The late jazz saxophonist Frank Morgan’s tale of redemption from drug addict, conman and convict to beloved elder statesman of jazz. Produced by Michael Connelly.
Packed with thrilling music, Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story is an absorbing documentary about a gifted alto sax player and Charlie Parker’s protégée, Frank Morgan. Morgan fell hard into heroin and got to be almost as good a conman and thief as he was a musician in order to feed his habit. The habit cost him 30 years of his life in and out of prison, most of it at San Quentin, where he performed in a big band with fellow junkie jazz musicians that grew famous in the Bay Area. To bring the past into the present, director NC Heikin brought an all-star band together into the “Q” for a concert. This hyper-emotional event forms the backbone of this riveting film.
“2015 has been a great year for music docs, with films about Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, Kurt Cobain and the Wrecking Crew all scoring with audiences and critics. And here, at year’s end, comes “Sound of Redemption” — as good as any.” – Los Angeles Times
“it’s a fond and forgiving tribute to the man, filled with music that moves beyond happy and sad, and toward something like brilliance.” – New York Times
“N.C. Heikin’s hurtin’ beauty of a doc”- The Village Voice
“the film has a strong feel for the emotion behind Frank Morgan’s acclaimed bebop.” – The Hollywood Reporter
“Heikin’s best inspiration is to stage and film a tribute concert at San Quentin. Grace Kelly’s tender “Over the Rainbow” solo might stir tears, and Heikin, unlike so many impatient directors, knows that in a doc about musicians, the music should breathe.” – LA Weekly
“Sound of Redemption is a great documentary that paints a fascinating picture of a talented musician whose music helped him get through the most difficult years of his life.” – RedCarpetCrash.com
“N.C. Heikin’s terrific music documentary interweaves a great concert by the late jazzman’s admirers and acolytes at the Bay Area prison with a stirring history of both the L.A. music scene and mid-century, African American show business in general. But really, the kickiest part is when it recounts the ingenious criminal schemes Morgan dreamed up to support his gargantuan heroin habit.” – Los Angeles Daily News
“If you’re a Jazz fan but unfamiliar with the Charlie Parker protege Frank Morgan, “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story” will school you on a saxophone virtuoso and convict who lived what sounds like four adventurous, glamorous, tragic lives while earning the title “the new Bird.” “Redemption” traces how deep the comparisons cut into Morgan’s psyche.” – RogerEbert.com
“Morgan’s “redemption” came at a high price, and the film effectively balances realism and optimism in portraying his deeply troubled yet fulfilling life.” – Victor L. Schermer, All About Jazz
A Note From Michael
My involvement in Sound of Redemption is purely an effort to honor an artist who inspired me and had a life message that is worth sharing around the world.
I can’t say that Frank and I went way back as was the relationship with many of the people we have interviewed for the film. Though I first saw Frank on the stage about twenty years ago, it wasn’t until the last few years of his life that I started to personally get to know him. He was in his 70s, hunched over by time, but still playing and persevering. He had overcome many difficulties, from drug addiction to incarceration to the debilitating effects of a recent stroke. He had been through all of that and still had a beautiful smile and a beautiful sound. To me he was amazing.
I would say the connection I had with Frank came down to one song. “Lullaby,” the short and somehow sad song written by pianist and longtime Frank Morgan collaborator George Cables, seared me from the first time I heard it more than twenty years ago. At the time I was putting together a character for a book I was writing. The character was a detective who was a loner and liked to listen to and draw inspiration from jazz. The character – I would name him Harry Bosch – had a particular affinity for the saxophone. Its mournful sound, like a human crying out in the night, was what he was drawn to. The detective saw the worst of humanity every day on the job. He found solace every night in the sound of the saxophone.
At the time, Frank Morgan had just put out his album Mood Indigo. It got solid reviews and a lot attention in the jazz world and beyond. I read about it and read about him. It was a perfect set up because Harry Bosch did more than simply listen to the music. He identified with the musicians. I wanted him to listen to musicians who had overcome the odds to make their music because Harry had overcome great odds himself. Frank, with his history, was a perfect candidate. I went out and got the album and as they say, the rest is history. I don’t think I had ever been so emotionally moved by a record. It begins and ends with a cut of “Lullaby.” The song is short but its message is strong. It contains everything about Frank and everything about Harry. Sad and mournful, yet strong and resilient. The song is relentless in Frank Morgan’s hands. The song pierced my heart. I knew I had found Bosch’s anthem. I started playing the song each day before writing. It inspired me as well as Harry Bosch.
Many years later I got to tell Frank Morgan about the process I went through and how I discovered his sound and what it meant to both me and Harry Bosch. We were sitting in a restaurant in a hotel we were staying at in Boston. We had come in to appear together at the Berklee College of Music. Frank was going to give a master class to the saxophone students and then after we would be on stage together to talk about the symbiotic relationship between words and music. Frank was tired but happy. He talked about wanting to give back for what he considered a blessed life. He wanted to tell young musicians not to make the mistakes he had made.
The day after, as we rode in a car to the airport, Frank said he loved being with the young musicians and that he wanted to do it again. He said there were wonderful programs for young musicians in Indiana and New Orleans and other places. He wanted to go to them. He wanted us to go there and asked me to set it up. He said he already had a European tour scheduled but after that he’d be ready to go.
Well, Frank did go to Europe but he got sick. We never made it to Indiana or New Orleans. He died shortly after he got back. I feel bad about what could have been, about the musicians Frank could have reached with his unique story. My hope is that this film will capture the essence of that story and spread Frank’s message further than he ever thought.
– Michael Connelly