Claudio Roditi - Free Wheelin': The Music of Lee Morgan
- Reservoir Music - RSR 36

The Inspiration
Born in Philadelphia in 1938, trumpeter Lee Morgan was jazz's original "young lion." He joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band when he was just 18 years old and made his first recordings that same year. By the time he was 20, Morgan was the star of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and soon became one of the most important and influential players of the 1960s.

Morgan's style was hard bop to the core. Influenced by Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and, of course, Diz, he added his own biting attack and a dark, sardonic tone that had none of the sunny qualities of classic bebop trumpet playing. He played with an irony and sorrow that rivaled jazz's famed Prince of Darkness, Miles Davis. But at the same time, Morgan's taut, economical solos were melodic, highly expressive, and remarkably lyrical.

Morgan lived "the jazz life," fast and footloose, until, like a scene from a bad movie, it caught up with him one winter's night in 1972. While hanging at the bar between sets at Slug's, a now-defunct jazz club on New York's Lower East Side, Morgan got into a jealousy-fueled squabble with a woman of his acquaintance. He sent her out into the frigid January air, but she returned with his pistol and fired it at him. Lee Morgan was 33 years old when he died.

The Idea
Claudio Roditi came to the United States in 1970 from his native Brazil, and has lived in the states ever since. Although he never got the chance to see Lee Morgan perform live, Claudio, like most trumpeters of his generation, and after, grew up listening to, and being influenced by, Morgan's numerous recordings.

"When I heard Lee Morgan," Claudio recalls, "there was something in his playing that I just fell in love with. Many, many years later, I finally figured out what it was that I liked so much. Fist of all, it's his rhythmic approach. It's very close to Latin music, Brazilian music. Also, his sound is not an inward sound. It reaches out."

And now, Claudio, a confident, mature artist with his own, identifiable style, had decided to honor this master musician by performing some of his finest compositions. Keep in mind, these are not recreations, but original interpretations of Morgan's music - the most valuable tribute that one jazz artist can pay another.

"Of course, some of these tunes are so strong as compositions," Claudio observes, "you can't escape too much from the original way it was done. I mean, what are you gonna do? Record The Sidewinder as a mambo? So we stuck more or less to the original idea.

"The bulk of the difference is in the solos. I tried to think as little as possible of the way Lee played those tunes. Playing these songs that were so closely related to him, you can't escape certain phrases and certain inflections, but I tried my best not to clone anybody." No problem there.

The Players
For this date, Claudio assembled a group of diverse, yet compatible, players. Joining him in the front line is the brilliant young Argentinean tenor saxophonist, Andres Boiarsky. "He's an up-and-coming young cat," Claudio believes, "and it was nice to have him put his signature on my album."

Claudio appears on baritone saxophonist Nick Brignola's most recent Reservoir recording - Like Old Times (RSR CD 133) - and Nick returns the favor, performing on three tunes. "I think he's one of the main voices on the baritone. His sound, his articulation, his phrases, and his drive - he's got all that stuff."

Lee Morgan would have been proud to work with this rock-solid rhythm section. Pianist Mark Soskin, Claudio notes, "has been involved in Brazilian music for many, many years, besides the fact that he's a very, very fine jazz player. Because of our close association I said, `This is the cat.'"

On bass is Buster Williams, a frequent associate of Morgan's during the 1960s and still one of the most reliable players on the scene. "With Buster, you don't have to worry about anything. He's got a beautiful tone on the bass, and he's such a hard-driving player. It was an honor to have him on my album."

Drummer Chip White is "an old friend from Boston, but we've been following different roads for the past 20 years." Recently reunited, Chip, Claudio, and Morgan's music make a perfect fit. "He's totally familiar with the language, so it comes out in a very natural way. It's not like someone forcing a style that he didn't live through or doesn't understand."

The Music
Claudio begins his tribute with Free Wheeling, a swinging blues in 3/4 time. "I feel that this tune represents, a little bit, the way that Lee lived his life, so it was a very appropriate title for the album. And the tune is so cleverly designed. Rhythmically, it's incredible."

Trapped is also a blues, minor, this time, and in straight 4/4. The line is simultaneously simple and complex, and the chromatic passage toward the end of the theme is, as Claudio likes to say, "Very clever."

Nick Brignola makes his first appearance with a funky, fiery solo on The Sidewinder, Morgan's surprise soul hit from 1964. Claudio feels that Lee's influence is especially evident in his playing on this track.

Nick sticks around for Our Man Higgins, another unusual composition. "It's a 24-bar blues," Claudio explains, "but on the first two choruses, the soloists improvise on the whole tone scale. Then in the third chorus, we switch to regular blues changes."

As much as any tune on this album, The Joker displays Morgan's gift for songwriting. The melody is logical, singable, and, once again, "so clever, it's unbelievable." It's a tune that you remember.

And so is Ceora, one of Morgan's prettiest pieces. Claudio takes out his flugelhorn for this one and finds rapport with the samba-like line. "You know," he muses, "It is a pity that Lee never recorded an album of Brazilian songs, because it would have been so natural for him."

It's back to the blues with Speedball, "another of those clever tunes. I hate to keep using that word, but I can't find another one. How about smart?"

Yes I Can, No You Can't recalls when the boogaloo was the rage. It's still fun, as the players fall effortlessly into a hip-shakin' groove. In contrast, Peyote is a more sophisticated work, modally tinged, harmonically advanced, and - thanks to three bars of 5/4 time - rhythmically complex.

The only non-Lee Morgan composition included in the set, Dizzy Gillespie's A Night in Tunisia, is a number that Morgan used to solo on when he was in Gillespie's band in the 1950s. Some 30 years later, Claudio, as a member of Dizzy's United Nation Orchestra, was featured on this same tune. "So I'm not only paying tribute to Lee here," Claudio muses, "but also to one of the big influences that we have in common - Dizzy Gillespie." For this version, Claudio has overdubbed three trumpet parts, and Brignola and Boiarsky play soprano saxophones.

It's a longstanding part of the jazz tradition, for a top artist of the current generation to pay musical homage to a master of an earlier day. And what a pleasure it is when the tribute is carried out with the kind of knowledge, integrity, and care that Claudio Roditi brings to Free Wheeling.

Count Basie
Chairman of the Board

Jane Bunnett
Cuban Odyssey

Alf Clausen Jazz Orchestra
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Carl Fontana
The Fifties

Coleman Hawkins
The Best of Coleman Hawkins

Philly Joe Jones Dameronia
Look, Stop and Listen
Featuring Johnny Griffin

Wes Montgomery

Claudio Roditi
Free Wheelin': The Music of Lee Morgan

Horace Silver
Paris Blues

Gary Smulyan
High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine

Various Artists
The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests

Steve Weist
Out of the New

Complete CD Liner Notes Credits
ArtistCD TitleLabel
Eric AlexanderFull RangeCriss Cross Jazz
Helio AlvesPortrait In Black and WhiteReservoir Music
Anush ApoyanA Dedication to Horace SilverBlack & Blue
Robert Bachner & Helmar HillEin feiner ZugATS
Thomas Barber's Janus BlocSnow RoadD Clef
Carl Bartlett, Jr.Hopeful
Count BasieChairman of the BoardRoulette Jazz
Roni Ben-HurSignatureReservoir Music
Walter BlandingThe Olive TreeCriss Cross Jazz
Don BradenAfter DarkCriss Cross Jazz
Jane BunnettCuban OdysseyEMI Music Canada
Sharel CassityRelentlessJazz Legacy Productions
Al ClausenSwing Can Really Hang You Up the MostSunny NoDak
Steve DavisVibe Up!Criss Cross Jazz
Dena DeRoseIntroducing Dena DeRoseSharp Nine
Dena DeRoseUnitedHigh Note
Orrin EvansGrown Folk BiznessCriss Cross Jazz
John Fedchock New York Big BandNo NonsenseReservoir Music
John Fedchock New York Big BandUp & RunningReservoir Music
Carl FontanaThe FiftiesUptown
Sayuri GotoFlashbackFever Pitch
Sayuri GotoPrayerFever Pitch
Jimmy GreeneIntroducing Jimmy GreeneCriss Cross Jazz
Coleman HawkinsThe Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]Prestige
David HazeltineA World for HerCriss Cross Jazz
Conrad HerwigHeart of DarknessCriss Cross Jazz
Jane JarvisSagmo's SongFaith
Jane Jarvis & Benny PowellTwo of a KindFaith
Ingrid JensenHere on EarthEnja
Philly Joe Jones DameroniaLook, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny GriffinUptown
David KikoskiAlmost TwilightCriss Cross Jazz
Yuko KimoraA Beautiful Friendship
Yuko KimoraNexus
Yuko KimuraBridges
Ryan KisorThe DreamCriss Cross Jazz
Marilyn LernerBirds Are ReturningJazz Focus
Achilles LiarmakopolousTrombone Atrivedo Opening Day
Gene LudwigThe Groove ORGANizationBlues Leaf
Joe MagnarelliMr. MagsCriss Cross Jazz
Virgina MayhewNini GreenChiaroscuro
Virginia MayhewNo WallsFoxhaven
Virginia MayhewPhantomsRenma
Virginia MayhewSandan ShuffleRenma
Virginia MayhewA Simple Thank YouRenma
Virginia Mayhew Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 YearsRenma
Adriana MikiSashimikiApria
Wes MontgomeryDangerousMilestone
Dave PanichiBlues for McCoySpirit Song
Roberta PiketSoloThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketOne for MarianThirteenth Note
Roberta PiketWest Coast TrioThirteenth Note
Valery PonomarevBeyond the ObviousReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevThe MessengerReservoir Music
Valery PonomarevOur Father Who Art BlakeyZoho
Benny PowellCoast 2 CoastFaith
Benny PowellThe Gift of LoveFaith
Melvin RhyneKojoCriss Cross Jazz
Claudio RoditiDouble StandardsReservoir Music
Claudio RoditiFree Wheelin'Reservoir Music
Adonis RoseThe UnityCriss Cross Jazz
Jim RotundiReverenceCriss Cross Jazz
Harvie S & Sheryl BaileyPlucky StrumWhaling City Sound
Horace SilverParis BluesPablo
Gary SmulyanHigh Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie LaineReservoir Music
Doug TalleyNight and DaySerpentine
Uptown FiveUptown SwingHarlem
Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John ColtraneThe Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High PriestsPrestige
Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil TrioSt. ThomasEvidence Music
Walt WeiskopfAnytownCriss Cross Jazz
Steve WeistOut of the NewArabesque
Deborah WeiszBreaking Up, Breaking OutVah Wa
Rich WilleyGone with the PiggiesConsolidated Artists Productions

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