Not to be confused with My Name is Albert Ayler or He Named Me Malala, I Called Him Morgan is a 2016 documentary about jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen.
Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin uses shots of a New York blizzard and a suspenseful flow of information to sustain a foreboding atmosphere; a style befitting a trumpeter known for his ability to tell a story through his solos. Combining contributions from jazzmen like Wayne Shorter and Bennie Maupin (as opposed to Bernie Taupin) and a 1996 interview with Helen, Collin celebrates Lee’s talent while seeking a sense of closure, understanding and ultimately forgiveness.
Having joined Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band at 18 and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at 20, Lee Morgan was known to be cocky (at 25 he claimed to be mentoring 26-year-old saxophonist Joe Henderson) and with good reason; his 1964 album ‘The Sidewinder’ became Blue Note’s best-selling record, outselling the previous one about 10 times over. After falling into heroin addiction he was picked (literally) out of the gutter by Helen, a headstrong maternal figure to all sorts of jazz cats and gay friends.
By dealing humanely with Helen’s story, I Called Him Morgan feels as conversational and compassionate as Lee’s music. The soundtrack is gorgeous and the live footage invaluable, creating a film that’s sad, dramatic and empathetic like a great jazz ballad.