Have you seen Don McKellar?

Review: Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story

The character Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, from the novels of acclaimed mystery writer Michael Connelly is a jazz aficionado and has a couple of times mentioned playing a Frank Morgan saxophone record.

The one problem for the book readers is that outside of serious jazz circles, the average person has probably never even heard of the saxophonist. This is a shame because the music should run through Connelly’s L.A. Noir fiction. This issue is partly rectified through The Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story. The documentary is co-produced by Connelly and features the author, and is directed by N.C. Heiken.

While Connelly and Heiken truly admire the (sadly departed) subject, the doc does not spare any of the happy-sad details, starkly outlining Morgan’s descent into using, leading to a troubled life and extended stay at San Quentin,(though “in installments”).

This is not a cautionary tale, though, as the once child prodigy, once thought to be “the Next Bird”, (Charlie Parker), re-emerges in the eighties as if he had not missed a beat. The tragedy of the story is that 1. Parker has not yet been discovered (or rediscovered) by the public and that 2. he was not the only musician addicted to drugs that was sent to prison.

There is another film beating within the heart of The Sound of Redemption. Morgan’s peers and followers performed a tribute concert at San Quentin in 2012, which features some of the most pure playing assembled, (and the reaction shots are worth a watch as well). A young saxophonist by the name of Grace Kelly delivers a stirring performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and the doc does not cut away. The film as a whole cannot compete with the magnitude of the moment (or the archival scenes in which Morgan himself plays), but is a decent entry point into his life and legacy.

[star v=35]