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Frank Morgan Festival is music to your ears

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico may never be compared to New Orleans when it comes to its local jazz scene.

But there seems to be a concerted effort to turn the bosque into the bayou when it comes to music.

Along those lines, the Fourth Annual Frank Morgan Taos Jazz Festival (taosjazz.org) will supersede the Taos hum Wednesday through Saturday as the music of choice.

The late Morgan was a troubled alto sax player who spent about 30 years in and out of California’s San Quentin State Prison for crimes committed to support his heroin addiction.

Shortly after his final release from prison in his middle age, Morgan discovered Taos while on a gig and made it his home for five years until health problems forced him to return to his family in Minneapolis.

While in prison, Morgan was part of the Warden’s Band, which brought together numerous imprisoned musicians in what was “known as the world’s greatest jazz band that was never recorded,” said Eric Gladstone, a board of directors member of the Taos Bebop Society that has been organizing the show.

“We wanted to recognize Frank Morgan for the time he lived in Taos and his influence on the jazz scene here,” Gladstone said.

The festival grew out of an event in 2014 when a local group brought in renowned saxophonist Grace Kelly, who as a teenager had known and played with Morgan. Kelly will play two sets at the festival on Saturday.

The group also arranged for a showing of the film “The Sound of Redemption — the Frank Morgan Story.”

“The events were so successful that a group of us decided to form a nonprofit and to continue to bring great jazz to Taos,” Gladstone said. “We want to continue to bring in world-class music to northern New Mexico and to help grow and develop a larger and younger audience for jazz.”

Kelly has been the headliner for each of the four years of the festival and her shows have become so popular that a Saturday matinee has been added to the lineup to give more people access to her music, Gladstone said.

Only 26, she already has a stunning résumé: As a bandleader, she has performed more than 700 concerts in more than 30 countries, in notable venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center; and at festivals such as Montreal, Newport and Monterey. She has performed and/or recorded with such notable musicians as Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Esperanza Spalding, Phil Woods, Ron Carter, Lee Konitz, Questlove, Lin Manuel, Huey Lewis and Gloria Estefan, just to name a few. In 2016 she was a regular with Jon Batiste and Stay Human as part of the band for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

Kelly will be playing an-all-acoustic matinee at the Harwood Museum at 2 p.m., followed by the headline show, Electro-Jazz-Pop Joy Party at 7:30 p.m. at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership.

The festival kicks off Wednesday with the Doug Lawrence Quartet at 6:30 p.m. at the Adobe Bar at the historic Taos Inn. Lawrence is the lead tenor sax of the Count Basie Orchestra.

Thursday will be a screening at the Taos Center for the Arts of an in-progress documentary about jazz pianist and convicted felon Reggie Austin, who appeared in the 2016 Festival and knew Morgan from prison. The film includes scenes shot in Taos and the screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Austin and director N.C. Heikin, who directed “Sound of Redemption.”

Friday at 7 p.m., the George Cables Trio will return to the festival after appearing in the first one in 2014. A pianist and composer who frequently accompanied Morgan in his later years, Cables currently performs and records as a soloist, with trio and larger ensembles, and as a clinician in college jazz programs. He is noted for his fresh interpretations of classic compositions and for his innovative style of writing.

“There are quite a few world-class jazz musicians who originally came from New Mexico but had to travel and had to live outside of New Mexico to be able to earn a livelihood,” Gladstone said. “Many of these musicians are now moving back to New Mexico and are performing all over the state when they’re not traveling for out-of-state performances. We’re trying to develop a larger audience, trying to target young people. If people get to see jazz in person, they become jazz fans. The younger audience needs that exposure. Listening to it through earphones isn’t the same as being a part of a live performance.”

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