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Weekly Alibi Frankly Brilliant!

By Michael Henningsen

JANUARY 4, 1999:  Life has not been easy for alto master Frank Morgan, although you'd never know it by looking at his sturdy frame and clear eyes. And his playing denies the fact that he spent nearly a decade out of the jazz game. Bouts with heroin addiction early in his career landed Morgan in and out of jail and rehabilitation centers, effectively erasing his presence from the minds of bebop fans.

It wasn't until the mid-'80s that Morgan was rediscovered by the jazz community, with the release of the ironically titled Easy Living on Fantasy Records' Contemporary label. By the mid-'90s, Morgan had returned full force, releasing two brilliant records for the Telarc Jazz label. Bop!, his most recent, is a glittering collection of eight bebop standards, featuring classics by Thelonious Monk ("52nd Street Theme," "Well, You Needn't"), Miles Davis ("Half Nelson"), Dizzy Gillespie ("Night in Tunisia") and an ode to his idol Charlie Parker ("KC Blues"). His articulate playing on the record brought critics to their knees.

But in the fall of 1998, Morgan experienced yet another setback. While on his way to the Michigan Jazz Festival in Flint from his current home in Santa Fe, the 64-year-old saxman suffered a stroke. But, in true Frank Morgan fashion, it wasn't long before he began to bounce back.

In fact, Morgan's dedication to bebop--especially his devotion to the niche carved almost four decades ago--has made him something of a national treasure. His ability to put forth fluid lines followed by rich flurries, coupled with an innate sense of dynamics, puts a unique twist on his sound: His playing has continued to progress while remaining rooted in the bare essence of bebop.

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, Morgan will celebrate his recovery and his 65th birthday with a very special concert at Santa Fe's Paramount Theater. Featuring performances by Straight Up and the Tom Guralnick "Duo" (with Guralnick and Jefferson Voorhees of the Tom Guralnick Trio), the celebration will culminate in a performance by Frank Morgan, solo and backed by members of Straight Up. Proceeds from the concert will benefit Morgan as he continues to rehabilitate.

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