Listening to jazz great Frank Morgan playing the saxophone, one can hear the years of study and training, the emulations of his mentor, the master, Charlie Parker, and the suffering, patience and redemption gleaned from years of life. harsh and incarceration. Everything comes together to reveal the knowledge, mastery and emotion of a great artist in a pure and gentle tone, in a magic word. In the year 2000, when Frank first came to Taos to play a two-night gig, he felt something resonate within him. According to taosjazz.org, “he fell in love with the city” and quickly decided to make it his home. Thus intertwine the mysterious and multicultural magic of Taos and the rich and sophisticated magic of jazz.
Between 2000 and 2005, Frank performed regularly at the Taos Inn. For Taos jazz fans, it was a godsend to have such an esteemed player set up residence in their very living room. In 2007, Frank Morgan passed away. Resident of Taos and good friend of Frank, Alfred Hobbs, legendary in his own right, organized a tribute concert. He arranged for a young student of Frank’s, Grace Kelly, then only seventeen years old, to come and perform in Frank’s honor. This beautiful event led directly to the founding of the Taos Jazz Bebop Society and the Frank Morgan Jazz Festival.
Since November 2015, with the first annual Frank Morgan Jazz Festival, the Taos Jazz Bebop Society has hosted world-class jazz performances at various venues in Taos and surrounding areas. Grace Kelly, George Cables, Tootie Heath, Bill Frissel, Charles McPherson, the list goes on. All of these big names have graced the stages of Taos thanks to Frank Morgan’s appreciation for the magic of this place. Jazz enthusiast and one of the founders of the Taos Jazz Bebop Society, Eric Gladstone, explains, “We had world-class, high-end jazz. And how do they manage to entice such gifted players to return to this remote, desert town. Gladstone says, “Taos is a magical place.”
When the Taos Jazz Bebop Society started bringing jazz to town, the magic multiplied. In 2015, the year of the first official Frank Morgan Jazz Festival, the year Frank’s love, Rosalinda, scattered Frank’s ashes at the foot of the tree in the courtyard of the Taos Inn, Gladstone and other members of the Bebop society were looking for accommodation for Grace Kelly and her family in town for the festival. They saw fit to move them into the house that had belonged to Frank’s then-deceased friend Alfred Hobbs. The new owners of the house, then renting it to vacationers, have offered the place free of charge to the actors of the festival and this for several years.
In July 2018, saxophonist Charles McPherson traveled to Taos to play a show at Harwood. Using generously donated funds, the Taos Jazz Bebop Society paid to have a billboard posted near Pojoaque to promote the show. “Charles had never seen a billboard of himself!” Gladstone exclaimed, saying the great musician was thrilled with the experience.
In November 2019, George Cables was performing with an ensemble at the TCA. There was a storm in late fall and the power went out in the theater. Despite the fact that the sound equipment had turned off and the auditorium was in total darkness, the band continued to play. Truth be told, a grand piano, double bass, tenor sax, and drums sound great without amplification. Also, after about a minute, an emergency light came on above the stage. It was the only light in the house and it shone directly on Doug Lawrence on sax. “He looked like Dexter Gordon on the cover of the movie ‘Round Midnight’,” Gladstone recalled. The audience cheered and the band continued to play.
These are the moments that highlight the magic of mixing jazz with Taos. Another highlight for Gladstone was having Bob Dorough perform at the Harwood in 2016. “I don’t usually care much about singers,” Gladstone said, “but this guy was the hippest of the hipsters.” For those in the know, Dorough was no stranger to magic himself. He wrote: “Three is a magic number…. past, present and future… heart, brain and body give you three is a magic number.
And so it was that the heart, brain and body of one Frank Morgan blew its magic, softly, gently, “sometimes almost to a whisper”, according to jazz enthusiast Judy Katzman, through the horn of Taos . In doing so, he left a legacy and started a scene that lives on in the past, present and future.
The Taos Jazz Bebop Society has creatively navigated the pandemic by hosting outdoor concerts and using funds to help support musicians who lost their jobs in 2020. And there’s no sign of stopping . The organization has events planned for the spring and summer of 2022, including possible performances by Pernell Steen and The Jazz Machine, Greg Abate, and the Peter Erskine Trio with special guest George Garzone. Donations to the Taos Jazz Bebop Society are always welcome and can be made through their website at taosjazz.org.