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Encyclopedia > Jelly Roll Morton
Morton in the 1920s
Morton in the 1920s

Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton September 20, 1890 - July 10, 1941) was an American virtuoso pianist, bandleader and composer who some call the first true composer of jazz music. Morton was a colorful character who liked to generate publicity for himself by bragging. His business card referred to him as the "Originator of Jazz". Image File history File links Download high-resolution version (493x619, 38 KB) info: Jelly Roll Morton was born in 1885. ... Image File history File links Download high-resolution version (493x619, 38 KB) info: Jelly Roll Morton was born in 1885. ... September 20 is the 263rd day of the year (264th in leap years). ... 1890 (MDCCCXC) was a common year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar). ... July 10 is the 191st day (192nd in leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar, with 174 days remaining. ... For the movie, see 1941 (film). ... A virtuoso (from Italian virtuoso, late Latin virtuosus, Latin virtus meaning: skill, manliness, excellence) is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability at singing or playing a musical instrument. ... Pianist Claudio Arrau, Carnegie Hall, 1954. ... A bandleader is the director of a band of musicians. ... A composer is a person who writes music. ... Jazz is a style of music which originated in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States at around the start of the 20th century. ...



Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe was born into a Creole community in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana about 1885 or 1890. A baptismal certificate issued in 1984 lists his date of birth as October 20, 1890; however Morton himself and his half-sisters claimed the September 20, 1885, date is correct. He was born to F.P. La Menthe and Louise Monette (written as Lemott and Monett on his baptismal certificate). Eulaley Haco (Eulalie HĂ©caud) was the godparent. Eulalie helped him to be christened with the name Ferdinand. Ferdinand’s parents were in a common-law marriage and not legally married. No birth certificate has been found to date. He took the name "Morton" by Anglicizing the name of his stepfather, Mouton. The term Louisiana Creole refers to people of any race or mixture thereof who are descended from settlers in colonial Louisiana before it became part of the USA in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, or to the culture and Creole cuisine typical of these people. ... Faubourg Marigny or simply Marigny is a neighborhood in the downtown section of New Orleans, Louisiana, just down river from the famous French Quarter. ... In New Orleans, Louisiana, downtown refers to areas along the Mississippi River down-river (roughly east) from Canal Street, including the French Quarter, Treme, Faubourg Marigny, the Bywater, the 9th Ward, and other neighborhoods. ... Nickname: Location in the State of Louisiana and the United States Coordinates: Country United States State Louisiana Parish Orleans Founded 1718 Government  - Mayor Ray Nagin (D) Area  - City  350. ... October 20 is the 293rd day of the year (294th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar, with 72 days remaining. ... 1890 (MDCCCXC) was a common year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar). ... Common-law marriage (or common law marriage), sometimes called informal marriage or marriage by habit and repute is, historically, a form of interpersonal status in which a man and a woman are legally married. ...

New Orleans

He was, along with Tony Jackson, one of the best regarded pianists in the Storyville District early in the 20th century. At the age of fourteen, he began working as a piano player in a house of prostitution. While working there, he was living with his religious church-going great-grandmother and had her convinced that he worked in a barrel factory. One day his great-grandmother saw him wearing a very expensive finely tailored suit. When she found out how he was able to afford it, he was kicked out of her house. Tony Jackson was a major influence on his music; according to Morton, Jackson was the only pianist better than him. Also he was a pianist at whorehouses. He was also an accomplished guitar player. Anthony (or Antonio) Jackson, best known as Tony Jackson (June 5, 1876 - April 20, 1920) was a United States pianist, singer, and composer. ... Storyville was the legalized prostitution district of New Orleans, Louisiana from 1897 through 1917. ... (19th century - 20th century - 21st century - more centuries) Decades: 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s As a means of recording the passage of time, the 20th century was that century which lasted from 1901–2000 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar (1900–1999...


Morton (2nd from right) with Bricktop (right)in Los Angeles in 1918
Morton (2nd from right) with Bricktop (right)in Los Angeles in 1918

Around 1904, Morton started wandering the American South, working with minstrel shows, gambling and composing. His works Jelly Roll Blues, New Orleans Blues, Frog-I-More Rag, Animule Dance and King Porter Stomp were developed during this period. He got to Chicago in 1910 and New York City in 1911 where future stride greats James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith caught his act, years before the blues were widely played in the North. In 1912-1914 he toured with girlfriend Rosa Brown as a vaudeville act before settling in Chicago for three years. By 1914 he had started writing down his compositions and in 1915 his "Jelly Roll Blues" was arguably the first jazz composition ever published, recording as sheet music the New Orleans traditions that had been jealously guarded by the musicians. In 1917 he followed bandleader Bill Johnson and Johnson's sister Anita Gonzalez to California where Morton's tango "The Crave" made a sensation amongst the early Hollywood set. Image File history File links Morton-Jelly_01. ... Image File history File links Morton-Jelly_01. ... Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, better known as Bricktop (August 14, 1894 — January 31, 1983) was an American dancer, singer, vaudevillian, and self-described saloon-keeper who owned the nightclub Chez Bricktop in Paris from 1924 to 1961, as well as clubs in Mexico City and Rome. ... The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, is an indigenous form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, usually performed by white people in blackface. ... ... Stride is a type of piano-playing, used primarily in jazz. ... James Price Johnson (February 1, 1894 - November 17, 1955) was a pianist and composer. ... Willie The Lion Smith (25 November 1897 - 18 April 1973) was a jazz pianist, one of the masters of the stride style. ... William Manuel Bill Johnson (August 10, 1872_December 3, 1972), United States jazz musician, is considered the father of the slap style of string bass playing. ... Tango music is traditionally played by an orquesta típica, a sextet which includes two violins, piano, doublebass, and two bandoneons. ...

New York City

In November 1928 Morton married showgirl Mabel Bertrand in Gary, Indiana and moved to New York City, where he continued to record for Victor. His piano solos and trio recordings are well regarded, but his band recordings suffer in comparison with the Chicago sides where Morton could draw on many great New Orleans musicians for sidemen. Although he did record with such great musicians as clarinetists Omer Simeon, George Baquet, Albert Nicholas, Wilton Crawley, Barney Bigard, Lorenzo Tio and Artie Shaw, trumpeters Bubber Miley, Johnny Dunn and Henry "Red" Allen, saxophonists Sidney Bechet, Paul Barnes and Bud Freeman, bassist Pops Foster, and drummers Paul Barbarin, Cozy Cole and Zutty Singleton, Morton generally had trouble finding musicians who wanted to play his style of jazz, and his New York sessions failed to produce a hit. With the Great Depression and the near collapse of the phonograph record industry, Morton's recording contract was not renewed by Victor for 1931. Morton continued playing less prosperously in New York, briefly had a radio show in 1934, then was reduced to touring in the band of a traveling burlesque act while his compositions were recorded by Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, and others, though he received no royalties from these recordings. He wound up in Washington D.C., where folklorist Alan Lomax first heard Morton playing solo piano in a dive called at various times the "Music Box", "Blue Moon Inn" and "Jungle Club" in an African American neighborhood. (Morton was also the master of ceremonies, manager, and bartender of the club.) Year 1928 (MCMXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Sunday (link will display full calendar). ... This article is about the city in Indiana, for other uses of Gary, see Gary (disambiguation). ... New York, NY redirects here. ... Omer Victor Simeon (21 July 1902 - 17 September 1959) was an American jazz clarinetist. ... Albany Leon Barney Bigard (March 3, 1906 _ June 27, 1980) was an American jazz clarinetist. ... Lorenzo Tio usually refers to the clarinetist and early figure in jazz who is also called Lorenzo Tio Jr. ... Artie Shaw (May 23, 1910, New York, New York – December 30, 2004, Thousand Oaks, California) was an accomplished American jazz clarinetist, composer, bandleader and author of both fiction and non-fiction. ... James Bubber Miley (April 3, 1903 - May 20, 1932) was an early jazz trumpeter, specializing in the use of the plunger mute. ... Henry Red Allen (January 7, 1906 or 1908 (see talk) – April 17, 1967) was a jazz trumpeter. ... Sidney Bechet Sidney Bechet (May 14, 1897 – May 14, 1959) was a jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. ... This article contains information that has not been verified and thus might not be reliable. ... Lawrence Bud Freeman (April 13, 1906 - March 15, 1991) was a Chicago born Jazz musician, known mainly for playing the tenor saxophone, but also able at the clarinet. ... George Murphy Foster, almost always known as Pops Foster (18 May 1892 (?) - 30 October 1969) was a jazz musician, best known for his vigorous string bass playing. ... Paul Barbarin was a New Orleans jazz drummer, usually regarded (along with Baby Dodds) as one of the very best of the pre-Big Band era jazz drummers. ... Cozy Cole is a well known jazz drummer who had a #1 hit with the song Topsy part 2. The song was a drum solo, and one of the few drum solo recordings that ever made the popular Billboard top 100 charts. ... Arthur James Singleton, much better known as Zutty Singleton (14 May 1898 - 14 July 1975) was a United States jazz drummer. ... The Great Depression was a time of economic down turn, which started after the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. ... Aerial photo (looking NW) of the Washington Monument and the White House in Washington, DC. Washington, D.C., officially the District of Columbia (also known as D.C.; Washington; the Nations Capital; the District; and, historically, the Federal City) is the capital city and administrative district of the United... Lomax playing guitar, sometime between 1938 and 1950 Alan Lomax (January 31, 1915 – July 19, 2002) was an important American folklorist and musicologist. ... The outdoor signage of a dive bar in Los Osos, CA, nicknamed the Marriage Breaker by locals A dive bar, or simply a dive, is a drinking establishment (or sometimes a restaurant) with a dated or run-down appearance and atmosphere. ... An African American (also Afro-American, Black American, or simply black) is a member of an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. ...

The Library of Congress interviews

In May 1938, Alan Lomax began recording interviews with Morton for the Library of Congress. The sessions, originally intended as a short interview with musical examples for use by music researchers in the Library of Congress, soon expanded to record more than eight hours of Morton talking and playing piano, in addition to longer interviews which Lomax took notes on but did not record. Despite the low fidelity of these non-commercial recordings, their musical and historical importance attracted jazz fans, and they have helped to assure Morton's place in jazz history. The Great Hall interior. ...

Lomax was very interested in Morton's Storyville days and some of the off-color songs played in Storyville. Morton was reluctant to recount and record these, but eventually obliged Lomax. Morton's "Jelly Roll" nickname is a sexual reference and many of his lyrics from his Storyville days were vulgar. Some of the Library of Congress recordings were unreleased until near the end of the 20th century due to their nature. Jelly roll is a sexual slang term used to indicate variously a lover, intercourse, or the sexual parts. ... // A nickname is a short, clever, cute, derogatory, or otherwise substitute name for a person or things proper name (for example, Bob, Rob, Robby, Robbie, Robi, Robin, Robbo, RobBob, Bobby, Rab, Rabbie, Bert, Bertie, Butch, Bobbers, Bobert, Beto, Bobadito, and Robban (in Sweden), are all nicknames for Robert). ...

Morton was aware that if he had been born in 1890, he would have been slightly too young to make a good case for himself as the actual inventor of jazz, and so may have presented himself as being five years older than he actually was, and his statement that Buddy Bolden played ragtime but not jazz is not accepted by consensus by all of Bolden's other New Orleans contemporaries. It is possible, however, that the contradictions may stem from different definitions for the terms "ragtime" and "jazz". Most of the rest of Morton's reminiscences, however, have proved to be reliable. Buddy Bolden Charles Buddy Bolden (September 6, 1877 – November 4, 1931) was a cornetist and the first New Orleans jazz musician to come to prominence. ... Second edition cover of Maple Leaf Rag, perhaps the most famous rag of all Ragtime is an American musical genre enjoying its peak popularity between 1899 and 1918. ...

These interviews, released in various forms over the years, were released on an eight-CD boxed set in 2005, The Complete Library of Congress Recordings. This collection won two Grammy Awards. The same year, Morton was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. A boxed set (often erroneously referred to as a box set) is one or more musical recordings, films, or television programs that are contained in a box. ... 2005 (MMV) was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ... The Complete Library of Congress Recordings is a 2005 box set of recordings from jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded by the Recording Academy to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording [1]. This award is distinct from the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, which honors specific recordings rather than individuals, and...

Later years

During the period when he was recording his interviews, Morton was seriously injured by knife wounds when a fight broke out at the Washington, D.C. establishment where he was playing. There was a whites only hospital close enough to heal him but he had to be transported to a further and poorer hospital because of his African American skin color. When he was in the hospital the doctors left ice on his wounds for several hours before attending to his eventually fatal injury. His recovery from his wounds was incomplete, and thereafter he was often ill and easily became short of breath. Morton made a new series of commercial recordings in New York, several recounting tunes from his early years that he had been talking about in his Library of Congress Interviews. Nickname: DC, The District Motto: Justitia Omnibus (Justice for All) Location of Washington, D.C., in relation to the states Maryland and Virginia Coordinates: Country United States Federal District District of Columbia Government  - Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D)  - City Council Chairperson: Vincent C. Gray (D) Ward 1: Jim Graham (D...


He then moved to Los Angeles with a series of manuscripts of new tunes and arrangements, planning to form a new band and restart his career. However, he fell seriously ill shortly after his arrival and died on July 10, 1941, aged 50 or 55, after an eleven-day stay in Los Angeles County General Hospital. Nickname: Location within Los Angeles County in the state of California Coordinates: State California County Los Angeles County Incorporated April 4, 1850 Government  - Type Mayor-Council  - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D)  - City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo  - Governing body City Council Area  - City  498. ... July 10 is the 191st day (192nd in leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar, with 174 days remaining. ... For the movie, see 1941 (film). ...


Morton wrote dozens of songs, including "Wolverine Blues", "The Pearls", "Mama Nita", "Froggie More", "Black Bottom Stomp", "London Blues", "Sweet Substitute", "Creepy Feeling", "Good Old New York", "Sidewalk Blues", "Tank Town Bump", "Kansas City Stop", "Freakish", "Shake It", "Doctor Jazz Stomp," "Burnin' The Iceberg", "Ganjam", "Pacific Rag", "My Home Is In A Southern Town", "Turtle Twist", "Why?", "New Orleans Bump", "Fickle Fay Creep", "Cracker Man", "Stratford Hunch", "Shreveport Stomp", "Milneberg Joys", "Red Hot Pepper", "Jungle Blues", "Mint Julep", "Pontchartrain", "Pep", "Someday Sweetheart", "The Finger Buster", "The Crave", and "Grandpa's Spells" , "Big Foot Ham"(also know as "Ham & Eggs").

Several of Morton's compositions were musical tributes to himself, including "Winin' Boy", "The Original Jelly-Roll Blues" and "Mister Jelly Lord". In the Big Band era, his "King Porter Stomp" which Morton had written decades earlier, was a big hit for Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman, and became a standard covered by most other swing bands of that time. Morton also claimed to have written some tunes that were copyrighted by others, including "Alabama Bound" and "Tiger Rag". A big band is a type of musical ensemble associated with playing jazz music and which became popular during the Swing Era from 1935 until the late 1940s. ... Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...

Morton categorized his compositions in three groups as blues, stomps, and Spanish Tinge, for those with habanera rhythms.[1]. The Spanish Tinge group included "New Orleans Blues", "La Paloma", "The Crave", and "The Spanish Tinge". The blues is a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of the blue notes and a repetitive pattern that typically follows a twelve-bar structure. ... The phrase Spanish Tinge is a reference to the belief that a Latin American touch offers a reliable method of spicing the more conventional 4/4 rhythms commonly used in jazz and pop music. ... Look up habanera in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Legacy and fictional portrayals

Two Broadway shows have featured his music, Jelly Roll and Jelly's Last Jam. The first draws heavily on Morton's own words and stories from the Library of Congress interviews. The latter show has created considerable controversy with its very fictionalized and unsympathetic portrayal of Morton, and the creator has been sued by Morton's family. Broadway theatre[1] is the most prestigious form of professional theatre in the U.S., as well as the most well known to the general public and most lucrative for the performers, technicians and others involved in putting on the shows. ... Jellys Last Jam is a Broadway musical based on the life of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. ...

Jelly Roll Morton is also portrayed in Giuseppe Tornatore's film The Legend of 1900 by actor Clarence Williams III. In this fictional episode, he is depicted as an ill-tempered and insolent prodigy in a piano competition against the film's main protagonist. Giuseppe Tornatore (born 27 May 1956 in Bagheria, Sicily) is an Italian film director. ... The Legend of 1900 (original title being La Leggenda del Pianista sullOceano) is a 1998 film starring Tim Roth, done by the Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore. ... Clarence Williams III (born August 21, 1939) is an American actor. ...

Notes on birthday

His death certificate for California lists his birthdate as "September 20, 1889" and lists his mother's maiden name as "Monette". Year 1889 (MDCCCLXXXIX) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Thursday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ...


  • "Ferdinand J. "Jelly Roll" Morton", A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography (1988), pp. 586-587
  • Time magazine; March 11, 1940; "Jelly"
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., and Kenneth Burns. Jazz, a History of America's Music 1st Ed. Random House Inc.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; page 486.
  • Dapogny, James. "Ferdinand 'Jelly Roll' Morton: The Collected Piano Music." Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982.

wa See The Invisible Man for the novel written by H. G. Wells and for the various films and television series inspired by the book. ... Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1913[1] – April 16, 1994) was a scholar and writer. ...

Further reading

  • Mister Jelly Roll by Alan Lomax (1950, 1973, 2001 U. of California Press, ISBN 0-520-22530-9). For decades the only important book on Morton, contains a biography based on Morton's Library of Congress interviews interspersed with interviews with other contemporary musicians. The 2001 edition adds an afterword by Lawrence Gushee focussing largely on Morton's ancestry and other historical questions not fully explored by Lomax.
  • Mr. Jelly Lord by Laurie Wright (1980 Storyville Publications). Mostly a detailed discography, focusing on Morton's recordings.
  • Oh Mister Jelly! A Jelly Roll Morton Scrapbook by William Russell (1999 Jazz Media ApS, Copenhagen). Jazz historian William Russell spent over 40 years compiling this book, containing interviews with musicians, relatives, and others who knew and worked with Morton, in addition to Morton's own writings and letters. A compendium of source material, with no attempt to weave it into a single narrative.
  • Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton Way Out West by Phil Pastras (2001 University of California Press) Focuses on Morton's previously largely neglected years in California and his relationship with Anita Gonzales
  • Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton by Howard Reich & William Gaines, Da Capo Press, 2003. Well organized and articulate biography marred by numerous factual errors. Makes a strong case that Morton was correct when he claimed that he had been cheated out of over a million dollars due him in royalties for his compositions. A revisionist account of Morton's life based in part on newly acquired historical sources, this book provides insight into Morton's later years detailing the events surrounding his decline, his struggle for popular redemption and his death. Reich and Gaines are sympathetic to Morton's plight and attempt to update common notions of the arrogant, self-serving and single-minded performer with stories of an artist, optimist, and deeply complex man who, late in life, fell victim to racism and circumstance.
  • Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton: The Collected Piano Music by James Dapogny (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982). A remarkable scholarly undertaking of a jazz musicians' work, this volume includes transcriptions of Morton's solo piano performances of 40 of his compositions (all of the original music he either performed or copyrighted on or for solo piano). The book also includes detailed analyses of each composition and essays on Morton's life, composition style, and solo piano style.

This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... William Bill Russell (1905-1992) is an American music historian and modernist composer. ...

External links

  • Grove Dictionary of Jazz: Jelly Roll Morton
  • Ferd 'Jelly Roll' Morton Very extensive site
  • Jelly Roll Morton on RedHotJazz.com Biography with audio files of many of Morton's historic recordings

  Results from FactBites:
PBS - JAZZ A Film By Ken Burns: Selected Artist Biography - Jelly Roll Morton (814 words)
By 1926-7, Morton was recording with his Red Hot Peppers, a seven- or eight- piece band organized for recording purposes and comprised of colleagues well-versed in the New Orleans style and familiar with Morton's music.
Particularly noteworthy is the manner in which Morton provides opportunities for all the performers to contribute significant solos (usually climaxing in exultant two-bar breaks) without losing sight of overall structural unity and a balance between solo and ensemble.
Indeed, it was Benny Goodman's performance of the last-named title, in Fletcher Henderson's updated arrangement (1935), which was largely responsible for ushering in the swing era.
Jelly Roll Morton - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1324 words)
Morton continued playing less prosperously in New York, briefly had a radio show in 1934, then was reduced to touring in the band of a traveling burlesque act.
Morton's "Jelly Roll" nickname is a sexual reference and many of his lyrics from his Storyville days were vulgar.
Morton was aware that having been born in 1890, he was slightly too young to make a good case for himself as the actual inventor of jazz, and so presented himself as five years older.
  More results at FactBites »



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