Selection: Most Like Lee (Morgan)
Many great tracks, impossible to choose between them, but I must, so I choose the up-tempo bopper, Most Like Lee.
Lee Morgan (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto sax) Hank Mobley (tenor sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Larry Ridley (bass) Billy Higgins (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 18, 1965
Artists of Note: all-star line up, a triple brass treat, all filed under the letter “M”: Morgan, Mobley and McLean. You can not have too much Mobley (but might just need to send out for some stronger shelves). A Blue Note classic, which for some reason I had overlooked to review, and not the only one, all in good time.
All-Music awarded Cornbread a coveted five out of five stars, like Michelin stars, a signal of excellence. The three-horn sextet format bursting with talent like Mobley, McLean and Hancock absolutely guarantees an exciting hard-bop ride. Morgan’s solos are inventive and sparkling and the ensemble bristles with energy and enthusiasm. Billy Higgins drums maintains tremendous propulsion behind the music, anchored by Larry Ridley’s bass.
The compositions are memorable and demand repeated play. Bonus, Hancock at his best, at the start of his Miles stint, rhythmically complex and listening acutely to everyone. Hank Mobley’s solo’s are particularly fine, controlled with “unfolding beauty from the first to last note“. Enough that it’s a Morgan album, it’s also a Mobley album, and a Hancock album, throw in Jackie, musically absolutely essential.
From the collector viewpoint, the only thing against Cornbread is that it isn’t rare, and it isn’t expensive, certainly not compared with Morgan’s most sought after records. For Morgan’s most sought after titles, those in the Blue Note 1500 series, the Top 25 auctions span from an eye-watering $7,800 ( for a copy of BN 1538 Lee Morgan Indeed!) to $2,350. The Top 25 auctions for Cornbread range between $350 to $125, which I calculate to be around one twentieth. This is more than partly due to Cornbread being a fairly big seller in its day, reaching peak position No. 7 in the Billboard Jazz Chart in 1967.
Morgan’s 1963 album The Sidewinder had been a huge commercial and financial success, which almost single-handedly helped keep Blue Note solvent, for a while at least. Blue Note then hedged their bets. While Sidewinder continued to sell, Blue Note then released Morgan’s most musically advanced title (in my opinion), In Search Of The New Land in 1964, while hoping that his boogaloo-continuity title, The Rumproller (1965), would recreate the success of Sidewinder. Lightening, however, failed to strike twice, and The Rumproller didn’t make the tills roll.
In the mean time, Cornbread and other more mainstream Morgan recordings for Blue Note remained unreleased, piling up in the Blue Note vaults. This hiatus left behind a rich seam of Lee Morgan-led material recorded between 1963 and 1967, which would be mined first by Liberty, and later, curated by Michael Cuscuna for United Artists for the Blue Note Classics LT series, with many rarely seen alternative cover issues in Japan (more on which anon).
Cornbread was first released by Liberty in January 1967, suffering as a result another “collectability” blow: not seemingly “authentic Blue Note”, no Plastylite ear, as well as not being “insanely rare™”.
1967, the music industry trade paper The Billboard saw jazz at a crossroads, between “more commercial jazz music” and “a small true jazz audience of hard-driving modernists and the avant-garde”. (I think they mean you)
In an industry driven by anticipating changing tastes and fashion, The Billboard took time to muse over shifting musical tides – where was jazz going in 1967? Fifty years into the future, where I sit, never mind which is the way forward, my options include reverse, and even sideways. But taking the industry pulse, The Billboard opined:
The golden years of the late ’50s and early ’60s had been and gone, it was now 1967 and the industry had to move forward, but pulled in many possible directions. From its vantage point, The Billboard saw the growing presence of light “commercial jazz”, from artists like Charles Lloyd, Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, Jack McDuff, and the increasingly hard-edged work from modernists, new work from artists like Coltrane and Andrew Hill.
I count on my shelf six of the seven Blue Notes released in January 1967, purchased not inexpensively, but too late to help the industry out financially . In the end, commercial jazz proved more popular, but ephemeral; the harder-edge work proved less popular, but more enduring. Not that any of this is any consolation to Lee Morgan, whose light was extinguished in 1972 by the unfortunately accurate pistol-aim of his partner, Helen. After that, there was no more new Morgan, but there was still a wealth of old Morgan, waiting to see the light of day. All originating from a time before Billboard started worrying over the future direction of jazz: jazz knew very well where it was going then: full speed ahead.
Vinyl: BLP 4222 mono.
NY labels, VAN GELDER, Liberty pressing – no ear.
A Blue Note/ Liberty transitional release pressed by All Disc. “Monaural” was a term in use for a limited time, before the final ascendancy of Stereo as the de facto format of choice. The liner notes promote The Sidewinder and The Rumproller along side The Search For The New Land. No time for argument, just get all three.
Collector’s Corner: and your Lee Morgan favourites are… ?
Complete-lee Morgan Blue Note Collection, with generous ten-vote poll
In addition to the above albums Blue Note released during Lee Morgan’s lifetime (recordings 1956-71), a lot of material went on to be released posthumously, in the 70’s and beyond, and some cases in alternative covers in Japan. Contrast the United Artists “Blue Note Classics” LT series, white-framed arty landscape photos, previously unreleased recordings 1964-7, with their Japanese release equivalent, Lee Morgan-in-performance alternative covers. If the LT series covers look unexciting, the vinyl inside is a lot better than I initially thought.
Some alternative covers have themselves other alternative covers too, like our friend The Procrastinator, found in an extraordinary high quality 70’s United Artists two-fer (bottom left) and in a variety of guises since (including CD alt-covers).
For the layout of the poll choices I am going to include his full Blue Note album discography as leader, including posthumously released titles, in chronological order of recording, not date of release. To give you a spread over his many albums, I am going to allow not three, not five, but a full ten votes. Choose up to ten favourite vinyl titles from the twenty five listed. I am disregarding some recent CD-only issues, and other label releases. On past experience I’ve missed out someone’s personal favourite. No doubt you will let me know…it’s The Internet.
Be sure to vote, poll open for only one week, check back frequently to see how your favourites are doing.
Japan’s Alternative Lee Morgan Cover Industry
How many lives does a tom cat have? No one knows, but I can vouch for the sonics of the LT Classics series Tom Cat – cracking sound, great music.
Just when you think you had it all figured out, our friends in Japan reissue their alternative cover using the”original” American LT Classics cover. I need to go lie down.
Several upticks for our friend, TokyoJazzCollector!