JELLY ROLL MORTON Plays and Sings
Volume 2 of selections of the famous LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Recordings
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1) (4:07)
The Naked Dance (0:47)
Original Jelly Roll Blues (Part 1) (1:42)
Original Jelly Roll Blues (Part 2) (1) (2:35)
Darktown Strutters Balls (0:59)
Wolverine Blues (7:48)
Miserere (from Il Trobatore) (2:58)
My Gal Sal (1) (2:12)
You Can Have It (1) (0:48)
The Murder Ballad (1) (4:06)
This album, like a preceding one (Mr. Jelly Lord: RLP 12-132), can properly be described as a “new” collection of performances by one of the major figures of classic jazz, the flamboyant FREDINAND “JELLY ROLL” MORTON.
All of these selections have of course been in existence for more than two decades. They are a part of the many hours of commentary, jazz history, exaggeration, singing, playing, and autobiography recorded by Jelly Roll in 1938 at the Library of Congress (all of which is currently available on Riverside RLPs 9001 through 9012). But in these albums the documentary aspects of this material have been set to one side for the moment, and purely musical portions have been selected, edited and combined to stand on their own. Since Morton was at all times during his career a master showman and entertainer, it is not at all surprising that these selections, when brought out into the open in this way (rather than being semi-concealed within awesome total framework of the Library of Congress series), turn out to be quite fascinating jazz performances in their own right.
In this particular album, the emphasis is largely on presenting Morton in two rather unfamiliar roles: as a performer of other people’s music and/or as a singer. In almost all of the most famous Morton recordings of the 1930s, Jelly was concerned with his own compositions; and, again drawing our evidence from his records, it was not until quite late in his career that he came around to regarding himself as a vocalist. But of course it was an important part of the Library of Congress recording project to call upon Morton to be more than himself, to serve also as story-teller and symbol, to recreate not just his own past but also as much as possible of the whole past of jazz. Alan Lomax, who conducted the Library sessions and asked Morton a great many leading questions with that aim in view, apparently did not fully realize the kind of man and the kind of artist Morton was. Jelly did tell about Storyville in general and about other men, but inevitably he did it all in terms of himself. You need only listen to a bit of the first selection on the second side of this LP for a most graphic illustration of this: Darktown Strutters Ball, as played here, is so thoroughly ‘Morton-ized’ that it demonstrates this point far more clearly than any essay on the subject could do.
There is of course nothing ‘wrong’ with this; on the contrary, there is a great deal that is both valuable and highly entertaining. Morton playing Darktown Strutters Ball is at least as good as any other version of this rather undistinguished song; and by showing us Jelly starting out with someone else’s framework and then busily reworking it in his own musical image, it provides a unique glimpse of this inner-directed artist that you can’t get as readily from Morton’s playing of one of his own compositions. And when the material is better and with more specific associations of its own, the results can be even more intriguing. Thus, his playing and scat-singing on Ain’t Misbehavin’, while by no means intended as any sort of “impression” of Fats Waller and certainly having little direct relationship to Waller's ’own treatment of hi s famous tune, can be mentally compared with the several Waller recordings of it and can enable us to contrast the melodic and rhythmic approaches of the two men.
In selections like Paramout, You Can Have It, and My Gal Sal (the latter a 1905 popular song), Jelly was recreating the musical aura of early New Orleans. At least he was theoretically doing that; actually, he was again recreating Morton. Panama, although composer credit is given to Will Tyer, was in reality one of the many numbers (Tiger Rag was another of them) that were traditionally common musical property, having sprung up or developed in undocumentable ways, as is almost always the case with folk music of any sort. This, at any rate, was Morton’s point in playing this as an illustrative example. My Gal Sal as heard here includes only the second, or “after”, portion, showing how jazzmen adapted such routine material. (On RLP 9010 you can also hear the “before” portion, with Morton singing and playing it straight, which is fine for historical purposes but of little other value.) As “swung,” the tune is quite interesting Morton-ization and the vocal is good, robust fun. You Can Have It is admittedly largely a nonsense riff, but it is brimming over with the vitality and zest that are important facets of the full picture of Jelly Roll.
The jazzed version of the operatic Miserere is quite celebrated and, furthermore, is musically valid too. It was apparently a favorite of Jelly’s; he plays it knowingly and enthusiastically and clearly seems to feel that this is a fully proper transformation. Certainly romantic opera had a place in a late-19th century Creole boyhood; and besides, it lends itself quite well to that “Spanish tinge” that characterizes so much of Morton’s playing.
The Naked Dance is probably the only example here of Morton truly seeking to present another man’s music. The full Library of Congress series contains a number of selections described as impressions of other musicians, but these are most often either satirizations of inferior players or suspiciously Morton-sounding pieces. In this case, however, he is referring to the style of his friend Tony Jackson, a noted sporting house pianist and man for whom Jelly had great affection and admiration; therefore, this spirited and colorful version of the musical accompaniment for a Storyville entertainment highlight is probably the real thing.
The other selections here find Morton on home ground, working with his own compositions. But except for Freakish (which critic Martin Williams, in his notes to the full 12-volume set, refers to as “one of Morton’s ‘far out’ pieces” – adding that even today “Morton’s structure and some of his rhythmic devices are still, in a sense, ‘far out’”), these are not limited to instrumental versions. The Murder Ballad is almost completely a vocal effort; musically it is a normal-enough blues accompaniment, but lyrically it is a narrative poem of tough, uninhibited strength. Considering that Morton had hardly ever sung on records before this tune, it is also an impressively dramatic and skillful performance.
In Wolverine Blues, one of the most famous Morton compositions, there is both singing and scatting, but the emphasis here is the other way around. The vocalizing is pretty routine, but the latter portion features some of his best playing of this set; in Williams words, he is “organized, swinging, improvising, creating” towards a “following but exciting climax.” Finally, take note of Original Jelly Roll Blues, which is in two parts because, even though it may have been recorded at one sitting (with time out when one acetate came to an end), there was no way to splice it together into a continuing performance. The between-hands pause also allows the listener to get set for the extremely low-fidelity opening of Part 2. Such defects, which occur elsewhere on this disc although nowhere else so noticeably, are inevitable. The original recordings were apparently not made on the best of equipment, and 1938 was of course in the 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. However, the quality of band does pick up after the start, and Morton himself helps by going on to some quite forceful playing and blues-filled singing.
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 –
Mr. Jelly Lord: JELLY ROLL MORTON playing his own compositions (RLP 12-132)
Other Riverside LPs featuring Morton include –
“N.O.R.K.”: New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
JELLY ROLL MORTON: Classic Piano Solos (RLP 12-111)
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 designed and produced by PAUL BACON-KEN BRAREN-HARRIS LEWIND
Remastered, 1960, by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on HYDROFEED lathe
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