Mr. Jelly Lord
JELLY ROLL MORTON Playing his own compositions
– selected from the famous LIBRARY OF CONGRESS recordings -
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
King Porter Stomp (3:11)
New Orleans Blues (3:32)
The Pearls (7:03)
Fickle Day Creep (3:32)
Hyena Stomp (3:34)
Jungle Blues (3:49)
The Crave (4:44)
Kansas City Stomps (2:42)
Mama Nita (4:20)
Creepy Feeling (7:58)
Spanish Swat (4:12)
This album is, in effect, a “new” collection of piano solos by the fabulous FERDINAND “JELLY ROLL” MORTON. These dozen selections have of course been in existence for more than two decades, as part of the many hours of commentary, jazz history, exaggeration, singing, playing and autobiography recorded by Jelly Roll at the Library of Congress (all of which is currently available on Riverside RLPs 9001 through 9012). But now, for the first time, the purely musical portions of this remarkable recording project have been selected, edited and combined into separate LPs of their own, of which this is the first. (A companion volume, RLP 12-133, features both paying and singing by Morton.)
These solos, when brought out into the open in this way, rather than being semi-concealed within the rather awesome total framework of the series, turn out to be far more than mere historical curiosities, emerging fully and firmly as superior performances in their own right.
In May and June of 1938, when these were recorded, Morton was in his early fifties. In point of time, he was in his twilight: in only three years, the colorful and often recounted life story of this unique jazz personality was to come to an end. Behind him lay the early New Orleans days, the years of wandering that took him as far as Los Angeles and thence to Chicago, and the “Red Hot Peppers” recordings and the years of recognition and great success. By 1938, Morton was out of vogue and almost out of money; in the words of Alan Lomax, who conducted the Library of Congress sessions, he was reduced to “playing for coffee and cakes in an obscure Washington nightspot.” But he had very obviously not lost the vital sparkle and skill; in his treatments of these compositions, some of them his most famous and most of them dating back to the peak days of the 1920s, there is still impressive (and sometimes astonishing) evidence that this was one of the most robust and fertile creative imaginations in the entire history of jazz.
Jazz critic Martin Williams, in his notes to the twelve-volume set, made specific comments on these performances. Extracts from some of these seem particularly relevant in this context:
King Porter Stomp: “His performance is quite different from any of the several others that he recorded, (containing) more improvisation on the basic pattern. Variation on the third theme is always part of it, of course, but here he passionately improvises on the whole piece.”
The Pearls: One of his best pieces, it has three themes with a developing relationship and emotional range which shows Morton’s musical intuition operating at its best. Morton was not well when these records were made, and he occasionally makes mistakes in fingering which show it. At the same time he was clearly showing off for posterity and he never made records which show his invention so tellingly as these do. He had plenty of time; he had only to interrupt himself while the acetate blanks were changed on the portable recorder. And he could pick his tempos as he wished, not in order to get everything in three minutes. The Pearls particularly gains by a slow tempo here.”
(This mention of recording technique makes this a good point at which to comment on the overall technical and quality status of this material. The original recordings were apparently not made on the best of equipment, and 1938 was of course a pre-tape era. In addition, the deterioration of the source material prior to the first issuance on the Circle label in the 1940s and again before the 1957 Riverside re-issues can only very partially be compensated for in re-mastering. Also, on four numbers included here – of which The Pearls is one – Morton’s performance was interrupted by the acetate coming to an end. This problem was “solved” at the time in different ways: on The Pearls Jelly seems to have picked up, at exactly the point of interruption, on the next acetate blank. But he must have resumed fractionally before the machine did, leaving a gap of a few notes, which has simply been left as a momentary silence in editing the selection into a single unit for this LP. On Creepy Feeling he apparently back-tracked and repeated a few bars, making possible an edit much like the splicing between two ‘takes’ of today’s tape recordings. On Kansas City Stomp he merely tacked on an ending which fits fairly neatly after what had gone before. On Spanish Swat just the last few notes were lost, and were left that way at the time, so that we have ”faded” down the volume to provide a less abrupt ending.)
To return to Williams’ comments, he notes that “this performance of Pep is quite superior to the original record in several respects, not the least of which is that it swings more,” and that “Jungle Blues is a deliberately archaic, harmonically ‘primitive’ blues. Morton played it here as part of his criticism of Duke Ellington, something about Ellington playing ‘jungle music’ and his having made that kind of music before him.”
Kansas City Stomps: “(This) very exciting version is built, like a rag, on several themes. But most importantly its substance and effectiveness depends on variation and improvisation. Morton’s music combined the form and melodic approach of ragtime and dances and songs – music of European origin – with the rhythms, melodic devices, polyphonies in blues, work songs, spirituals, etc., and produced something new. Like all folk music, these blues and spirituals used improvisation of some kind. However, Morton made variation crucial in the music he produced (and it need not have happened that way; it didn’t in ragtime). Morton was a modernist in his day, an innovator. That is why he so frequently scorned ‘ragtime men.’ He was part of a movement which saved American syncopated music from degeneration at the hands of pseudo and second-rate ragtimers, and continued its development.”
Creepy Feeling: “Morton did not record (this) until 1938. It is the inventive tour de force of this set; Morton plays on its three themes as if his ability to improvise variations is inexhaustible, and they flow out of him as easily and naturally as breathing,”
The full set from which this LP has been drawn is –
JELLY ROLL MORTON: The Library of Congress Recordings (RLPs 9001 through 9012; available singly)
The other album of solos derived from this set is –
JELLY ROLL MORTON Plays and Sings (RLP 12-133)
Other Riverside LPs featuring Morton include –
“N.O.R.K.”: New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
The incomparable JELLY ROLL MORTON: His Rarest Recordings (RLP 12-128)
Issued by special arrangement with the Estate of Ferdinand Joseph Morton.
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover Illustration by ROBERT PARKER
Cover designed and produced by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Remastered, 1960, by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.