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How ‘I Called Him Morgan’ Helped Trumpeter Lee Morgan’s Friends Find Peace With His Tragic Death

Kasper Collins' film recently played as part of the IDA Documentary Screening Series.

Bennie Maupin

Jazz musician Lee Morgan was shot and killed at a jazz club in 1972 at just 33 years old — by his wife, Helen Morgan. Kasper Collin brings the trumpet prodigy to life in the documentary “I Called Him Morgan,” telling the story of his career and his tragic death through interviews with Helen recorded by a jazz DJ one month before her own death in 1996, as well as Morgan’s jazz peers.

After a screening at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series, saxophonist Bennie Maupin, who appears in the documentary, reflected on his friend’s life and death, as well as what the effect it had on the jazz community.

“He was his own worst enemy, but he was a brilliant person,” Mapuin said. “He was a prodigy and he was sensitive.”

Watching the film has helped him understand more about both Lee and Helen, he said. “This film is enabling me to have some closure on what happened, because I lost two friends.”

Helen was “compassionate beyond anything that I could imagine,” Maupin said of his late friend. “She wanted to help him and in return he helped her. As a person she was great. She was tough. You’ve got to be tough to be in New York, and she was. She was very, very warm…just pleasant to be around.”

That made it all the more difficult when he was in San Francisco recording with Herbie Hancock and got the call that Lee had been killed — by Helen.

“That was maybe the toughest time,” he said. “I was just confused. I didn’t know what was going on in New York, but there was a lot of anger…there was no way I could go back for the funeral so I went through a very deep mourning period of just missing him.”

Maupin reflected on the final conversation he had with Lee before his death, in which he said he was trying to wean himself off of the methadone he’d been taking after recovering from his heroin addiction and had quit smoking.

Ultimately, Maupin says, he was able to achieve closure with Helen.

“I wasn’t angry with Helen. I felt after a while that I wished that Lee had been able to handle it in a better way and not be violent towards her because whatever happened there that was described, it triggered that thing from her past,” he said. “That was temporary insanity. When she killed him, she killed herself.”

Watch clips from the Q&A below:

“I Called Him Morgan” is streaming now on Netflix.

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

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