A shot in the chest
It’s about a woman. An older woman seemingly like any other who takes night courses at a North Carolina high school. Williston High School, in this case.
It's 1988, and she’s taking classes on African culture with Larry Reni Thomas who, in addition to teaching that course, is a jazz fanatic. A geek. He even has his own radio show. She tells him that she also loves jazz and that her husband was a famous musician. "What was his name?" Larry asks. "Morgan, Lee Morgan," she says.
Her name is Helen Morgan, and one winter night in 1972, in a fit of jealous rage, she had taken a gun and shot Lee in the chest in the middle of a performance in a club on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. "Lee Morgan, the famous trumpeter?" Larry asks, amazed. She nods.
The documentary I Called Him Morgan is based on that anecdote and an interview with Helen that Larry had recorded on two cassettes in February 1996, a month before she died. She lays out for him, in her deep, raspy voice, the story of that time and a story of love.
I Called Him Morgan, by documentary filmmaker Kasper Collin (Sweden, 1972) is a little delight for jazz lovers. And, although it’s tinged with tragedy, it also portrays the effervescence of those years, the golden years of the Blue Note label, the restless New York nights, the clubs, the smoke, and the feeling that something was being born. That energy.
But the tragedy is there, hovering. Helen rescued this boy with a unique talent but who was also consumed by heroin, the great dark beast of jazz. She literally rescued him from the gutter. She tended to him, cared for him, healed him. And he repaid her, however, with cruelty. Lee—once cleaned up and fashionably dressed—left her for another. And so, one crazy night, she took a taxi from her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, arrived at the club, and fired.
I called Him Morgan is available to Netflix subscribers.