"Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story", Spellbound

For about 45 years,  my two all-time favorite movies have been "On the Waterfront" and "Casablanca".  As for documentary films, now topping my all time list is one I just saw Saturday, "Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story,"

"Sound of Redemption" which opened the L.A. Film Festival and, as of yesterday, has yet to get a distributor, tells the life story of the legendary, in-and-out-of-San Quentin jazz alto saxophonist Frank Morgan who died in 2007 at age age of 73.. So for me, a big fan of jazz who has a fascination with San Quentin. this doc was out of the blocks fast.

Here's a shoddy bio of Frank Morgan, who, by the way, shares a name with the actor who played the title character in "The Wizard of Oz". Morgan was born in 1933 in Minneapolis to a 14-year-old mother and Stanley Morgan, a guitarist who played for the Ink Spots among others.. Stanley taught Frank to play guitar, but when Frank heard Charlie "Bird" Parker blow the saxophone, that was it. He idolized Bird. So much so that when Parker got hooked on heroin, Morgan, like so many other jazz musicians, got addicted, too.  He also got into crime. He got into San Quentin.  But, damn, could Frank Morgan could play the sax beautifully. 

There were so many good musicians - such as Art Pepper - at San Quentin, that the warden let them form a big band, the San Quentin All Stars. Jazz lovers from around the Bay Area came to see them perform .

So the backbone of Sound of Redemption, directed by N.C. Heikin, is a 2012 concert played before inmates at San Quentin. The band features.Ron Carter on bass, George Cables on piano, Roy McCurdy on drums,  Mark Gross on alto sax and a 22-year-old Korean American woman curiously named Grace Kelly, also on alto sax. From this riveting show, the story of Frank Morgan is told in jams, old clips and new interviews. .  

There are  two moments in "Sound of Redemption" that when i tried to describe them later with a superlative, I came up lacking. What was I going to say? "That scene was 'amazing"? Fuck, I've heard people describe donuts as amazing. The closest I got to how I felt when I was viewing these scenes was "spellbound".

The first of these is about halfway through the movie during that concert for the inmates. This Grace Kelly, who Morgan discovered about 10 years ago as a prodigy and helped mentor,  plays a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", that had the inmates mesmerized and me bound in a spell. I like to think anyone on the planet who had time to sit and watch this scene would think it was a wonder-filled moment captured on film.

The other scene that got me is toward the end of the documentary.  This actress something Flemming is talking about a concert not too far away from the end of Morgan's life. It was at Lincoln Center. As she begins the story, Frank Morgan plays the sax solo - most famously played by John Coltrane - on the lovely ballad. "My One and Only Love."

As the solo plays, the actress tells how she saw a man freeze in wonder of the music as he was putting down a glass of wine.  She talks about others listening who are transfixed. "The bartender stopped making drinks," she says and goes on to proclaim something like Frank Morgan had captured their souls.

The makers of Sound of Redemption, which was executive produced by Michael Connelly, a writer and a friend, are trying to get a distributor so the film can be widely seen.

I hope you get to see this film.  When those two scenes come on, you'll know what I was talking about. 

Check this link - http://www.thefrankmorganproject.com/

 One of the many albums Frank Morgan made after he got out of prison. He made his first one, in 1955, the year he went in. His second album came out 30 years later.

One of the many albums Frank Morgan made after he got out of prison. He made his first one, in 1955, the year he went in. His second album came out 30 years later.


*The last time I wrote about a movie was a 1969 (glowing)  review of "Midnight Cowboy" for the Gardena High School paper. Forty five years later, I'm compelled to write about a movie again.