Cult Classic: Lee Morgan-The Cooker.

When eighteen year old trumpeter Lee Morgan signed to Blue Note Records as a solo artist in 1956, he was already a prodigious talent and had the potential to become one of the greatest trumpeters of his generation. That talent was soon apparent.

Introducing Lee Morgan.

On November the ‘4th’ 1956, Lee Morgan made his way to the Van Gelder Studio, in Hackensack, New Jersey, to record his debut album. This became Introducing Lee Morgan, which was released in early 1957, and hinted at what was to come from the prodigiously talented Philly born hard bop trumpeter.

Lee Morgan Sextet.

Just under month after recording his debut album, Lee Morgan returned to the Van Gelder Studio on the ‘2nd’ of December 1956 to record another album. The album became Lee Morgan Sextet, which included pianist Horace Silver and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Both were vastly experienced and hugely talented musicians but recognised that there was something special about the young bandleader and trumpeter. When Lee Morgan Sextet was released in May 1957, this latest album of hard bop was well received by critics. They realised that Lee Morgan was a special talent with a bright future ahead of him.

Lee Morgan Volume 3.

By the time Lee Morgan returned to Van Gelder Studio to record what became Lee Morgan Volume 3 on March ’24th’ 1957 his debut album just been released. Just like his sophomore album, Lee Morgan Volume 3 was another sextet recording that featured tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and pianist Wynton Kelly. Just like so many Blue Note Records’ albums, it only took the one session to record Lee Morgan Volume 3.

When Lee Morgan Volume 3 was released later in 1957, the album was hailed as the finest of the nineteen year old trumpeter’s career. He was one of rising stars of the jazz, and critics forecast that here was a young man whose star would shine brightly for a long time.

City Lights.

Just over five months later, Lee Morgan returned to Gelder Studio on August the ‘25th’ 1957 to record his fourth album, City Lights. For the session, drummer Art Taylor was recruited and joined what was a talented and experienced sextet. 

Playing alongside such experienced musicians didn’t phase Lee Morgan who had no problem holding his own. He seemed to thrive in their company and City Lights was called his finest album when it was released later in 1957. It seemed that Lee Morgan was improving with every album.

The Cooker.

That was definitely the case, and his fifth album The Cooker, was Lee Morgan’s first classic album. It’s a  reminder of the prodigiously talented Lee Morgan when was just nineteen.

Lee Morgan had turned nineteen on July the ‘10th’ 1957, and just over two months later, he was making the now familiar journey to New Jersey and the familiar environs of the Van Gelder Studio. He planned to record two of his own compositions Heavy Dipper and New-Ma, and augment them with three standards. This included Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night In Tunisia, Cole Porter’s Just One Of Those Things and Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez and James Sherman’s Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be)? These five tracks Lee Morgan would record with his quintet.

For the recording of The Cooker, trumpeter Lee Morgan was joined by drummer Philly Joe Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Bobby Timmons and baritone saxophonist Art Pepper. Rudy Van Gelder was the recordist and engineer while Alfred  Lion took charge of production on The Cooker. Once the album was recorded, the release was scheduled for March 1958.

By the time The Cooker was released, Lee Morgan was still nineteen and was maturing with every album. He had already played in Dizzy Gillespie’s band and had just played on John Coltrane’s first great album Blue Train. More recently, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan had collaborated on the album Peckin’ Time which they had recorded on February the ‘9th’ 1958. However, just like his friend John Coltrane, Lee Morgan was about to release his first classic album, The Cooker.

When Lee Morgan recorded with Blue Train with John Coltrane, he had to produce a series of disciplined performances as he read the carefully drafted arrangements on what wasn’t just an album, it was an artistic concept. The Cooker sessions were very different and much more relaxed as the young bandleader decided to let his quintet off the leash. He decided that  they were going to have a blowout, and play hard and fast and with flair, freedom and spontaneity. Lee Morgan wanted things to be informal which he hoped would bring out the best in the multitalented band.

In the engine room were drummer Philly Joe Jone and bassist Paul Chambers were part of Miles Davis quintet, Lee Morgan had recruited Philly born pianist Bobby Timmons. However, Art Pepper’s baritone saxophone added a different sound, which was much darker, especially when it combined with Lee Morgan’s trumpets.

The Cooker opened with a reworking of the classic A Night In Tunisia. Philly Joe Jones thunderous toms open the mid tempo track before the rhythm section and create an understated percussive groove. Pepper Adams blows his baritone sax and meandering solo before Lee Morgan plays the instantly recognisable Eastern-tinged melody. After that, it’s time for the solos and despite being in the company of much more experienced musicians, it’s Lee Morgan’s star that shines the brightest as he fuses scampering chromatic runs with palpitating tremolos. Not to be outdone, Art Pepper unleashes a flowing, explosive solo and his playing is innovative and melodic. Meanwhile Bobby Timmons showcases his considerable skills but it is Lee Morgan who plays a starring role on this nine minute epic rework of a standard.

Heavy Dipper is the first of two Lee Morgan compositions. It finds the quintet swinging as they play with power and intensity. Then when the solos come round, it’s not just Lee Morgan that shines, it’s other band members, including briefly drummer Philly Joe Jones. However, when the quintet play together they deliver tight and cohesive performances. Despite his relative youth, Lee Morgan proves to be a talented composer, bandleader and as a musician was maturing with every performance.

The cover of Just One Of Those Things can only be described as a turbocharged performance. That is the case from the moment Art Pepper unleashes a baritone saxophone solo. Meanwhile, it’s more like a yomping bass line that Paul Chambers plays. Lee Morgan is content to let others shine for the first three minutes and then steps forward and plays his solo. Within just a few bars it’s apparent that the nineteen year old is a special talent who was destined for greatness. 

Lee Morgan and his quintet decide to drop the tempo on Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be)? This romantic ballad that was written for Billie Holliday, and initially it’s just Lee Morgan’s trumpet and Paul Chambers’ bass that combine before the rest of band enter. When the solos arrive it is Art Pepper’s rasping, croaky baritone saxophone is played with a fluidity and expressiveness that breathes new life into this much-loved standard.

Closing The Cooker is New-Ma, the second Lee Morgan composition on the album. The quintet relaxes into a mid tempo groove with drummer Philly Joe Joes and combining with Paul Chambers’ walking bass. His playing is almost laid back as he feeds off Bobby Timmons’ piano playing. He enjoys the chance to shine, and just like Lee Morgan this is a hint of what’s to come from him.

After releasing five albums for Blue Note Records, Lee Morgan had released his first classic album The Cooker. The four albums he had released had been leading up to this moment, for the prodigiously talented and gifted trumpeter, composer and bandleader. 

Lee Morgan would go on to release other classic albums like The Sidewinder and Cornbread. However, his first classic was The Cooker, a breathtaking and spellbinding album that showcases a prodigiously talented musician. His star shines bright throughout The Cooker which was his first classic album, and a reminder of one the greatest trumpeters of his generation Lee Morgan.

Cult Classic: Lee Morgan-The Cooker.

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