Pianist Nate Morgan has slipped away.
He’d been ill for some time, his playing days behind him. But those were some days. You’d have been hard pressed to find a more inspired and exciting jazz piano player in all of L.A. There were nights at Charlie O’s that were extraordinary, and nights at the World Stage that defied my powers of description. That was his scene, Leimert Park, going way back. I always thought that was where you saw the real Nate Morgan. It was at the World Stage that he truly connected. And I’m so happy I got to see him all there those times, and that I later even got to know him, gruff and silent and smartassed in that jazzman way.
The thing about jazz is that it’s so improvisational and when you hear something, no matter how brilliant, you’ll never hear it again. Certainly not live. Of course you can listen back over and over if it was recorded. But like most LA jazz players, especially our black jazz players, his recorded legacy is thin, so thin. There was an era when a Nate Morgan would have had a dozen albums, maybe two dozen. They’d be classics, too, all of them. Now instead you have to hear him playing up a storm on other people’s records. And it’s hard to find most of those, even. L.A. jazz just disappears with the players anymore. Everything they were on their instruments, all that glorious music they pitched into, it just disappears. Fades with the time. People talk and remember and tell their stories. They relive in their heads the magic nights in Leimert Park or Charlie O’s. But even we rememberers will be gone too, eventually. And what happens to jazz when those that remember it are gone? I don’t know.
But for now I’ll remember big, hulking Nate Morgan spinning those incredibly beautiful solos of his. I’ll remember his perfectly understated comping, the hints of the melody dropped in just right. I’ll remember too the sheer intelligence of his playing, the grace in his fingers, his fearless improvisation. But mostly I’ll think back on those truly memorable nights when Nate Morgan seemed like one of the greatest piano players you had ever heard.