PSIFF: The Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story

By Heidi Simmons

James Egan has lived in Palm Springs for over a decade. His documentary film The Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The documentary centers around a tribute concert at California’s San Quentin State Prison where alto saxophone player, Frank Morgan, was once incarcerated. The son of Stanley Morgan, The Ink Spots guitarist, young Morgan was inspired to play sax after his father took him to see the great Charlie Parker.

As the prison concert begins, Morgan’s music floats above archival photos and images that create a noir feel for the Los Angeles that Morgan inhabited. Morgan’s life spiraled down as a young man. He became a heroin addict and criminal. Personal interviews by those who knew him, through the good times and bad, recreate his life.

It was years before Morgan found a new appreciation for his life and music. He died in 2007.

“Palm Springs is a very supportive community when it comes to the arts,” said Egan, the film’s producer. “It’s always great being part of the Festival.” This is Egan’s fifth film accepted into the PSIFF.

Egan has been in the film business for many years. “My first film was with director John Waters,” said Egan. “No one would sell him film insurance but me. My father told me I better be on the set to make sure nothing happens and that’s how I learned the business.”

This project came to Egan from his longtime friend NC Heikin, the writer and director of Sounds of Redemption. Crime novelist Michael Connelly served as executive producer. He was a friend of Morgan and was compelled to share the story of the musician he so admired. Connelly met Heikin through her husband, a publisher in Paris.

“Connelly’s stories are all about redemption,” said Hiekin. “We had the title of our movie at the very start of our project.”

Egan did not know Morgan or his music. “At first I wasn’t sure there was anything redeeming about the man,” Egan said. “But the redeeming moment for me was during the concert. I felt it in the room with the prisoners. They were listening and watching transfixed and for the moment they were free.”

The Sound of Redemption took three years to make with a budget less than a half million dollars. It took more than 18 months to get the prison to allow the live concert.

“Art frees us from our concerns and makes us human beings,” Egan said. “Frank’s life and experience gave them hope. Just because they’re incarcerated, doesn’t mean it’s the end.”

Since the film was made, San Quentin put more money and materials into their prison music program.

Besides being a producer, Egan is the Executive Director of the School of Motion Pictures & Television at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He commutes Tuesday through Thursday from Palm Springs Airport. “It’s faster than driving to LA,” said Egan. He taught at USC’s famed cinema department for seven years.

Egan also serves on the desert’s ArtOasis Creative Council whose mission is to help grow the Coachella Valley and High Desert’s creative community and economy by focusing on a broad range of creative endeavors.

The Sound of Redemption is a timely and relevant story that celebrates life and the transcendent power of music.

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