I CALLED HIM MORGAN (Kasper Collin, 2016)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Opens Friday, March 24
On February 19, 1972, during a massive blizzard, thirty-three-year-old jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Lee Morgan was shot to death by his common-law wife, Helen, in Slugs’ Saloon on the Lower East Side. Swedish director, writer, and producer Kasper Collin takes viewers behind the scenes of the tragedy in the sensational documentary I Called Him Morgan. The Philadelphia-born Morgan was a young prodigy, studying with Clifford Brown, playing with Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra when he was eighteen, and joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at twenty. Preferring the term “black classical music” to “jazz,” Morgan was caught up in a lifestyle of fast cars and drugs, ultimately hitting rock bottom until he was rescued by Helen Moore, thirteen years his elder, a farm girl from North Carolina who loved throwing parties in her adopted hometown of New York City and was a beloved fixture in the jazz community. Collin amasses an impressive roster of jazz greats who share their insights, including saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, and Billy Harper, drummers Albert “Tootie” Heath and Charli Persip, and bassists Larry Ridley, Jymie Merritt, and Paul West, along with Morgan neighbor Ron St. Clair, Helen’s son Al Harrison, and Morgan’s very close friend, Judith Johnson, many of whom are going on the record for the first time. “There was never no doubt in anybody’s mind: Lee was gonna be a star, Persip remembers. “They cared about each other. They loved each other,” Maupin says about Lee and Helen. There are also rare audio clips from an interview British writer and photographer Val Wilmer conducted with Morgan in October 1971 in Lee and Helen’s Bronx apartment. The film is anchored by a remarkable interview Helen gave writer, teacher, and jazz radio announcer Larry Reni Thomas in February 1996, a month before she died. “I will not sit here and tell you that I was so nice, because I was not,” she tells Thomas, speaking often in broken phrases. “One of the . . . will cut you. I was sharp. Yeah . . . I had to be. And I looked out for me.” It all culminates in a spellbinding, detailed account of the murder itself, told by numerous eyewitnesses with “Stagger Lee”-like swagger.
“He knew how to tell a story,” 2016 Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Shorter says of Morgan, who released more than two dozens albums (among them The Sidewinder, Search for the New Land, and Lee-Way) in his too-brief career, primarily for Blue Note, while also appearing on records by John Coltrane, Blakey, Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and many others. With I Called Him Morgan, Collin (My Name Is Albert Ayler) proves that he knows how to tell a story too. Initially inspired by a YouTube clip of Morgan performing, Collin spent seven years putting the documentary together, combing through archives and convincing people to participate. The film unfolds like an epic jazz composition as Collin and editors Hanna Lejonqvist, Eva Hillström, and Dino Jonsäter interweave amazing archival footage, a wide range of personal and professional photographs (mostly by Wilmer and Blue Note cofounder Francis Wolff), new interviews, and poetic, atmospheric shots of snow, sunsets, cityscapes, and other outdoor scenes by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, Arrival). Throughout, Morgan’s glorious music is heard, front and center or in the background, including such songs as “Gaza Strip,” “Tom Cat,” “New-Ma,” “Lament for Stacy,” “The Procrastinator,” “Absolutions,” “Angela” (for Angela Davis), and “Helen’s Ritual,” tunes that are not only revelatory but also a constant reminder of the talent the world lost in 1972. “I find that the essence of creativity is the newness of things,” Morgan told Wilmer in 1971. “And the only way to keep things new is to have constant changes in environment and surroundings and people, and all that, you know. And that’s the thing that makes it so exciting about being a jazz musician.” It’s also what makes Collin’s film so exciting. I Called Him Morgan opens March 24 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Francesca Beale Theater, with Collin participating in Q&As on March 24 at 6:00 (with jazz critic Gary Giddins) and 8:15 and March 25 at 6:00 with jazz historian Ashley Kahn; it will expand to Metrograph on March 31.
22-25 Jackson Ave. at 46th Ave.
Sunday, March 26, free with museum admission (VW Dome performances and other events $15), 12 noon - 6:00 pm
Last June, one of the city’s best record stores, Other Music, closed after twenty-one years. Fortunately, the company still exists online, and now it’s teaming up with MoMA PS1 in Queens to present the Sunday Sessions program “Come Together: Music Festival and Label Market.” On March 26, more than five dozen record labels will be on hand, selling music, special limited editions, and other merch. In addition, there will be live performances by Black Quantum Futurism, Matana Roberts, GENG, Hisham Akira Bharoocha, Brian Chase, Ryan Sawyer, Robert AA Lowe, and Greta Kline, a.k.a. Frankie Cosmos; a “DIY in NYC” panel discussion with Ric Leichtung, Matt Conboy, Arianna Gil, Salome Asega and Angelina Dreem, Eamon Harkin, Frankie Hutchinson and Christine McCharen-Tran, Douglas Sherman, Esneider Arevalo, and moderator Eli Dvorkin and a “Radio Now” panel with Brian Turner, Aaron Bondaroff, Deanna Nairns, Jordan Rothlein, Francois Vaxelaire, and moderator Delphine Blue; workshops led by Rvng Intl., PTP fka Purple Tape Pedigree, Luaka Bop, and Sufragette City; the New York City premiere of Brett Whitcomb’s A Life in Waves documentary about Suzanne Ciani; and a communal record-listening space highlighted by Ghostly International and Snarkitecture’s debut collaboration, The Last Crates. Among the labels participating in the fair are 4AD, Bar/None, Captured Tracks, Cantaloupe Music, DFA, Daptone, Fat Possum, Matador, Merge, Mute, New Amsterdam, Ninja Tune, Northern Spy, Rough Trade, Sacred Bones, Third Man, and Thrill Jockey. Entry to the fair is free with museum admission; an additional $15 ticket is necessary to attend the events in the VW Dome.
145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
March 15-25, $15
HERE’s annual multidisciplinary festival, CultureMart, starts tonight, featuring workshop performances that often defy easy categorization. Things kick off March 15-16 with Purva Bedi, Kristin Marting, and Mariana Newhard’s Assembled Identity, a multimedia duet between Bedi and Newhard that explores just what makes us human, on a shared bill with Trey Lyford’s kinetic solo show The Accountant, about how we can lose our humanity at the office. On March 18-19, Gisela Cardenas + Milica Paranosic and InTandem Lab’s Hybrid Suite No. 2: The Carmen Variations tells the story of fictional archaeologist Elizabeth Sherman, paired with Leah Coloff’s autobiographical song cycle ThisTree. The double bill for March 21-22 consists of Rob Roth’s cinematic hybrid Soundstage, linking the screen goddess with the adoring gay male fan, and Chris Green’s American Weather, an interactive piece performed by Quince Marcum, Katie Melby, and Yasmin Reshamwala. On March 25-26, Zoey Martinson and Smoke & Mirrors Collaborative lead audiences into The Black History Museum . . . According to the United States of America, examining the criminal justice system, while a birthday party turns into much more in Jeremy Bloom and Brian Rady’s Ding Dong It’s the Ocean. CultureMart concludes March 26 with a reading of HERE playwright in residence and downtown legend Taylor Mac’s The Bourgeois Oligarch, the third section of his four-part Dionysia Festival, this one involving a ballet and a philanthropist. With tickets only $15, CultureMart is always a great way to check out new and up-and-coming talent presenting works in progress at one of our favorite spaces.
The brilliant mind of Spike Jonze dazzles again with the spectacularly original romance her. In the very near future, geeky nerd Theodore Twombly (a radiant Joaquin Phoenix) makes his living writing personally commissioned letters for Handwritten Greeting Cards, developing relationships with the people he writes for, considering them family. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), are divorcing, although he is hesitant to sign the final papers. His life takes an unexpected turn when he buys the world’s first AI operating system and slowly falls in love with her during an extremely romantic twenty-first-century-style courtship. The talking OS (the sexy, gravelly voice of Scarlett Johansson), who names herself Samantha, wants to experience the world, so she and Theodore go everywhere together, including on a double date that is pure genius. When he shares his news with his best friend, Amy (Amy Adams), she doesn’t act the slightest bit concerned for his sanity, instead showing true happiness for his blossoming relationship. But as his and Samantha’s love grows, so does their need for something more from each other, which doesn’t always work out as planned.
Jonze’s fourth film as director and first solo screenplay (he cowrote Where the Wild Things Are with Dave Eggers, while Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.), her is a beautifully rendered love story filled with humor and heart. Phoenix shows a whole new, freer, playful side of himself as Theodore, particularly during a rousing scene in which he spins Samantha through a carnival. Wearing his pants way up high, as all men seem to do in Jonze’s vision of the future L.A., Theodore — who must make quite a lot of money at his job, considering his extremely large apartment with its amazing views of the city — serves both as an endearing protagonist and a warning about the importance of human connection. “Are you social or antisocial?” the new program asks him before initiating Samantha. As unique as the film is, it does echo themes found in a pair of Twilight Zone episodes; in “From Agnes — with Love,” a supercomputer falls in love with her creator (played by Wally Cox), while in Ray Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” a robot grandmother (Josephine Hutchinson) has the ability to grow emotionally with the family she takes care of. Watching her is like falling in love all over again, not only with the story but with the movies themselves. Nominated for five Academy Awards, the film is screening March 17 in the Rubin Museum Cabaret Cinema series “Perception,” part of the institution’s latest Brainwave series of special programs, and will be introduced by cognitive research scientist Dr. Eran Agmon. “Perception” continues Friday nights through April 28 with such other mind-bending films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Matrix, and Ghost in the Shell; meanwhile, Brainwave takes on such topics as “Why Magicians Are Master Manipulators” with Asi Wind and Tony Ro on March 22, “Keeping Your Eye on the Ball” with Patrick Vieira and John Krakauer on April 17, and “What Makes a True Work of Art?” with Tobias Meyer and Frank Moore on April 26.
Who: Cheech Marin, Geraldo Rivera
What: Discussion and book signing
Where: Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th St., 212-253-0810
When: Wednesday, March 15, free, 7:00 (wristbands given out to book purchasers starting at 9:00 am)
Why: South Central-born Richard Anthony Marin, better know as half of the drug-based comedy team Cheech & Chong, will be at the Union Square B&N on March 15, celebrating the launch of his memoir, Cheech Is Not My Real Name . . . But Don’t Call Me Chong (Grand Central, March 14, $27). Cheech has made such movies with Tommy Chong as Up in Smoke, Nice Dreams, Things Are Tough All Over, and Still Smokin’, starred in the television show Nash Bridges with Don Johnson, and lent his talent to such children’s movies as The Lion King, Spy Kids, and Cars. At B&N, the actor, comedian, musician, and art collector will be discussing his life and career with controversial Emmy- and Peabody-winning journalist Geraldo Rivera. Wristbands will be given out starting at 9:00 in the morning to those with proof of purchase of the book at the Union Square B&N or B&N online; after the talk, Cheech will sign and personalize the new book only, no other paraphernalia or memorabilia.