Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, December 2: SOUND OF REDEMPTION: THE FRANK MORGAN STORY
NC Heikin’s story of a jazzman’s fall and rise bowed at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year. It has also screened at Hot Springs Doc, Palm Springs, Virginia, Vancouver, Atlanta, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Sound + Vision fests.
After seeing Charlie Parker play, seven-year-old Frank Morgan – the son of musician Stanley Morgan of the Ink Spots – was bitten by the jazz bug. Within a few years, he was acclaimed as a sax prodigy, and began touring in the late 1940s as a teenager for the likes of Billie Holiday. As a young African-American man attempting to come up at a time of overt racism and segregation, many opportunities were blocked for Morgan, precipitating desperate decisions and setting him off on a path of heroin addiction and crime that would see him incarcerated for the greater part of three decades. But, as signaled by Heikin’s film title, his fall wasn’t Morgan’s end, with prison offering the surprising possibility for music to help him get clean and refocus via the prison band, the San Quentin All Stars. Once released, he continued on the straight and narrow, recording a long-overdue second album, performing, and speaking out against drugs and crime. This often-familiar redemption trajectory is creatively, if somewhat awkwardly, set against a 2012 tribute concert at San Quentin, celebrating Morgan’s life and music five years after his death, with a surfeit of talking heads offering insight into the compelling performer’s story.