“The last time I saw Frank Morgan onstage, he, at one point, put down his sax and asked the crowd, ‘It feels great to be alive, doesn’t it?’” wrote Tempo magazine’s Deonne Kahler in 2006, perfectly summing up the alto pioneer’s approach to sound and connection. Morgan got his start as Charlie Parker’s protege and shared stages with Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton, sculpting alto improvisations that were ethereal, loosely lyrical, and conversational. He played with ease. He soloed like speaking, and he had range, from the uptempo pivots of bebop to the quieter ballad touch on collaborations with Abbey Lincoln, who sings on his Antilles album A Lovesome Thing. (Morgan also plays on her 1997 Who Used to Dance, worth catching, with saxophone turns by Oliver Lake and Steve Coleman.)
In honor of Morgan’s birthday today (he died in 2007), the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival premieres online, entering its fifth year remotely during the pandemic, at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT. Keep an eye out for Grace Kelly with George Cables. Here’s a start, if you’re new to the alto giant. Birthday wishes welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.