JELLY ROLL

For the past few days I’ve been immersed in one of the best jazz biographies I’ve ever read, ‘Jelly’s Blues’, a biographical history of Jelly Roll Morton and his times. The book, by Howard Reich and William Gaines, is one of the rare musical biographies that makes you want to listen to the music and I’ve been doing so while reading the chapters specific to the recordings I’m listening to. This is a true rabbit hole to go down into and it’s been most enjoyable.

Jelly Roll Morton (real name Ferdinand Joseph LaMenthe) was a Creole composer/arranger/pianist who was the first true orchestrator of jazz. Widely misunderstood in his own day and long after his death, he’s usually portrayed as a braggart who unfairly claimed undue credit for ‘inventing jazz’. Yet no less than Gunther Schuller, in his seminal history ‘Early Jazz’, considers this claim to not necessarily be too far off the mark. And ‘Jelly’s Blues’ continues Morton’s rehabilitation in a refreshingly bold and passionate manner. And there is much to rehab–as late as the 1990s Morton was mocked and reviled as a racist in a Broadway musical called ‘Jelly’s Last Jam’ and his treatment in Ken Burns enormous documentary on jazz is similarly rough and even dismissive. All of this is bullshit. If you don’t know Morton’s music check out the above recording of ‘Black Bottom Stomp’, which Morton composed and arranged. Recorded on September 15 1926, the record brings you the sounds of Chicago jazz in that era combined with a dollop of New Orleans, all within an absolutely flabbergasting arrangement and series of solos. Even if you’re not a big fan of 20’s jazz (and it certainly isn’t for everyone–even jazz geeks often prefer to skip over that era’s music) I guarantee you will be kicking hard as the virtuoso band slams there way through Morton’s brilliant arrangement and thrilling climax. Enjoy…

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