About The Film

On a snowy night in February 1972, the 33 year old jazz trumpet star Lee Morgan was shot dead by his common-law wife, Helen, during a gig at a club in New York City. The murder sent shockwaves through the jazz community, and the memory of the event still haunts the people who knew the Morgans. Helen served time for the crime and, following her release, retreated into obscurity. Over 20 years later, a chance encounter led her to give a remarkable interview. Helen’s revealing audio “testimony” acts as a refrain throughout the film, which draws together a wealth of archival photographs and footage, notable talking heads and incredible jazz music to tell the ill-fated pair’s story. Part true-crime tale, part love story, and an all-out musical treat, I CALLED HIM MORGAN is a stirring tribute to two unique personalities and the music that brought them together. A film by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin (My Name Is Albert Ayler). Featuring cinematography by Oscar-nominated DoP Bradford Young (Selma, Arrival).

I Called Him Morgan premiered on September 1, 2016 in the official selection at the 73rd Venice Film Festival and went on to play Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival.


Director, Producer, Writer: Kasper Collin
Cinematography: Bradford Young, Erik Vallsten
Music: Lee Morgan and others.
Editing: Hanna Lejonqvist, Eva Hillström, Dino Jonsäter, Kasper Collin
Sound: Jan Alvermark, Mario Adamson
Executive producers: Ron Mann, Nicole Stott, Dan Braun
Co-producers: Emelie Persson (SVT), Ami Ekström (Film Väst)
Sales agent: Submarine Entertainment

Larry Reni Thomas – Writer and teacher for adult students
Wayne Shorter – Saxophonist and composer
Paul West – Bass player In Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra, manager of Jazzmobile workshop
Charli Persip – Drummer In Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra
Albert “Tootie” Heath – Drummer
Ron St. Clair – Neighbor and friend
Larry Ridley – Bass player
Jymie Merritt – Bass player and composer
Al Harrison – Helen Morgan’s son
Lena Sherrod – Girlfriend of Lee Morgan
Bennie Maupin – Saxophonist and composer
Jerry Schultz – Owner of Slug’s Saloon
Judith Johnson – Friend of Lee Morgan
Billy Harper – Saxophonist and composer


Music featured in I CALLED HIM MORGAN:

“Search for The New Land”
Performed and Written by Lee Morgan

“Moanin’ – Live”
Performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Written by Robert Timmons

“A Night In Tunisia – Live (1957/Newport)”
Performed by Dizzy Gillespie
Written by John Gillespie, Frank Paparelli

“Gaza Strip”
Performed by Lee Morgan
Written by Owen E. Marshall

“Dat Dere – Live”
Performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Written by Bobby Timmons

“Tom Cat”
Performed and Written by Lee Morgan

Performed and Written by Lee Morgan

“Politely – Live”
Performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Written by Bill Hardman

Performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Written by Curtis Fuller

“Lament for Stacy – Live”
Performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Written by Lee Morgan

“The Procrastinator”
Performed and Written by Lee Morgan

“Helen’s Ritual”
Performed and Written by Lee Morgan

“Like Someone in Love”
Performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
Written by Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke

“Absolutions – Live”
Performed by Lee Morgan
Written by Jymie Merritt

“The Morning After”
Performed and Written by Hank Mobley

“In What Direction Are You Headed?”
Performed by Lee Morgan
Written by Harold Mabern, Jr.

“August To The Future – Live”
Performed and Written by Freddie Waits

“Angela – Live”
Performed by Lee Morgan
Written by Jymie Merritt



KASPER COLLIN – writer, producer, director, editor
I CALLED HIM MORGAN is Kasper Collin’s second feature film. He directed the critically acclaimed documentary MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER (2006), which was theatrically released in the UK and US in 2007 and 2008 and was exceptionally well received — Sight & Sound said the film was “A triumph … turning Ayler’s short turbulent life into compelling narrative,” while The New Yorker praised it as “…remarkable… offers magical moments of a madeleine-like power…a cause for rejoicing” and Jazz Times dubbed the title “one of the most starkly beautiful and moving documentaries ever made about a jazz musician.” Kasper currently lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, and runs his own production company. He has worked as a producer for other filmmakers and was chairman of the Independent Filmmakers Organization in Sweden between 2009 and 2014. Kasper has a degree in Culture and Film Studies from Gothenburg University and has been working in film and television since the mid-1990s.


In the past five years, Bradford Young has shot some of the most stunningly beautiful independent feature films to hit the mainstream, including AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS and, more recently, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, Oscar winner SELMA and ARRIVAL. Bradford was nominated for an Academy Award for ARRIVAL and has also won cinematography awards at the Sundance Film Festival twice — in 2011, for his work on PARIAH and, two years later, for his work on both MOTHER OF GEORGE and AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS. Hailed by the New York Times as a “Custodian of the Moment,” Bradford also creates art installations, which combine sculptural and motion picture elements.


Hanna Lejonqvist is a writer and editor, best known for her work on MY SKINNY SISTER and
THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE, for which Hanna was awarded the Sundance Film Festival
World Cinema Editing Award and the Guldbagge Best Editor Award.

Eva Hillström previously collaborated with Kasper Collins on MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER.
She is one of Sweden’s most experienced documentary film editors.

BAFTA-nominated editor Dino Jonsäter works across narrative and feature documentaries. His best-known work includes BLUE BIRD and collaborations with Tomas Alfredson on LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and TINKER TAILER SOLIDER SPY.


Toronto filmmaker Ron Mann is one of Canada’s foremost documentary filmmakers. Ron established his international reputation while in his twenties with a series of award-winning theatrical documentaries and has also acted as executive producer on the documentaries EXAMINED LIFE, MIGHTY UKE and LUNARCY! In 2002, Ron founded FILMS WE LIKE, a boutique distributor of documentary, independent and international films in Canada. Starting with Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND, the company has released over 300 films and counting.

Nicole Stott is Head of Creative and producer for Passion Pictures in London where she drives the company’s prolific film slate alongside veteran producer John Battsek. She variously produces, co-produces or executive produces specific titles for Passion including: Academy Award winner SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN; triple Emmy-nominated BETTER THIS WORLD; Sundance Audience Award-winning THE GREEN PRINCE and SXSW Grand Jury Award winner THE GREAT INVISIBLE. More recently, Nicole co-produced the BAFTA nominated LISTEN TO ME MARLON.

Dan Braun formed Submarine Entertainment with his brother Josh Braun in 2001, and has represented and sold for distribution a prolific number of acclaimed film titles, including several Academy Award winners for best documentary feature such as TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, MAN ON WIRE, SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN, and CITIZENFOUR. Dan has executive produced various titles including: KILL YOUR IDOLS, BLANK CITY and SUNSHINE SUPERMAN. More recently, he produced the biographical feature documentary PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT.



On the background to the film

Seven years ago I chanced across a clip on YouTube of Lee Morgan from Tokyo in 1961
playing a solo in the tune Dat Dere with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — an amazing
performance that moved me deeply. I just played it over and over again. That excerpt, and the
 experience watching and listning to it, was the pivotal point for me in deciding to try and make 
this film.

When I embarked on the early stages of research, I knew Lee was a phenomenal musician
 and his life seemed to be part of a fairy tale or mystery. He broke through as a prodigious 17-
year-old in 1956 with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, made a bunch of his own records for the Blue 
Note label already as a teenager, contributed to John Coltrane’s Blue Train album, became the
 star in Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and toured with them all over the world when he
was just in his early 20s. I know that he was one of the most recorded artists in the Blue Note
 catalogue and that he had made a large amount of albums in his own name up until his
sudden death in 1972.


On Helen’s part in Lee’s story and in the film

When I started working on the film, Helen and the complexity of their relationship was an
 aspect of Lee’s story that I didn’t know. Until then, she had just been the woman who shot and 
killed Lee. I had no idea about the rest of the story.
Once I started meeting the people who knew Lee, many of them wanted to rather immediately 
talk about the last years and about Helen and her importance in his life, often in a very loving
 way. The grief was still there—the grief of losing not just one of their best friends, but two of
 them and the fact that one of them shot the other. The closer I got to Lee’s story it became 
apparent that a film about Lee also had to be about Helen.
Early in the project I got in contact with the writer Larry Reni Thomas from North Carolina, who
 had made the incredible interview with Helen on a cassette tape just one month before she
 died in 1996, where she told the story of her life and her relationship with Lee and how she 
helped him back from his drug addiction.
The discovery of the recording of Helen’s voice was very important and provided the film with a
 kind of intimacy. Helen’s voice, her story and her way of telling it immediately gripped me.


On the line up of participants and eye witnesses

My last film was about musician Albert Ayler and was well received in the US and England and 
it seemed to have particular resonance for many musicians. As a result, the participants in the 
film had confidence in me. However, it was still a long wait to get some important people on 
board. I waited four years for Wayne Shorter. It’s well known he has previously more or less 
refused to talk about the past. But since he and Lee had such a close relationship, as artists 
and friends, I knew he was crucial for the film and it was important to wait for him. It also was a
 process to find and get Judith Johnson on board, one of the closest friends Lee had his last 

When I told the names of the participants in this film to an American radio host he said: ”you
 have corralled a virtual ‘Who’s Who,’ of some of the greatest improvisers and music thinkers 
and purveyors of America’s classical music gift to the world.” And I think that’s true. But I think it is important to point out that my contributors are not in the film just because they are big
 names in the jazz world, but because they were all closely tied to Lee and/or Helen.

My long in-depth interview process can be demanding and I am very grateful that the
interviewees were so generous and patient.


On finding the photographic archive material

When I started this project I had no idea Lee was this well documented in still photographs. One of the founders of Blue Note Records, Francis Wolff, was a photographer and
 documented nearly all the music sessions as well as life around the studio. I found out that Lee was
 documented on more than 160 contact sheets and there were almost 2000 photos with him
between 1956 and 1967, all in black and white. Between ’68 and ’71 photos were shot on 
colour slides. I initially planned to stay in the archive for a few hours and it turned out that I
 went back there several times and stayed for full days. I made Xerox copies of all the contact
 sheets to bring with me into the edit process. I had all of them scanned and we then made 
enlargements of many of the photos. It was a stunning collection of material for a documentary 

I remember when editor Eva Hillström and I were editing in her apartment and we
 crawled around on her living room floor among hundreds of enlargements, most of them never
 seen before, observing the changes in Lee’s life. Photo sequences emerged in front of us. You 
could see the communion between the musicians and all the happiness in the studio, and the
 spiritual level. This common day in the studio thing was fantastic and this funny guy, Lee, who
 made everyone laugh all the time. I really enjoyed that part a lot, to create from those 
photographs small scenes in the film.

Another still photographer who meant a lot to this project is Val Wilmer, to me one of the
greatest music-related phtographers of all times. She met Lee on several occasions, the last
 time in the fall of 1971 in Helen and Lee’s Bronx apartment. I had access to all of her pictures 
in the editing, and many of them are warm personal shots which bring an important intimacy to
 the film.

Another significant photographic archive comes from Chuck Stewart and Ozier

Helen never did like to be photographed and it was a real challenge to find stills of her from her 
heyday. We looked everywhere and tried everything. Then, finally, almost six years into the
project, the son of a musician told me his father — who knew the couple — always had a
 camera with him when he was with them, and there were actually photos of Lee and Helen in 
the family albums.


On the newly created visual elements in the film

There are different strands of newly filmed material in the documentary – the interviews, some
”memory” visuals, and the 16mm material that illustrates Helen’s story. For all these, I 
collaborated with the very talented American cinematographer and artist Bradford Young, who 
shot SELMA, among other films. We met when I lived in New York in 2010. Brad created a 
special tone in the visual material. A source of inspiration when we started doing the interviews
 was the artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s amazing painted portraits.

There is such a poetic strength in Helen’s voice, in her story and her way of telling it that I
 wanted to maintain focus on the voice. I decided to use carefully created moving images that 
looked like found snippets of home movies that would convey a more poetic feeling than the 
standard archive footage. I’m not a big fan of “re-enactments” or “recreations” so it was a real
 challenge to find a way that worked for me personally.

We decided to shoot this strand in 16mm and pushed two stops to create a special grain. We worked with old Bolex cameras that were rebuilt to super 16mm. Brad Young set the visual
tone for this material early on in the project. The rest of this material was then shot mainly by
 Erik Vallsten and partly also by me. I also had the help of two second units in New York for 
some pickups, among them Shawn Peters, another talented American cinematographer.
 This material has been combined with my own archive of 8mm footage from New York and
 other parts of the US in the 1950s and ‘60s.


On the snow storms

To film a blizzard in New York was one of my first visual ideas for the film. That Lee’s life 
ended in a snow storm in February 1972 was something that intrigued me, and that the
a mbulance seemed to have had severe complications arriving at the club after the shot. 
Without the storm he might have survived. If you ever have experienced a full blizzard in New 
York City you know that it is a rather special thing.

I was living in New York City for six months in 2010 and 2011 so I had a chance to wait for the 
blizzards to come and then shot a few pick-ups in 2012. Bradford Young shot part of the snow
 footage in 2010 really beautifully and set the tone here. Actually, the two snow storms that the
 majority of the film’s snow footage is from are two of the ten worst in the history of New York.


On the editing process

The edit spanned a three-year period with around one year accumulative actual editing time
 with planned breaks at specific junctures for complementary shooting. The film required a long 
editing process and I was lucky enough to work with some incredible editors on the film: Hanna 
Lejonqvist, Eva Hillström and Dino Jonsäter.

I learned from my previous long-term film project (MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER) that there 
are no short cuts in making a film like this. And as this film is also based on music and specific
 archive material, I wanted to work as organically as possible and you need time to do that.

I portrayed two people that, with fragmented material, I am trying to bring back to life, at least
 for small moments, so that it hopefully will be possible to see what died with them.

I wanted to shine a light on two unique people who I think both need to be better known. Lee
 for his fantastic playing and compositions, and Helen for trying to save Lee’s life and giving him
back to us, at least for a while.

While the music is absolutely fundamental to the story, it is also not a film that requires an
 audience already interested in a certain type of jazz, or in jazz at all. I really hope the film will
 attract new people to Lee’s music.

It is very important for me to let the music play a prominent roll in this film. Lee is an artist who
 for different circumstances made an enormous amount of records and it can therefore be hard 
to find his very best stuff. My aim has been to feature the music that I think has a special
 strength and beauty. It’s also important that the music is incorporated as organically as
possible into the film’s narrative flow.

In terms of the greatness of the music in the film and the strength of Lee’s talent, my feeling is
 this doesn’t have to be overstated. I trust the audience will come to realize that through the



Interview with Helen Morgan, 
February 1996: by Larry Reni Thomas in Wilmington, North Carolina

Interview with Lee Morgan, October 1971: by Val Wilmer in Helen’s and Lee’s apartment on Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY