Review: ‘Sound of Redemption’ Traces Frank Morgan’s Route From Jazz Musician to Prisoner and Back
By KEN JAWOROWSKIDEC. 1, 2015
In the 1950s, some jazz musicians believed they couldn’t get that Charlie Parker “happy-sad feeling without using drugs.” So says a friend of the saxophonist Frank Morgan in “Sound of Redemption,” a documentary that revels in the happy despite some seriously sad events.
Mr. Morgan was born into music. His father was a professional musician who used to play his guitar while pressing it against the belly of his pregnant wife, and later played by his son’s crib. Mr. Morgan was an accomplished saxophonist by the time he was a teenager; it’s said that when he performed with Billie Holiday, his music made her cry.
His renown grew, as did an addiction to heroin. His drug habit was soon financed by crime, and for some 30 years he was in and out of prison. After his last stint, he was released and went on to record some of his finest work.
The film, directed by N.C. Heikin, traces Mr. Morgan’s career with beautiful black-and-white photographs and newsreels. Those scenes are intertwined with segments from a 2012 tribute concert at San Quentin prison in California, five years after his death.
“Sound of Redemption,” subtitled “The Frank Morgan Story,” isn’t a hard-hitting exploration. Though Mr. Morgan’s grittier side is outlined, it’s not deeply investigated. (When a former wife says that the only way to love Frank Morgan was to “live in a state of exasperation,” you long to hear more about their marriage, and his demons.) Instead, it’s a fond and forgiving tribute to the man, filled with music that moves beyond happy and sad, and toward something like brilliance.
“Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes.
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