The ever-reliable Frank Morgan caters up a sterling lyrical phrase each time he picks up his alto saxophone, no matter the surrounding. Though he can still shout and swing with trademark bebop abandon, melodious content stirs his soul. To appreciate Morgan”s tonalities is to appreciate all that”s sentimental, cozy and warm in an acoustic jazz setting.

Paul Wong
Morgan blowin” a mean, mean sax.<br><br>Courtesy of Telarc

Invitations for highbrow jazz art comes to Ann Arbor”s Bird of Paradise tonight and tomorrow, when Morgan plays two shows nightly in the spotlight.

Anchored by bassist/club owner Ron Brooks and his trio, the acoustic blend should shimmer with bright harmonics and rapturous melodies atop assorted jazz standards. No need to motor up-tempo when Morgan”s spirited storytelling commands center stage.

Morgan discovered his “sax calling” as a youth thanks to Stanley Morgan, his guitar-playing father, who allowed Frank to absorb the alto sax pyrotechnics of bebop legend Charlie Parker in a jazz nightclub. He”s more than a typical jazz celebrity he”s a road warrior who”s continuing to challenge himself for every live audience, extant.

That commitment is distilled from various career ups and downs for Morgan, widely hailed for a passionate, lush alto and bravura phrasing. Wiser to life”s blessings, following rehab after a stroke two years ago, he relishes jamming with younger players seeking new-breed improvisation. That”s why splashing into jazz club scenes like Ann Arbor is more the norm than the exception for Morgan these days.

After traversing many curves in the road, the 67-year-old now calls Taos, N.M., home these days. He spends as much time on the road touring whenever possible. His stopover here follows major club dates in Chicago and Cleveland, typical outings for his jazz quartet. Morgan always reserves room for solo travel, opting to jam with local players keen to his razor-sharp mindset and seasoned musicianship.

Thankful to be the jazzman that he is, Morgan”s licked his wounds culled from career setbacks. Its been that way since the mid-1950s when Morgan first frequented the Los Angeles bebop scene, after nailing recording dates with Kenny Clarke, Teddy Charles, Wardell Gray and Freddy Martin. After Reflections, a GNP Crescendo label release in 1955, Morgan”s recurrent heroin addiction saddled him in and out of prison for nearly three decades.

In the mid-1980s Morgan returned to jazz, rejuvenated for life. The notable restart ushered in a jazz milestone, beginning with recordings featuring Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, Bobby Hutcherson and Conte Condoli. Morgan”s 1986 release, Easy Living (Fantasy) marked the start of something big. He”s never slowed down since.

Other Morgan music box jewels include: You Must Believe In Spring (Antilles) with piano giants Tommy Flanagan, Sir Roland Hanna, Hank Jones, and Kenny Barron, Yardbird Suite with a sterling rhythm section of Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter and Al Foster, and Love Lost & Found (Telarc) with the Ray Brown Trio.

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