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Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1938. He began his trumpet studies with a private instructor, and continued them at Mastbaum High School for the Arts, where he also played the alto horn. A fan of jazz from an early age, he was exposed to a wide variety of live music in the vibrant Philadelphia music scene, which had produced such notables as John Coltrane, Benny Golson, the Heath brothers, and many others.
By the time he was 15, Morgan was leading his own group with bassist James "Spanky" DeBrest as his partner. He was also taking part in Tuesday night workshops at the Music City club which brought him into early contact with his main early influence, Clifford Brown.
After Morgan graduated from Mastbaum in 1956, he and DeBrest subbed with the Jazz Messengers when Art Blakey arrived in Philadelphia short two musicians. "Spanky stayed on," Morgan explained in the liner notes to his first Blue Note album. "I could have stayed too, but I didn't want to sign a contract, so I left after two weeks. Then very soon after that, Dizzy came back from his South American tour. I'd met him a couple of years before at the workshop and he knew about me. He needed a replacement for Joe Gordon, and I needed some big band experience, so it worked out fine."
After the untimely death of Clifford Brown 1956, Morgan was recorded often, viewed as a like successor to Brown's legacy (the Blue Note label recorded Morgan six times as a leader over a span of 15 months, and Morgan appeared extensively as a sideman on others' recordings during this period).
In 1958, Morgan left Gillespie's big band to join Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with whom he remained until the summer of 1961 (when he was replaced by Freddie Hubbard). Problems with heroin forced Morgan into a period of low profile in Philadelphia. He returned to New York in 1963, and his first recording, The Sidewinder, became his greatest commercial success (the title tune was such a hit that Chrysler used it behind an automobile ad during the 1965 World Series).When The Sidewinder became a hit, Morgan was back temporarily with Art Blakey (1964-1965); he left in 1965 to lead his own bands and pursue the commercial success resulting from his record sales.
In the last four years of Morgan's life, he was one of the leaders of the Jazz and People's Movement, which demonstrated during the taping of talk and variety shows during 1970-71.
Morgan's later bands featured Bennie Maupin or Billy Harper on saxophone, and while the modal jazz direction taken by many other bands became more prominent in his compositions, Morgan remained at heart a hard-bop trumpet player.
On February 19, 1972 his common law wife shot and killed him during an argument at Slugs', ending his life at the age of 33. Lee Morgan's recorded legacy is immense; he recorded many records throughout his career as a sideman, and led 25 albums for Blue Note plus sessions for Vee-Jay, Roulette, Jazzland and Trip.
Lee Morgan - Biography