Compelling documentary tells the story of Lee Morgan and his common law wife, Helen

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Jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was 33 years old when he was killed in 1972. “I Called Him Morgan” traces his life and the odd circumstances surrounding his too-early death, weaving a compelling behind-the-music tale of talent, squandered potential and the demons that haunt gifted artists.

Morgan was a prodigious artist, able to tell stories through his playing. Old jazz heads in the film talk about his style and skills with reverence, sharing casual tales about his abilities like they’re chatting over a friendly lunch.

The flip side of the story is Helen Morgan, who was well known in the jazz scene before she became Lee’s common-law wife. Helen was a decade older than Lee and acted as a sort of mother to many members of the New York jazz community, cooking big meals and hosting get-togethers at her apartment in the city.

Lee Morgan had fallen apart, a victim of rampant drug abuse, when Helen took him in, rehabbed him and got him back on track. Which makes the end of Lee’s story — which “I Called Him Morgan” recounts in detail — even more strange.

Helen Morgan is no longer around, but “I Called Him Morgan’s” coup is a recorded interview she gave a month before her death in 1996. Through it she tells her own story, and director Kasper Collin pairs her narration with a 1971 interview with Lee, letting the two parties speak for themselves.

“I Called Him Morgan” works as a jazz documentary as well as a bizarre true crime tale about a mysterious crime of passion. All these years later, many questions remain. “I Called Him Morgan” is as close as we’ll get to the answers.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘I Called Him Morgan’

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 92 minutes

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