Frank Morgan | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Frank Morgan

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There are those who argue that if Charlie Parker had lived to a decent age (he never saw 35) he'd have ended up sounding something like Frank Morgan. I usually shy away from such speculation, but this notion's worth a second look. When Morgan came up as a talented teenager in LA in the 40s, he reputedly had Parker's style down cold; but like Parker, he developed a severe heroin addiction. Morgan lost nearly three decades of his life to the drug; he spent what was likely his prime in prison. When he reemerged for good to cut his first new recordings since his 1955 debut, his playing still had a lot of Bird's song to it, but there were significant differences too: a darker tone than he'd used in the 50s; a less sweet, more puckered attack; a more self-reflexive take on the familiar bebop vocabulary; and a choppier approach to improvisation, with a less loquacious syntax and more frequent caesuras breaking up the lines. No one can say whether Parker would have gone in this direction, but one can point to several of Bird's bandmates and near contemporaries--Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, and Sonny Rollins--who did much the same thing as they matured, playing fewer notes and reining in their virtuosity in order to refine the essence of their statements. In any case, Morgan has further mellowed in the last 15 years: on his later discs he takes a positively gauzy approach to ballads, and even the bop vehicles are imbued with overtones of melancholy. He'll play with a Chicago rhythm section headed by Willie Pickens. Tuesday through Thursday, October 28 through October 30, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, October 31 and November 1, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, November 2, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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