When Michael Connelly first broached the subject of Frank Morgan, I had never heard of him. Michael said Frank was a great sax player and had an interesting story. If Michael Connelly, one of the master story tellers of our time, thinks something’s a good story, you pay attention. Frank’s music won me over, but I wondered how to tell this decidedly dark tale of drug addiction and decades spent in prison.
Unlike documentary filmmakers who bring journalistic training to their films, my back ground is in musical theatre. From this experience, I know that music and dance can be powerful conduits of emotion that disarm the mind and directly touch the heart. While accurate factual information is fundamental to documentaries, I believe that helping an audience confront a difficult subject, especially in our bad-‐news saturated times, requires something beyond the facts-‐what Werner Herzog called the pursuit of “ecstatic poetic truth."
In my film KIMJONGILIA, I mixed dance sequences with North Korean refugees’ shocking stories of human rights abuses, seeking a poetic truth that would reverberate deeply with audiences. With SOUND OF REDEMPTION, Frank Morgan’s saxophone speaks for him as eloquently as any monologue. Hearing his music, the audience cannot fail to feel the self-‐inflicted pain and ceaseless search for beauty that are the two main themes of Morgan’s life.
But film is a visual medium. While there is wonderful material on the nearly forgotten heyday of L.A.’s Central Avenue jazz scene, there is no footage documenting the long years Frank spent behind bars.
The tribute concert at San Quentin was a way to hold a mirror up to that essential aspect of Morgan’s life. We would go into the very place he spent so many years, play in the very place he used to play and bring his music and story to the very same sort of men he used to play for. I didn’t exactly want to re-‐create Frank Morgan—impossible anyway—I wanted to resurrect him. A sit turned out,letting that all-‐star band loose with their rapturous music raised the roof at San Quentin. Talk about ecstatic poetic truth!
- N.C. Heikin