Greatest prison band of all time?
Who could beat the one that Art Pepper and this guy—both followed Charlie Parker down the path of heroin addiction—led in the 1960s at San Quentin?
Frank Morgan (alto saxophone, with Claude Black, piano; Clifford Murphy, bass; Sean Dobbins, drums), “Well You Needn’t,” live, Ohio (Toledo), 2006
The greatest big band I ever played with was in San Quentin. Art Pepper and I were proud of that band. We had Jimmy Bunn and Frank Butler [whom Jo Jones called “the greatest drummer in the world”], and some other musicians who were known and some who weren’t, but they could play. We played every Saturday night for what they called a Warden’s Tour, which showed paying visitors only the cleanest cell blocks and exercise yards. But people would take that tour just to hear the band.
Art and I played more when we were in San Quentin together than when we were on the outside.
Art led the way for me to recover. He got out of prison before me and started traveling all over the world before I did. He showed me by example that it could be done, and I’ll always love him for that.