Loumell Morgan

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A legendary figure from the early days of the North Carolina music scene, pianist Loumell Morgan was born in the state's capital and may have been as young as 15 when he made his professional debut in…
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A legendary figure from the early days of the North Carolina music scene, pianist Loumell Morgan was born in the state's capital and may have been as young as 15 when he made his professional debut in an ensemble led by C.S. Belton. He played in the Capital City Aces even earlier than that; learned how to swing and entertain in the late '30s with bandleaders such as Baron Lee and Tiny Bradshaw; was able to hold his own in the frantic, demented company of Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart; and by the '40s had his own piano trio going strong. While hardly as well known as similar combo leaders such as Ahmad Jamal or Erroll Garner, Morgan nonetheless had a run of steady bookings and recording dates under his own name that lasted decades. By the '70s his performing duties were largely confined to the greater New York City metropolis, yet Morgan's spark was far from extinguished.

Jazz listeners who don't mind a little entertainment along with having their minds boggled no doubt encounter Morgan's pianistics -- marked by the determination to never play a single note more than what is necessary -- on the aforementioned recordings by Gaillard and Stewart under their collective moniker of Slim & Slam. The pianist was an original member of this duo's Flat Foot Floogie Boys backup unit; the combo name represented a compromise with censors outraged with the implications of a "flat-foot floozie," the title of the hit song "Flat Floot Floogie (With the Floy-Floy)" representing a similar retreat from scandal. The material Morgan presented under his own name, released by labels such as Sunbeam in Chicago and Atlantic in the early '50s, was in part strongly influenced by Slim & Slam's nonsense as well as the similarly raucous artistry of Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan.

Morgan even recorded some of the same songs as the latter hitmakers. The pianist's repertoire covered a wide range of standards, R&B novelties, and even Americana, yet again this kind of eclectic set list was similar to what he had encountered in his salad days. What set Morgan apart was his own careful balance of the sentimental and silly, a demeanor that remained hard to predict throughout his career. Live performances at New York City's Apollo Theater -- an extremely receptive venue for Morgan's groups -- embrace the traditional light of "Dark Town Strutters' Ball," allow "Old Man River" to wash over any perceived embankment of sentimentality, and embody a timeless experiment in funky rhythm-section chemistry during "Blues in the Night." Morgan even hits a home run with his recording of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," considered an early example of "deconstruction" in music. His first name is sometimes misprinted as "Laumel."