in Morgan's career: He resumed a life of full-time touring and recording, and left drug use behind. Between then and his death, he released 16 albums.

Though Morgan suffered a stroke in 1998, he continued to record and perform. He had just returned from a European tour when he checked into a Minneapolis hospital, and was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer. He would have turned 74 this week.

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