The Gigolo: Lee Morgan

Gigolo Lee Morgan

It’s a warm spring evening and the new ‘downwithit Lounge’ in Hoxditch Hill is about to open for business. You know the sort of place and area. No children or old people (over 25s) for miles, hard won full beards will have to be shaved off by mid-April 2015 because they’ve been spotted in the provinces (Highgate and Deptford), the only pets allowed are pugs- specially dressed for the occasion and the door password is ‘Beyond Ice Cool’.
A conversation takes place which goes something like this:-
“Hey DJ, I’m opening the doors. Let’s have something to pack our clientele in!”
“OK boss. What’s it to be?”
“Hit ’em hard with the first track on this set, ‘Yes I Can. No You Can’t’ and guests and good times will surely follow.”

Have a listen to the original on YouTube.

To play, click or touch the arrow

So here we go, back to 1965, a shade under 50 years ago. Lee’s flying high and there’s a young lad on piano, one Harold Mabern Jr. On this opener he’s playing soul Jazz at a very high level. If you like this vibe and don’t already possess this recording, kick yourself and get out and get it. By the way, right here and right now in April 2015, Harry is just releasing a new album (Afro Blue), live from Smoke in NYC and featuring some young vocalists including Gregory Porter and Norah Jones

Next up, and the mythical downwithit Lounge has got ’em in and they are Trapped by the music. This is a Wayne Shorter composition. Didn’t I tell that Wayne’s on tenor saxophone duties on this set. Well, he is!

Speedball, a tune that remained as a staple within Lee Morgan’s repertoire, makes its first appearance here. It’s a fine hard bop tune. The band is really tight and Lee is at his very best.

Title track, The Gigolo, is a fast heady Jazz waltz tune- although perhaps my understanding of the time signature is mistaken. It is exciting and enjoyable with a worthy contribution from Wayne Shorter.

The album closes with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Actually, that’s not true, it is You Go To My Head – but there is a link and your starter for 500 in any quiz. The link is that both songs were written by Coots and Gillespie. Morgan’s take here is wonderful, pure caberetsville and is probably recorded because Bill Evans and Freddie Hubbard cut a well-regarded version in 1962 (thanks to Ted Gioia‘s magisterial The Jazz Standards for this snippet).

Every so often a little research around a review reveals an interesting sidetrack to explore. Although Blue Note covers are generally strong and visually appealing, especially if Reid Miles and Francis Wolff were involved, this one isn’t particularly wonderful. The tight cropping of a picture of Morgan playing his trumpet provides us with an engaging image with a classic rule of thirds leading our eyes to Morgan’s embouchure- but I’m not at all keen on the use of full colour for the final print. Black and white or an overlay of a single colour over the image worked well on numerous classic Blue Note sleeves, especially when coupled with well-chosen typefaces. The later designs, using a colour picture of the artist or, of a model seem to me to be less powerful and following the retirement of Alfred Lion as a producer and the sale of Blue Note to Liberty, Reid Miles design work association with the label ended.

Incidentally, Wikipedia records that:- Miles wasn’t particularly interested in jazz, professing to have much more of an interest in classical music; he received several copies of each Blue Note album he designed but gave most of them to friends or sold them to used record shops. Miles used the descriptions of the sessions relayed to him by producer Alfred Lion to create the artwork.

This album cover was designed by Forlenza Venosa Associates, who went on to deliver over 50 covers. They are typified by full colour pictures featuring the artist or a model and are often rather boring head and shoulder shots, in my opinion. The late Robert Venosa went on to work as a successful member of the Fantastic Realism school of artists and apparently his pictures are represented in major museum collections and in the private collections of ‘…rock stars and European aristocracy.’ I don’t covet any of them. He also designed Santana’s Abraxas album cover, although he was not responsible for the cover painting.

The Gigolo is well worthy of your attention, despite the cover. If you see a copy, get it. You are unlikely to be disappointed. Lee Morgan and the band are in great form. Nat Hentoff summed it up in the original sleeve notes, writing: ‘It’s the kind of set you know- by the way you feel- will never be dated.’ The CD copy has a slightly longer alternate take of title track as a bonus.

S.Mos delivered a mash up version and mixed in Tupac Shakur. There’s a link here for your enjoyment. It’s a bit 2011 for downwithits Hoxditch Hill lounge, but you may enjoy it. The bass is more to the fore on this one.

To play, click or touch the arrow

The band etc:- Lee Morgan (Trumpet); Wayne Shorter (tenor sax); Harold Mabern (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded: June 25 and July 1 1965. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Forlenza Venosa Associates. Issued as Blue Note 84212.

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4 thoughts on “The Gigolo: Lee Morgan

  1. I've just written about my copy of this LP over on my blog: https://intosomethin.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/lee-morgan-the-gigolo-blue-noteliberty-bst-84212/ and I certainly agree about the high quality of the music. I'm not as disappointed with the cover as you - there's always something to appreciate about a vintage Blue Note cover. In this case, check out the kerning on the t and the h of "the" before "gigolo". Oh, and one last small point - my copy lists Morgan as the composer of "Trapped" - not Shorter.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Martin. It's great that you've taken a look at this set as well and that you enjoyed it. I was determined to write a positive piece that didn't refer to Lee Morgan's most famous composition at all or, as so many do, damn much that he did later as an attempt to match it. You expose the cliche, employed by many who look at Lee, head on and I'm in total agreement with you. I suspect I may have credited Trapped to Wayne Shorter on the strength of the CD sleeve notes but I won't be able to check until next week. Keep up the great work over at intosomethin (your excellent blog)!

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      1. Don't you just hate nagging doubts.
        I have just had a chance to check how I formed the view, at downwithit, that 'Trapped' was actually a Wayne Shorter composition. It turns out that I was referring to Bob Blumenthal's 'A New Look At The Gigolo' from 2005 which is in the CD booklet which forms part of the 2005 RVG 2005 re-master CD.
        Blumenthal writes: "Note also the 'Trapped' the only issued performance from the first of the album's two sessions, was listed as Morgan's composition at the time of release but is actually a Wayne Shorter opus. It might be described as a patterned blues, with ensemble choruses that underscore the rich blends the trumpeter and saxophonist achieved with regularity".
        I'm sure Blumenthal has got things right here. The CD credits correct the error from the original sleeve.

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        1. Aha! I've adjusted my blog posting to take account of this new information. Thanks for digging it out.

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