Music moves us. No matter who you are, at one point or another, you’ve heard a song that has reached deep inside and spoke to you. The documentary, “The Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story,” tells the tale of jazz musician Frank Morgan, considered by many to the greatest alto sax player of his generation. The film follows Morgan’s turbulent but impactful history, with the focus of the film being a concert performed by six legendary jazz musicians at San Quentin, the California prison where Morgan was incarcerated for nearly three decades.
Frank Morgan started playing saxophone professionally when he was a teenager. During the Los Angeles music scene of the 40s and 50s, Morgan ventured out to the west coast to join his father, Stanley Morgan, who played guitar in a band called the Ink Spots. Frank quickly drew attention to himself because of his flawless saxophone skills. Morgan eventually opened for acts like Billie Holiday and winning a TV talent show, but was unfortunately denied the prize because he was African-American; this was a common theme throughout the lives of many black musicians of the time. Morgan was the mentee of bebop virtuoso Charlie “Bird” Parker, but instead of picking up where Charlie left off after Parkers death in 1955, he fell into a life of drug addiction, crime, and eventual imprisonment in San Quentin, California. The concert at San Quentin is intercut throughout the documentary, and the prisoners, as well as the musicians, all come together to enjoy a day dedicated to Morgan, who, while incarcerated, played with a 16-piece band known as the San Quentin All-Stars and performed for paying visitors.
The director, N.C. Heikin, has crafted an interesting film that shines light on a musician that many people may not know. Morgan battled racism and segregation throughout his life, but still managed to climb to the top ranks of jazz. Many of the African-American musicians interviewed in the film even talk about how they were discouraged from attending college or taking academic high school classes. Heikin offers viewers lots of audio samples of Morgan’s music throughout the film; it’s melancholy and tender. Despite the problematic period of time that Morgan went through, one thing he could always count on was his music. Sound of Redemption is a great documentary that paints a fascinating picture of a talented musician whose music helped him get through the most difficult years of his life.