Jazz saxophonist Frank Morgan (1933-2007) was one of Taos’ treasures. The musician found his way here late in life and stayed for a number of years before moving to Minneapolis in 2005, a couple of years before his death. Morgan fell in love with Taos, and Taos fell in love with Frank Morgan.
This week celebrates his memory as the Taos Jazz Bebop Society presents The 2017 Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival. Four events are part of this year’s festival: Three jazz concerts and a film screening.
Yesterday (Nov. 15) there was a free kickoff event at The Taos Inn with the Pete Amahl Quartet and Glenn Kostur. Today (Nov. 16), the festival continues with a free 7 p.m. showing of the new documentary “I Called Him Morgan” about jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan’s life and death. The screening will be given at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
Then, on Friday (Nov. 17), jazz singer Ed Reed performs with the Lorca Hart Trio at 7:30 p.m. in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Tickets are $25 at the door and $20 for Harwood members.
The festival concludes on Saturday (Nov. 18) with a 7:30 p.m. performance by Grace Kelly and the Lorca Hart Trio at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Tickets are $25 at the door and $20 in advance.
“Frank Morgan was one of the great bebop alto saxophone players in the tradition of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie,” Eric Gladstone, board member of the Taos Jazz Bebop Society, said.
“Frank became a mainstay of the jazz scene in Taos at a time when there were very little out of town musicians coming,” Gladstone said. “For the five years he was here he invigorated the local jazz scene, sometimes bringing in friends of his, and his presence here has now grown into the formation of a nonprofit, Taos Jazz Bebop Society.”
Gladstone explained that for the last three years, the Society has worked to bring to Taos some of the top jazz musicians in the country, including George Cables, Bob Durough, Albert “Tootie” Heath and Dweezil Zappa.
Lee Morgan (no relation to Frank Morgan) is a jazz trumpeter who made his mark on the jazz scene before he was shot and killed by his common law wife, Helen. Lee Morgan played on John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” and worked with drummer Art Blakey before launching a career as a solo artist. He died at the age of 33. The film about him, titled, “I Called Him Morgan,” was made by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin. It premiered in September 2016 at the Venice Film Festival, and in March 2017 in the United States. For the Taos screening, Tootie Heath will be coming up from his home in Santa Fe to participate in a Q&A immediately following the film.
This will be Ed Reed’s first time to Taos and says he is excited to be a part of the Frank Morgan Jazz Festival. He has performed in the past with the Lorca Hart Trio and has become friends with Grace Kelly, so he will be among friends celebrating a good friend.
Recalling Frank Morgan’s music, Reed said, “His music was heartbreaking. It could just drag you, turn you around, no matter what you were doing. If you were a jazz fan and you heard Frank you stopped in your tracks.”
Reed knew Morgan when both men were drug addicts. “We did a lot of thievery together,” he recalled. “When I think about it, it was all such a scary time. It was an awful time, I hated it and couldn’t change.” But with time, Reed and Morgan both would change, turn their lives around and share their music with the world. The two men also both served time in San Quentin State Prison, although not at the same time.
Reed sang vocals throughout his life, but it was when he was in San Quentin that he had an experience that deeply moved him and changed his perception of himself as a singer. “I had been singing all my life, but in ‘64 when I went back, I was walking down on the lower yard — the exercise yard in San Quentin — and I hear this guitar player and he’s playing ‘Embraceable You’ like Charlie Parker, only he was outdoing Charlie Parker. He was playing like no guitar player I’d ever heard, and I was a fan of guitar players. And, this guy was outplaying everybody I’d ever heard.”
Reed said his name was Ralph Bravo. “He stopped me in my tracks and I started humming and then I got closer and he’s playing all these beautiful changes and I started whispering the words to ‘Embraceable You’ and then I couldn’t help it, I just started singing, and he started grinning, ‘cause I was singing. He loved what I was doing and I was just hypnotized by what he was doing. And, from then on, I was a singer. He told me, ‘I never heard nobody sing like that.’ “
That experience stayed with Reed. In July 1986, he began his road to recovery from addiction and he said he has been clean and sober ever since. Reed released his first CD when he was 78 years old. Called, “Ed Reed Sings Love Stories,” it received glowing reviews. He has since released three additional CDs and has performed in some of the finest clubs in New York, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Bern, Switzerland. The documentary film “The Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story” featured Reed as an interviewee.
Reed draws on his life experience to interpret the songs he sings. “I want people to hear that heartbreak or that joy, and be able to feel it. That’s my aim,” he said.
When he isn’t making music, Reed spends his time as a health educator, talking to others about drug addiction and recovery. At nearly 89, Reed said his life has become wonderful in ways he couldn’t imagine.
Closing out this year’s festival’s is saxophonist Grace Kelly with the Lorca Hart Trio. Kelly has played for the last two Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festivals and is a favorite with festivalgoers. “As long as people want her back, we’ll bring her back,” Gladstone said. Kelly knew Frank Morgan towards the end of his life, and he became an influential mentor in her musical career.
Kelly has released 10 CDs and “Trying to Figure It Out” was voted No. 2 Jazz Album of the Year in the 2016 Downbeat Magazine Readers Poll. Jon Batiste, bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” brought Kelly on as a regular in his band.
Bastiste said, “Grace Kelly has an electric charisma onstage that instantly ignites the room. She is also one of the most kind-hearted, easy-going people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
The Frank Morgan 2017 Taos Jazz Festival is supported by generous contributions from the Richard B. Siegel Foundation, Harwood Museum of Art, Martin Foundation for the Creative Arts, Taos County Lodgers Tax Fund, Kind World Foundation and The Taos Inn.
For more information, visit taosjazz.org.
Frank Morgan Jazz Festival
Schedule of events
“I Called Him Morgan” film screening
Today (Nov. 16), 7 p.m.
Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Ed Reed with the Lorca Hart Trio
Friday (Nov. 17), 7:30 p.m.
Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St.
Tickets $25, $20 museum members
Grace Kelly with the Lorca Hart Trio
Saturday (Nov. 18), 7:30 p.m.
Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west
Tickets $20 advance, $25 at the door