Revinylization #7: Lee Morgan's The Cooker

Jazz collecting has an archaeological aspect to it; it's one of my favorite aspects of the hobby. Far more than most other genres, jazz evolved over its first several decades, and it did so on record. Every musician was distinctive, changed from session to session, and interacted with other musicians in ways specific to the ensemble, the time, the place, and the mood. Every record, live or from a studio, is a snapshot of where jazz was precisely then and there. You can get to know musicians' styles, and with practice, you can really hear what's going on.

I called it "archaeological," but most archaeology is dry, dusty stuff, at least compared to jazz. Archaeologists dig for hours, painstakingly, for a bone fragment or a small piece of a pot. With jazz, you buy a record, put it on the 'table, and access the vital force of a moment in musical history.

In the 1940s, jazz's mainstream (as we think of it today) moved away from blues and toward harmonic experimentation and abstraction. A second branch, exemplified by alto player Louis Jordan (the yang to Bird's yin), went the other way, embracing blues and straight-ahead rhythms and blazing a trail toward rock'n'roll. But there was always cross-fertilization, and in the '50s the bebop-influenced jazz mainstream began to crave an earthier sound and to move back toward blues.

In 1957, just two weeks out from a session with John Coltrane that produced Blue Train (arguably Trane's first great album), Lee Morgan took Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones—two-thirds of Trane's (and Miles's) rhythm section—into Rudy Van Gelder's studio. Morgan was, at age 19, already a veteran with a rapidly expanding discography. This was his 18th session of the year and his sixth session as leader (including one as co-leader, with Wynton Kelly). Either Chambers or Jones had played on all five Morgan-led albums, but never before had both played at the same time.

In 1950s jazz, geography still mattered, and Philadelphia was having a moment. Morgan was from Philly, having followed his idol, Clifford Brown, out of town just before Brown died, at age 23, the year before. Philly Joe, of course, was also from Philly.

Philadelphia was known for a relatively funky sound. Filling New Yorker Kenny Drew's seat from the Blue Train band, Bobby Timmons, a Horace Silver protégé, brought some of that with him. (The following year, Timmons would write the standard "Moanin'," and Morgan and Timmons would join Art Blakey's all-Pennsylvania Jazz Messengers. Blakey was from Pittsburgh.)

The Cooker leads off with Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," which Morgan and Timmons had recorded earlier that same year with the Jazz Messengers. "Tunisia" starts off here, as it does there, with drums and a strong rhythmic pulse before Morgan plays the melody and Pepper Adams takes a short solo. An extended Morgan solo follows, combining virtuosic bebopish riffs with subtle rhythm-and-blues embellishments. Pepper answers, alternating on- and off-the-beat passages while swinging propulsively. And off we go. Throughout this album, including here, Timmons swings the hardest.

On "Lover Man," Morgan demonstrates that a player known for slash-and-burn—Morgan is the cooker after all, although Timmons steals the show—can be introspective. Beautiful stuff.

The Cooker, then, is late-'50s, Philly-tinged, hard-bop featuring an extroverted trumpet player and propelled by a Coltrane/Davis rhythm section. The Philadelphia influence ensures it swings. It is, as we say around my house, easy to listen to.

Like other late-'50s Blue Notes, The Cooker was first released in mono. The stereo version didn't come out until 1968. (In his studio, Van Gelder had just started recording in stereo at a May session that same year, with Horace Silver.) Both recordings—mono and stereo—are very well-made. The piano isn't muffled as it often is, or not very.

Mono originals of The Cooker in good shape sell in the high hundreds of dollars, up to thousands. The previous US vinyl reissue—in 2006 from Classic Records—was of the mono version; a few factory-sealed copies are still around, selling for more than $100. Early stereo copies are hard to find—and pricey. With patience, you can find a '70s reissue in the $50 range.

For vinyl fans who don't want to enter the collector's market, this new stereo Tone Poet is the only real choice. Fortunately, it's superb. Like all the records in this series, it was supervised by Tone Poet Joe Harley, remastered by Kevin Gray from the original analog tapes, and pressed to pristine 180gm vinyl at RTI. In contrast to too many high-end jazz-vinyl reissues, this is a proper 33rpm LP, with all the songs on a single disc, just like the original (stereo) issue. The gatefold cover is meticulously crafted. The vinyl is quiet, without meaningful flaws. The stereo images are corporeal, and the soundstage has real depth. To my ear, this sounds slightly better than the 24/192 FLAC file on Qobuz—I don't know how or why—with a slightly wider stage and denser sonic images.

The only reason not to buy this record is if you don't have a record player, or if you're broke.

Hibernian's picture

What a terrific review; I had no idea that Lee Morgan was just 19 at the time he recorded "The Cooker". If I hadn't already bought all of the Tone Poet series, I would make it a point of picking this up as I love many of the fifties & sixties jazz.

avanti1960's picture

We live in abundantly rich times as far as jazz vinyl recordings go. As music that was well before my youth, my post-middle age days are in spent in musical heaven with these reissues.
Every "Blue Note" LP is a magical work of art. CD and digital need not apply.

tonykaz's picture

Stereophile probably needs to have a Curator's Corner covering Jazz histories, the Labels, the Philosophies and personal analysis of this Important Content.

Of course, it's mostly Dark Skinned musicians, their struggles and reactions to trying to live a Professional Life.

The JAZZ Shepherd on YouTube is our leading Professor, isn't, he?

He should be a Stereophile regular contributor but he is not an Audiophile, has never cleaned a record and spins his music on DJ Gear. ( reminds me of Joe Bussard )

I am not a Jazz person but I find the Jazz Shepherd a captivating story teller, this person is a Tyll & Mr.HR in importance.

I hope

Tony in Venice

wgb113's picture

@Jim Austin you should hit up Ken Micallef regarding The Jazz Shepherd - he's done a few YT videos with him I believe.

Having gotten into Jazz (and vinyl) at the same time about 10 years ago the reissues have been great in terms of accessible discovery and value. Though I'm almost a decade in I'm still quite a novice when it comes to the knowledge that many who have been into much longer than I have.

For those who haven't seen it, the documentary on Netflix "I Called Him Morgan" is quite good.

volvic's picture

Don't let anyone tell you they are not good or there is tape flutter, or warble on the record blah blah. I have quite a few of these releases and they are all fantastic and yes will get this one as well. One warning for those that have never ordered from the Blue Note site, save yourself the grief and get it from Elusive Disc or Acoustic Sounds. All four times I have ordered, I have never received anything in one single delivery, sometimes getting one title can take months. I would love to order straight from Blue Note but the wait times have been too long for me.

TNtransplant's picture

Not sure how much is COVID-related but the turnaround on recent orders is pretty dismal.

volvic's picture

Funny as your reply came in I was looking at my text message from Blue Note regarding my Art Blakey record. I got the message two days ago that it was being shipped and it still hasn't even been sent out, merely the label was created. Their slow shipping happened long before COVID. I had ordered quite a few in November and they didn't go out until December and January and they even forgot to send The Birth of the Cool until I emailed them in March. I now order from other sites no longer direct from their site.

TNtransplant's picture

Are you in US? My order also sat another day after the UPS shipping label was finally created over 2 weeks after originally indicated shipping date. Any chance it is coming from someplace called Warehousing Pros in Nashville? I literally could have walked to the warehouse and back in the time it took my order to arrive.

Seems like uDiscover Music (which handles Blue Note) is mostly based in UK. They may have no idea that US branch's fulfillment is terrible. I'm now pre-ordering with a small local record store -- they're usually able to get from one of their suppliers and while the prices are a bit higher think now more than ever indie record shops could use the business.

Good luck!

volvic's picture

Over at Analog Planet he does what I do now, order from Elusive Disc or Chad Kassem's site. Trouble is these days they too are back-ordered.

TNtransplant's picture

Thanks for a fine review. Personally, I rate the more fully realized 'Search for the New Land', 'Cornbread' and, Morgan's "hit" 'The Sidewinder' as places to start for recordings under his own name, along with several great albums with Blakey's Jazz Messengers. But the front line pairing of Morgan with the underrated Pepper Adams baritone is a cool change of pace.

Also strongly recommend the documentary "I Called Him Morgan" (available on Netflix) to learn more about this artist, who led a tragically short, difficult life.

A few quibbles: The "yin/yang" of Charlie Parker vs. Louis Jordan is a bit of an oversimplification. Listen to Bird's "Now's the Time" and then Paul Williams "The Hucklebuck". ('Now's the Time' is also a blues form btw; coming from KC Bird was a superb blues player.)

Or Parker-acolyte Coltrane starting out with R&B-ish Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson and mixing in Earl Bostic with early stints with Gillespie and Johnny Hodges? And not so sure that 40's/50's Philadelphia/Pittsburgh scene was that much "funkier" than, let's say, Detroit (where Sidewinder pianist Barry Harris hailed from) or Chicago (Gene Ammons, Junior Mance)... or Connecticut (Horace Silver)? Mingus from L.A. was working with "Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" Lionel Hampton (and Kid Ory!) before the drummer-less trio with Red Norvo. Not quite that simple.

Never heard of "The Jazz Shepherd" before but for a more authoritative albeit old-school resource such as a book, check out Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux's 'Jazz' and going back even further Martin Williams seminal 'The Jazz Tradition'

Jim Austin's picture

Comments graciously accepted, as I'm sure they were intended.

There's little here to disagree with. I agree that the Parker/Jordan yin/yang is oversimplified--note that I did say that "there was always cross-fertilization, ..." and that Detroit in particular was another "funky" place. The contrast was with the New York City scene. Not sure Connecticut had a "scene" beyond Silver, but there's no denying his funkier influence (including on Timmons).

Most of these guys were astonishing musicians, and Bird could certainly play blues. The point is that in the '40s he went in a different direction.

But it's all good. Fact is, although I've listened to jazz for decades, I'm still more enthusiastic student than scholar. I'm in the fortunate position to be able to share what I discover along the way, so I will do so.

Best Wishes,

Jim Austin, Editor

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, I didn't realize that you also are a JAZZ historian.

Your discussion on these matters seems authoritative.

I wonder if there are other knowledge Icebergs hidden below the surface ? ( probably so )

Stereophile keeps showing us the ways we've won Life's-Lottery.

Tony in Venice

tonykaz's picture

Can I ask how you organise your music?

I have the calculated view that 21st Century working professionals need to spread themselves thin when it comes to personal time.

I kinda wish you would've done one of those JA/Jana Video Interviews.

Of course, you just might be a retiringly camera-shy sort of person

Tony in Venice

Jim Austin's picture

How do I organize my music? Badly, for precisely the reason you indicate: Not enough time to do it right. I should note that this applies only to LPs, since my CDs are ripped and boxed, the resulting files organized by Roon.

Usually my goal is just to stick the record back on the shelf among the leader's other records. If a session has more than one leader, I make a judgment as to who is dominant. For a few albums, I've bought extra copies so that I'll have one in each leader's section.

The main point, though, is that although I've got ideas about how I'd like to do it, I don't do much organizing within a particular leader's section, which means finding a particular record in the Mingus or Ellington sections--the biggest--always takes a few minutes. If I ever have time, I'll organize records within each leader's section historically, by issue date. There are other open questions though: Should Ellington's or Basie's small-group sessions have a section of their own, outside the big band stuff? I'd say yes and have my Basie/Kansas City stuff separated out, but not my Ellington small-group sessions, or not consistently.

>>Of course, you just might be a retiringly camera-shy sort of person

Not precisely, but I do consider myself more of a behind-the-scenes guy.

As to my writing being "authoritative," I'll just say that I'm an enthusiastic reader and researcher, and that, to paraphrase the late, great science writer Stephen Jay Gould, it's not so much that I know a lot; it's that I make good use of what I know.

Jim Austin, Editor

tonykaz's picture

The Jazz Shepard just went thru a re-organization process that failed. He attempted the A-Z System.

I found his work aspirational & informative.

Still, Jazz folks need to be 33.3 capable so they need the proper storage and organization that might not exist. If I discover something useful, I'll share it.

Tony in Venice

ps. my system is to have all my 33.3 in prepared shipping cartons so that my Grandchildren will have an easier time of....

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Q: What do we get when we cross a fisherman with a jazz enthusiast? .......
A: An Anglo-Saxon :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

I just checked at the Jetty, none of the fish people are jazz. They are wacky-tobaccy and Box Wine which sort of makes up for it, doncha think?

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are they like 'Quint' in the 1975 movie Jaws? :-) ........