Lee and Helen Morgan in 1970; Courtesy of the Afro-American Newspaper Archives and Research Center
Lee and Helen Morgan in 1970; Courtesy of the Afro-American Newspaper Archives and Research Center

“I Called Him Morgan” is a new feature documentary directed by Kasper Collin which centers on the turbulent relationship between the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife, Helen Morgan that led to her shooting him dead in 1972.

The very short version of the story, courtesy of the film, reads: On the night of February 19, 1972, Helen Morgan walked into the East Village bar Slug’s Saloon with a gun in her handbag. She came to see her common-law husband, Lee Morgan, whom she had nursed through heroin addiction. They fought, he literally threw her out; then she walked back in and shot him, handed over her gun and waited for the police to arrive. Lee Morgan was just 33 years old at the time.

The question that puzzled many back then was why she did it, and it’s something that my research tells me has been debated.

The film is built upon interviews Helen gave about her life with the brilliant but erratic musician, many years after his death, serving as the backbone for what the New York Film Festival calls a beautifully crafted and deeply affecting film.

Helen Morgan was later committed to a mental institution for some time. She would return to her native North Carolina and reportedly never spoke publicly of the incident, until she granted an interview a month before her death. She is said to have explained that she wanted to do her one and only interview because she wanted to tell her side of the story, which was apparently all a mystery up until that point. Veteran jazz writer/radio announcer/historian Larry Reni Thomas conducted the interview which was recorded. She died in Wilmington, NC from a heart condition, in March 1996.

I won’t spoil it for readers by summarizing what Helen Morgan shared on the tapes that the film relies on to tell its story; although if you must, you can read an account here in a piece titled “The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan.”

“I Called Him Morgan” is set to make its premiere on September 1, 2016 at the Venice Film Festival. It will then screen at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, and will make its USA debut on October 2 at the New York Film Festival. Hitting these 3 top-tier awards season festivals back-to-back may be an indication of its strengths and prospects.

No trailer yet.