Since day one in 2015, the Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival has been a cultural magnet in Northern New Mexico, attracting world-class jazz artists and fans to Taos in late-autumn. How does great jazz find it’s way to Taos? You have to admit, it’s a unique place to find world-class jazz. It all started with Frank Morgan, who called Taos "home".
Decades before he landed in Taos, Frank's life revolved around his horn… and heroin. When he was just 16 he caught the attention and admiration of leading jazz artists– most importantly, Charlie Parker. Hailed as "the new Bird" (Parker's nickname), Frank impressed listeners in Los Angeles with his precocious command of the bebop idiom. Hero-worshipping Parker to the full, he embraced Parker's destructive lifestyle and became addicted to heroin when he was just 17. "Bird was very disappointed when he found I was using [heroin]," Morgan said. "I thought he would be extremely happy."
In those early days, Frank was becoming a solid part of the West Coast Jazz scene in LA– sitting in with Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards, and backing visiting stars like Billie Holiday and comedian Redd Foxx. He played every late-night jam session he could find. But like so many other jazz artists in those days, drugs and prison intervened. Yes, Frank spent decades, on and off, behind bars.
Chico Hamilton, Frank Morgan, Red Callender, Dexter Gordon, Gerald Wiggins
Frank and Rosalinda
In between periods of incarceration, Frank always resumed his playing career, recording numerous sessions on a number of different labels, notably with Cedar Walton, Bud Shank and his long-time friend and collaborator, George Cables.
Finally, in 1986, he was released and decided to put his life in order. He married his soulmate, artist Rosalinda Kolb. More music followed and the reviews were stunningly good. Frank Morgan was back.
Now back east, Frank heard about a young Korean girl in town who was a bebop prodigy on the saxophone. Her name was Grace Kelly. One night, she came into the club with her parents– and her horn– and Frank invited her to sit in. Well, that was it. Frank was completely blown away by the young teenager's talent and jazz chops. "I've been waiting my whole life to meet her," he said. Frank became Grace's mentor and teacher. She called him "Grandpa" and modeled her sound after his. Frank introduced Grace to the wide world of JAZZ. And the jazz world began to take notice.
The Taos Years– In 2000, Frank did a two-night gig in Taos and fell in love with the town. Taos jazz fans were estatic. For the next five years, Frank made his home here and regularly played in the cozy Adobe Bar of the Taos Inn. Though his health was declining, Frank continued to teach and mentor Grace via daily phone calls, and whenever they could meet. Then in 2007, Frank Morgan died. His wife, Rosalinda, had his ashes buried in the courtyard of Taos Inn. He was gone, but those who had known him in Taos were not yet ready to let him go. Among them was Frank's best friend in Taos, Alfred Hobbs.
Hobbs was a world traveler, explorer, and contract archeologist. Long before Frank found his way to Taos, Alfred Hobbs had landed here as a graduate student to study the small-group politics of local hippie communes. Very soon he discovered that it was more fun to live it than study it– and quickly called Taos home.
He became Frank's buddy and his biggest fan– even inventing performance opportunities for him. Once Hobbs got permission from the Bureau of Land Management to produce a concert down in the Rio Grande Gorge. Frank and flutist Nancy Laupheimer played on one side of the river while the audience sat on the other side. They called the show "Music Off The Wall." What a sound!
After Frank died, Hobbs arranged to have a memorial show at Taos Inn. He brought Grace Kelly back to Taos to play in Frank's honor.
And so– the seed was planted. The first official Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival was presented in 2015. With support from our members, contributors and generous sponsors, we will strive to keep this alive!
Frank and Grace Kelly, age 13
Grace Kelly–2015 Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival
Read more about Frank Morgan. Visit Noal Cohen's Jazz History Website